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Philippine Travel Log: Our Last Day in Manila October 9, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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October 9th was dominated by one theme: preparing to return home.  We ate our classic breakfast buffet at the hotel, then headed over to the mall for sovenier shopping.  After being exposed to such great stores at the “new” mall (the one we hadn’t been to) the night before, we decided that it would likely be one-stop shopping for us.  So, off we went to Kultura to get started.

Kultura Filipino, our favorite store in Manila

Kultura Filipino, our favorite store in Manila

We shopped there for like two hours – easily long enough for John to be totally bored out of his mind.  I’m terribly indecisive when it comes to this kind of thing.  Also, when I’m really hungry and have to choose something to eat from a large menu.  I’m fairly incapacitated by (what I unfortunately have to admit is) the fear of choosing “the wrong thing”.  Shopping at Kultura was no different … Are we spending too much?  Will so-and-so like such-and-such?  If we get this person this, will that person feel slighted that we got that?  Plus, we had already purchased a few things along the way through the trip – such as during our day trip to the Ilocos Norte museum and Fort Ilocandia while up north near Laoag City.  So, the decision-making process was further complicated by trying to remember what we had previous purchased, who it was for, how many we got, why we got it, etc.  Ugh!  Made me (and still makes me) want to just tell all my friends and family that we love them but we’re not competent enough to shop for them while traveling.  Then again, I guess I just did.  :-/

So after spending a grand total of P6200 (about $100 – which I only mention because it’s amazing how much we bought for that little cash)  on everything from serving platters to figurines to picture frames to smaller gifts for the children of neighbors, friends, and family, we were finally ready to move on.  I think John was on his third anurism by this point, and mom and I were beginning to lose patience with him as well.  Hours of shopping with mom and dad is not the way to a 4 year old’s heart, I have to say.

For the record – and for John’s memory when he reads this 10 years from now (the real reason I’m recording all of this), we bought some really cool stuff.  We got picture frames for parents and siblings, which we knew we’d fill with fun pictures of our trip.  We got a carved wooden statue of a Philippine eagle, the 2nd largest in the world (the eagle, not the statue) for my dad.  We got coin purses and other little trinkets for lots of kids in our lives.  We got some simple serving platters and bowls for friends.  And a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure, that I just can’t remember at the moment.  We also purchased a really awesome rice serving dish and spoon – wooden bowl and spoon with a glass lid – for us, and a picture and woven scroll to hang on the wall.  We were adament in going over there that we would purchase art and/or a few random other artifacts so that when John becomes more aware that he is in a foreign place, that he has a taste of home to remember it by.

Okay, enough Kultura.  After that, mom distracted John with the all-powerful, all-enticing siren’s call of the escalator.  She kept him busy for quite a while – made longer by a resurgance of my fear of choosing wrongly – as I shopped for transformers at the mega toy store in the mall.  Our thought was that if we gave John a transformer when he got on the plane that he would be SO distracted by the wonders of modern toyhood that he wouldn’t even notice the 24+ hour trip home.  Yeah, like that worked, but I’m getting ahead.

Once reunited, we headed for the massive food court to have lunch.  I think Faith sneaked a quick pummelo run in on the way there, but it’s all a blur.  She was quite the fan (so was John), so it wouldn’t surprise me.  It’s too much like grapefruit for me to get my fries to covered in chili.  But I digress…..

So, at the food court…  I was more than a little frustrated with Faith, because she seemed to be pretty scatter-brained.  First, we didn’t know where we were eating.  Then she couldn’t get a table.  Then there were bathroom runs to make.  And all the while I’m loaded down with GIANT bags of souvenirs.  I don’t remember any more detail than that, just that I was frustrated.  I’m sure it had as much if not more to do with a long morning of shopping and John’s starting to get roudy than it did with anything Faith was doing.

We got John and Faith Jollibee, and I tried something else I don’t remember, but remember thinking that it wasn’t anything to write home about.  Of course, John and Faith were both prepared to write home about the Jollibee spaghetti and fried chicken combo!  Faith absolutely loved their fried chicken, and John is pretty much all about fried chicken and/or spaghetti wherever he can find it.  And if I had a peso for every time Faith commented on how much she liked the rice with her meals, even fast food, I’d have a whole dollar (which is saying something).  Not that I’m complaining; I happen to agree.  But anyway…  Once we were sitting down and chilling out, all our moods greatly improved, which was my favorite part.

Lunch at Jollibee

Lunch at Jollibee

After lunch, it was back to the hotel.  Dad set about the daunting task (but I love this stuff) of getting us all packed up and ready to head back to the States.  And it was better for everyone involved – more fun for everyone – that Faith and John went swimming.  It was sunny and warm and the last opportunity for many months they would have to bask in the sunshine, heat and water.  Plus, we had to rearrange toys and other supplies that John had yet to be exposed to, as we had been saving them for the long ride home (we were so prepared!).  AND, everyone knew that the mess that would be created in that little hotel room to get us packed up wouldn’t be made better by tripling the number of people in the room.

So, I packed.  They swam.  And a good time was had by all.

Upon completing the packing, I joined them by the pool, but didn’t get in.  I wasn’t there long before the sun (and my personal tendencies independent of the weather) drove me back inside to the business center to play with Facebook, my blog, and other glorious technology.

Eventually, after they had had their fill of sun and pool, and I’d finished a blog entry or two, we headed back over to the mall.  Faith wanted to check out Philippine cookbooks and other books on the Philippines (for both John’s and our educations).  We hung out in the bookstore for a little while, John on my shoulders most of the time drawing “aww, how cute!” looks for passers-by.  Faith picked up a couple books, and I definitively declared that all this shopping for cookbooks was making me hungry.  We ate at TGI Friday’s in the other mall, which was really fun family time, and then headed back to the hotel.

We got ready for bed, there was snuggling, and there was a little more play time, and there was evening and there was morning, the last day.

Philippine Travel Log: Minor Disaster Averted October 8, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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After dinner with our friends and a little shopping – particularly for our new-found fruity friend, the pummelo – we returned to the hotel.  It was getting close to bed time for John, but we still had time to play a little anyway and to open a present he’d received from the Ramos’.

First, we opened his present.  Joel and Cherry had given him a Philippine coconut which had been hollowed out (I still don’t know how) and a slit added to turn it into a bank.  Inside, they had already placed a single Philippine Peso from the year of John’s birth.  This is evidently a tradition in the Philippines.

So, eventually, all John’s left over Philippine coins went in his little coconut bank.  Here’s a picture of his playing with it after he opened it.

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John and his Coconut Bank

Next order of business was John’s shower.  After mom and John both got ready for bed, she helped him floss his teeth.  I included this picture, because he is just SO cute.  This might have been the first time he flossed his teeth.  He did really well.

John and Mom Flossing Their Teeth

John and Mom Flossing Their Teeth

After getting ready for bed, it was play time.  In order to fully appreciate this story, you have to understand John’s affinity for bellies.  We had quickly learned that John had a thing for them.  He loves to be tossed over daddy’s shoulder like a “sack of potatoes”, but when he is, he’s always reaching for the belly.  Or, whey he runs up to either of us, he will try to stick his hand under one of our shirts and go for the belly button.  Go figure!

Well, during play time, John got it in his head that he would stuff coins from his coin purse – one of his favorite toys at the moment – inot mommy’s belly button.  So, mom laid on the bed, and John built a tower of nickels and dimes on her bare belly.  Jeff was rolling his eyes – and videotaping – the entire time.  Here’s the (hysterical) video I shot from our little digital camera:  Get in Mommy’s Belly (Facebook account required to view).

Great Picture of John Playing

Great Picture of John Playing

So, we’re cruisin’ along having all kinds of fun with bellies and coins and video cameras, and all of a sudden (not on video), John bounces right off the bed and hits his head on the night stand on the way down to the floor.

Now, you have to understand that at this point, we had been living in fear for days that John would totally lose it in the hotel the way he had two or three times at the orphanage.  In those cases, it seemed like no matter what we did, he just screamed and wailed and cried inconsolably.  More than one night, after John had gone to sleep, Faith and I had discussed our fear that if he let loose on one of those tantrums in the hotel, that we wouldn’t know what to do.  We had nightmare visions of John’s screaming and wailing in the hotel room and half the hotel calling security.  Next thing, we’re in some kind of Philippine gulag accused of abusing our little boy with no hope of ever seeing air conditioning again.  I guess it didn’t help to have read/heard, in preparation for adoption, all the stories about adopted children accusing their parents of abusing them or screaming “Don’t touch me there” in Wal-Mart or other such horror stories.

I guess, given that we had to read up on stories like this, that it’s not surprising we were paranoid.  Of course, just becaues you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not all out to get you.  In this case, just because we were paranoid, didn’t mean John wasn’t going to lose it in the hotel.  So here we were, with one day left to go, and John falls off the bed.

He wasn’t hurt.  He just bumped his head a little.  You know how children can get startled, and that scares them as much as they are hurt.  This one of those times.  However, both out of concern for John and out of fear he would start crying, I scooped him up to try to console him.  I got him halfway into my arms and he started flailing, trying to get away from me.  I lost my grip, and he flops out, bounces off the bed, and falls to the floor again, this time landing on his head.  And immediately, he opens up like a combined siren and waterworks.  Tears, screaming, the dejected “I’ll crawl under the bed and you’ll never get me out” look we remembered so well from one of his tantrums in the orphanage … all the makings of our worst hotel-tantrum, paranoia-induced nightmare.

It was Papa Sadiri and Chosen Children Village that saved us.  If you remember back to our time at Shekinah, when John lost it just before church the Sunday before.  Sadiri and Auring had basically ignored his tantrum, and forcibly got his coat on and just moved him on to the next activity.  Later in the car, they had explained that this was the way to handle John … not to try to console him, but just to move on.

Early today at Chosen Children Village, when he got jealous over Faith’s holding the baby, and threw a fit, I’d taken their advice.  I scooped John up, and after a brief (futile) time trying to console him, took him outside and started playing on the playground.  He forgot all about being mad, angry, jealous, sad, scared, or whatever it was, and just played.

So, here we were in the hotel.  It’s like 10PM.  The waterworks are flowing.  John’s wailing.  The calls to the secret police had no doubt started.  Faith, didn’t hesitate.  In true super-mom form, she scooped John up in one hand, lunged for the door to the hotel room, and opened it with her other hand.  Before our neighbors could even finish dialing child services, she was out in the hallway getting him to punch floors on the elevator (which he loved to do).  I barely even got to them before John had stopped crying and totally forgotten he was supposed to be getting us arrested.

Whew!  What a relief.  When I finally caught up with super mom, I looked at her adoringly.  She looked at me like, “Please take your son and wander around in the lobby for a while so I can sleep.”  No problem.  She’d averted crisis.  The least I could do was give her some quiet time.

So, John and I wandered the lobby for a while.  He was a little on the reserved side at first, but eventually snapped back and made me climb the stairs a dozen or so times.  No wonder I came home a few pounds lighter from the Philippines … well that, plus all the dishes based on charcoaled catfish, sour broth, and bitter vegetables.

Eventually, John and I returned to the room, and mom was in bed but not asleep.  We put him down, and chatted for a few minutes about how amazing Faith’s scoop-up-and-avert-tantrum skills are, and I let her go to sleep.  I, of course, was off to the computer lab for more blog time.

Philippine Travel Log: Meeting John-John October 1, 2008

Posted by Jeff Block in Adoption, Family, Travel.
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We barely slept the night before meeting John.  I was up even more than Faith was, racking up a total of 3.5 hours of sleep that night.  I slept from 9PM-12:30AM, and that was pretty much it.  The rest of the night was filled with journaling, prayer, reading Scripture, studying up on my Ilocano (what litle I know), and watching TV.  Faith did a little better than me (scoring 6 hours of sleep), but we were both running pretty much on adrenaline by the time we got to breakfast.

We showered (I hated that shower) and packed early, so we could have breakfast, check out of the hotel, and have nothing else to do but wait for John after breakfast.  We were meeting Jackie at 8AM for breakfast, and the van from the orphanage was supposed to be there about 9:30AM to retrieve us.  We had so much leftover time pre-breakfast, that I got an hour’s quiet time in the restaurant before Jackie met us.  As is often her custom, Faith met with God out in nature – which meant the pool area, since there was no leaving the hotel (compound) for us foreigners by ourselves.

Jackie had told us that John had woken up early the previous morning talking about how his parents were coming tomorrow.  We spent a lot of time wondering how that morning was for him.  Was he anxious? nervous? scared? still excited? all of the above?  We were.  I had long imagined (and prepared myself emotionally) that his initial reaction to us might be pretty bad.  Having heard Jackie talk about how excited John was, it was tempting to let my guard down there, but I was trying to maintain a very realistic perspective.

We had the exact same breakfast as the day before:  Longanisa, rice, eggs, fruit, and juice.  Jackie talked to the orphanage right after breakfast to confirm schedule, etc, and they confirmed that John was indeed going to come with them to pick us up and that he was excited.  That’s when the minutes started to drag.  We checked out, piled our bags at the door, sat in the lobby and waited.  I couldn’t help but fidget with the two matchbox cars I had in my pocket, ready to engage him with toys if he was nervous or scared when we met him.

When the van finally arrived (like a half hour late), it was just Sadiri, who was John’s house father and official orphanage driver.  No John-John.  I was immediately disappointed, including because now I had to spend yet another 35-40 minutes (the time it takes to get from Laoag to the orphanage) in anxious waiting before I met John.  But just a few seconds later, John and Mary Jane (his social worker at the orphanage) walked up the hotel sidewalk to the door.  It was weird that he arrived not in the van (were they trying to surprise us?), but we were really glad to see them.  This was the moment we had prayed and waited and prepared for for years.

He immediately demonstrated fear.  He clung to Mary Jane and wanted very little to do with us.  After shaking hands with the adults, I immediately squatted down so that I wouldn’t be such a giant in his eyes.  Sadiri and Mary Jane tried to encourage him to go to us, but it was obvious immediately that this isn’t how his personality works.  The more they pushed, the less he wanted to do with us.

Faith and I spoke softly to him.  I gave him one of the cars, which he took without hesitation, but immediately separated from me.  Pretty much conveyed, “I’m all about the car, but you keep your distance.”

We told his caregivers that we were okay with his being shy, and that we should just head back to the orphanage.  So we piled in the van, and headed out of town.  We gave him his 2nd teddy bear (I’ll explain in a second) in the van, which he also took readily and held the entire trip, but it didn’t warm him up to us at all.

What’s with the bear?  Well, we were advised by a book we read to do the following to help reduce your child’s fear in meeting you…  Long before traveling to pick up the child, you buy two identical stuffed animals.  You send the first one over in a care package, as far ahead of traveling there as is reasonable.  The second animal you keep with you.  When you go, take the second one with you.  The child will have (theoretically) fallen in love with the stuffed toy by the time you get there, and your showing up with an identical one will essentially confirm your identity to the child.  He’ll recognize the bear as familiar, even if he doesn’t recognize you as familiar.  Then, when you leave the orphanage, take the one that’s been there the longest with you.  The new one can be left behind so that the orphanage will experience a net gain of one more toy, and your child will have a familiar toy with him/her that smells and feels like the home he knows.

I found all of this to be a genius idea.  Where it unraveled was in the reality that John doesn’t particularly like / care about stuffed animals.  :-)

Like I said, the orphanage was a ways from Laoag.  More than that though, it was in a pretty remote area in general – out in the country.  John clung to Mary Jane and paid very little attention to us (despite our occasional efforts to connect) the entire ride.

When we got to Shekinah (John’s orphanage), he lit up and called out to the other children.  Not only do I think he loved to play with them and is generally pretty social once he warms up to you, but looking back on it and knowing him a little better now, I think he was also showing off that he had something they didn’t – parents.

We filed into the small building (view pictures of Shekinah Home on Facebook) and met Auring, Sadiri’s wife, who was the last adult to meet until the orphanage director and his family showed up the following Saturday.  The kids all called Sadiri and Auring “papa and mama”, and the orphanage director and his wife “grandpa and grandma”.  I’ll share more about them later.

After a very brief chat with the adults, we turned our attention back to John, who was now playing on the floor with his new car.  The bear had pretty much gotten discarded.  I was in dress clothes (dockers and a nice button up), and Faith was in a skirt and nice blouse.  We had been advised that it is culturally-approriate to dress up when meeting someone in this context, so there we were.  Blazing sun, high humidity, 90ish degrees out, and of course the dog jumped on me with muddy paws the second I stepped out of the van.  It was clear that whoever started the dress up in the Philippines rule should be drug out in the street and beaten.

But in a way it was a blessing.  By the time I got to the moment where John was on the floor ignoring us at the orphanage, I was dripping sweat and had paw prints all over my nice tan pants.  So, the decision was easy.  I remember having the conscious thought that even if I had to throw these clothes away, I’d get on John’s level.  So, I prostrated myself on the floor belly-down, facing John a few feet away.  I rolled the second car to him, which doubled his toy quota.  He was thrilled (not with me, but with the car).  There was also a pair of rubberbands from somewhere; not even sure where they came from.  John had one, and I guess I had the other.  He took the 2nd car, and began to try to use the rubberband to attach it to the first car.  I inched closer and offered help.  It took about 15-20 minutes, but eventually we were playing together, dragging rubberbanded cars around the floor together.

And the rest is history.  He kept warming up until ultimately we were playing and laughing, holding him, swapping sunglasses, throwing him up in the air, and swinging him around.  We took some awesome pictures of all the fun.  Here are a couple of my favorites…

The moments he smiled for the first time and let us pick him up for the first time were huge.  The first real hug happened that day too. After all we’d read about attachment disorder, we were prepared for it to take months for him to bond with us and consider us to be special adults who could be trusted.  As it turns out, God gave us the gift of having all that take place in a couple hours.  How amazing!

Ultimately we ate together, and finally headed back to the cottage where we were to stay as a family that night on the premises.  I’ll tell you more about our accomodations and the next several days of just getting to know John-John soon.

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