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The Red Couch

In the banner above, the babies on the red couch are eight of the nine who were adopted by the families we traveled with in 2001. Jamie isn’t on the couch, and I’m not sure why. Alison is on the far right, perhaps looking for someone to come comfort her sweet friend Chloe. Photographing adopted Chinese babies on the red couch at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou is tradition. Everyone who adopts must pass through the port city to finalize the adoption through the U.S. Consulate and most families stay at the White Swan Hotel. The Red Couch photo is a must, but getting those babies to sit happily while we took their picture was a long process for both parents and babies. We did the best we could, but several of the girls were NOT in favor of this beloved tradition. Hence the sad faces. We tried several times on different days, but they didn’t like the red couch. In the post photo, Alison is in the denim jumper, fourth from the left. Once again, she looks as if she would like to help.

I hope to get a photo of ten year-old Alison on the Red Couch since, once again, we will stay at the White Swan on our way out of China. We’ll miss these eight little girls, who are now young ladies. They will sit with Alison in spirit as she takes her photo once again on the Red Couch in Guangzhou.

Jin Heng Ling

She came to us in a photograph first. In the conference room of our adoption agency, our social worker slid her photo across the table. This was our introduction to our daughter, Jin Heng Ling. In one moment we were connected to this beautiful baby and immediately signed the papers promising to travel to China in six weeks to pick her up. I held the photo of my new daughter and determined that I would not be afraid. Only four weeks earlier terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Everyone was on high alert, fearful, and certain that the next attack was around the corner. But Jin Heng Ling was in China and we were here, and once that photo was handed to us I felt as if we were missing someone in our family.

Jin Heng Ling was living in the Guiping Social Welfare Agency in Guiping, China. The province is in southern part of the country, near Vietnam. Guangxi province is an autonomous region, and it was our agency’s first time to receive referrals from this orphanage. Six weeks after we were handed her photo, we traveled with eight other families who were also receiving their daughters. We went through security checks at the airport like we had never seen. Suddenly the world was in a panic and everyone looked suspicious. People were still nervous and jittery, but it didn’t matter. The little girl with the rosebud lips was waiting for us, although at the time she didn’t know it. We flew across the ocean on a Chinese airline, landed in Beijing, did tourist sightseeing for three days, flew to the capital of Guangxi province, and received our daughter. She came to us in another conference room, handed gently into my arms by a teary-eyed orphanage worker. Over a week and a half, we bonded with Jin Heng Ling as we finished the adoption process in the capital city of Nanning, and the port city of Guangzhou. We left China on a Wednesday afternoon and as we lifted into the air, I looked at the city below and wondered when our daughter would return to see the land of her birth. Would she ever want to return? Would she care about the place where she was born and the culture that will always be part of her?

It has been almost ten years, and now it is time to return so that Alison can see China. And yes, she wants to see the place where she was born and lived for the first year of her life. We will leave next Tuesday for the trip of a lifetime – the second time around.

Grace Under My Feet

We decided to rescue a puppy from Animal Welfare, which at the time seemed like the most economical way to fulfill a promise to our nine-year-old that we would, indeed, get her a puppy. As it turns out, this was not an economical decision. In fact, it has cost us far more than we could have ever imagined.

We adopted Grace from Animal Welfare in August of 2010. She was in a cage alone, unlike most of the other puppies. They had picked her up wandering alone at the young age of about two months. She may have been separated from her litter because she wandered away, or the entire litter may have been dumped and scattered. We’ll never know. What we do know is that if we hadn’t picked out that puppy on that day, she would probably be dead.

We didn’t realize when we took Grace home from the shelter that she was about to be one very sick little girl. In a matter of days she was coughing, and what we thought was kennel cough turned out to be a bacterial infection that almost killed her. She spent four days in the oxygen tank at the Animal Emergency Hospital. I never knew there was an Animal Emergency Hospital, or an oxygen tank. She was kept alive despite the veterinarian’s prediction that she might not make it, but her immune system was severely compromised and even after she pulled through, it was a long recovery. Her bones were as thin as paper, and she was injured by the door leading out to our patio when it banged up against her backside. She could barely walk for a week. Animal welfare only has so much money to spend on saving the lives of stray animals, so I don’t think they would have given her the intensive care she needed to recover from her illness. And I wonder how many people would have spent the money to keep her alive. It’s not that we’re superior dog owners. We just had no choice.

We made the puppy promise a year and a half earlier to our daughter. We researched breeds, and talked about the pros and cons of rescue dogs (ironically, one of the pros being that they cost less). She had been waiting for the day when we would finally fulfill our promise, so there was no way that we could let Grace die. Besides, we have a philosophy that when you rescue a dog, that’s exactly what you’re doing. If you don’t have the funds to pay for unexpected expenses, then you should probably opt for a hermit crab or a fish. So Grace was ours regardless of how sick she was or how expensive she became. Yes, she is “just a dog,” as many people reminded us. But she is the dog we took home that day and taking her back was just never an option.

Since her recovery, she has developed severe allergies, probably as a result of a compromised immune system. She isn’t old enough for the blood test that identifies exactly what she is allergic to, so she lives on a combination of steroids and a strict diet consisting of only venison and sweet potato foods. The food is manufactured by a company that must have a devil of a time obtaining both sweet potatoes and venison because we spend about $50 a week on a bag and a few cans of the food. And because of her allergies and the ingredients in traditional chewing products, she spends her chew time gnawing on an elk antler. Seriously.

I work from home, so while our daughter is at school, most of Grace’s day is spent under my feet. Literally. And if I get up to get more coffee or fix lunch, she follows me (I do draw the line at her accompanying me into the bathroom). Being alone is not a character quality that she possesses. I’m finally getting used to her incessant joy at the sight of us, even if we have only been out of the room for five minutes. And I’m becoming accustomed to the black dog hair that seems to be everywhere, the holes that she has dug in the backyard, and the inability to take a weekend getaway because no one really wants to dogsit a lumbering black lab puppy. Her presence under my feet is a reminder that life is very short, and the inconveniences (even the pricey ones) can make these short lives of ours quite joyful. She’s funny in a way that only a rescued lab puppy can be and now I don’t know what our lives would look like without her. Cleaner? Yes. Calmer? Yes. Less complicated? Yes. But the really good stories are the ones that aren’t about clean, calm and uncomplicated. The really good stories involve some really big messes. That’s Grace. She’s a great story.