So i'm pretty sure no-one reads over here anymore and I really can't blame you as it has been like 11 months since I have posted anything here. Gosh, I didn't even remember my log-in information! We are approaching the 2 year anniversary of meeting Finley and as I was reading back through my posts from our trip realized I never wrote anything about the day we first met her. I posted about our adoption day which was November 23rd, but we actually got to meet her at her foster home in Beijing on Friday November 20th. I'm going back to add details about that day if for no other reason than to document it for her.
Finley was born and lived in a CWI (Children's Welfare Institute) in Inner Mongolia for the first 3 years of her life. About a month after she turned 3 she moved to Beijing to live in a foster home that at the time was run by Little Flower Projects. Shortly after being matched with her we were given the information that instead of being at her orphanage she was in foster care which was wonderful news! All too often, little ones with albinism in orphanages suffer from neglect due to the stigma that albinism carries in China so it put our hearts at ease to know she was somewhere where she was receiving love and attention. While we were waiting to travel, we were able to make contact with the NGO that ran her foster home and made arrangements to visit with Finley and her foster family and visit her school before our official family day. This is not the norm and many times families travel to meet their child and are not given the opportunity to meet foster parents. We were elated that we were going to be able to meet and thank the people who were taking care of this little spitfire lol...
On the morning of the 20th we met our guide Eric in the lobby of our hotel super early. Snow was in the forecast and since we were told that the trip would possibly take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic, we decided to start out super early. That and we were just a little bit excited! At this point I felt like we were in an episode of the Amazing Race. Armed with an address in Mandarin and a non-English speaking cab driver, we made our way into the suburbs of Beijing. About an hour later our cab driver stopped and motioned we were at our destination. No one was there to meet us, of course nothing looked familiar, so I pulled out my phone and between a translation app and a quick call to our contact at Little Flower we drove a few more blocks and we were finally there. The plan was to ride on the bus with the kids to school and since we arrived early we waited in an office for a little while. We paced. We held our breath. We paced some more and then the door opened and we were told the bus was ready for us. As we exited the office I vividly remember looking across the parking lot and seeing a tiny little girl with white hair and a red coat get on the bus with the help of her foster father. Some families meet their children for the first time in hospitals, others at home, we met ours for the first time on a bus and I wouldn't change a thing about that! Even though on the inside I wanted to run onto the bus and scoop her up, I kept my composure and let Chen Chen sit next to her. It was suggested we bring an iPad with us as an icebreaker and I am so glad we did. The girls sat together on the bus playing with the iPad on the approximately 45 minute drive to Finley's school.
Shortly before we traveled we were able to send a photo album to Finley and I swear she recognized us that day. She called us mama and baba when she saw us but you could tell she was completely overwhelmed and was more comfortable with her new sister so we left them to get to know each other first. We sat behind her on the bus and played with some of the other kids as we made our way to our destination. Once there, all of the kids quickly unloaded and started their school day. Finley was very excited to show us around and very possessive. She would loudly exclaim "my mama, my baba!" if any of the other kids came near us. She was so overstimulated, she went from climbing on us, to jumping up and down, to sitting quietly with a shocked look on her face. Taking pictures was difficult as all of the kids would swarm me if they saw my phone come out so we were only able to document a few things that day.
Much of the morning was spent as a farewell to her. Her teacher discussed that it was her last day of school and where she was going. The kids sang a few songs and did a couple of activities. Finley kept bouncing up to us. She liked to stand on Bob's legs and wanted me to carry her around so she could turn lights off and on. To this day if she is stressed out she goes through the house (or wherever she is) and turns all of the lights off and on. Poor Chen Chen looked overwhelmed the whole time. Between the language barrier and the reality of finally meeting her little sister it was a lot to take in but she was a trooper. She has never been more focused than she was on our trip.
After the morning's activities all of the kids got together for lunch. The school was in a 2 story building and several older kids had been upstairs for classes, but everyone got together for lunch. Lunch was super yummy but very emotional. A couple of the older girls became very emotional at what was happening and began crying. Watching our sweet girl go to each of them to console them, talk with them, and rub them on the back amid what what going on made our hearts swell. Our girl knew love and knew how to love on others.
Fridays were 1/2 days at Finley's school so shortly after lunch we got back on the bus to make our way back to the foster homes. On the way back to the bus Finley grabbed both of us by the hand... >insert heart bursting here<
Super blurry but perfect picture of hand holding...
When we got back to the foster home it was nap time for the kids. While they slept we visited a baby home run by Little Flower where younger, medically fragile children lived. While there we sat down with our LF contact and worked on a visual calendar for Finley for the remainder of our time in China in hopes it would make her transition easier. Such an overwhelming situation for any child to be in and we were so thankful that LF did what they could to help prepare her for the transition to our family.
After our visit at the baby home we made our way back to the foster home via Uber. Our hearts were racing as we approached the home where Finley lived. Even though we were overwhelmed at the thought of meeting the only family Finley knew, I tried to take in every detail...the sights, the sounds, the smells. We entered the apartment and were greeted by Finley's foster mom and the other kids who were living in the home. Once again Finley became very possessive and wanted to be on Bob's legs or on my lap...until the iPad came out lol. When that happened all of the kids were glued to the screen.
While Finley's foster mom was making dinner, we were able to ask her questions about Finley's personality to get to know her better and hopefully make her transition easier. As we were giving gifts to foster mom and dad, foster mom noticed a necklace that I was wearing. I had made a necklace with a pendant of Finley's picture to wear during our trip. When foster mom told me how much she liked it I took it off and gave it to her, I could easily make another and I wanted her to have as many momentos of our girl as possible. We also let them keep the photo album we sent, I had made it with Shutterfly and could order another once home. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and oh what a dinner it was! Hands down it was the best meal we had while in China, every square inch of the table was covered with delicious food that foster mom had made. It was a little intimidating as I knew Finley's gastronomical bar was going to be set pretty high! We keep in touch with foster mom and she tries to lure us back to China for a visit by telling us that she will cook for us, one day we will take her up on that offer.
Just a small sample of the yummy dishes served to us that night. Yes chicken feet, yes I tried them!
After dinner we could tell that Finley was getting tired, her mood was starting to change and the girl who had been bouncing around all day started to get a little fussy. We talked with the foster family a little longer, exchanged some tearful hugs and then decided it was time for us to go. We would have a lifetime with Finley, they only had a few more hours with her so as hard as it was to walk out of that apartment without her that night, we knew we would soon be reunited.
We took a few pictures of our two families together before we left. So many times I had looked at pictures of Finley on that couch from across the ocean and now we were all on it together...so surreal and you can tell in this picture that she was overwhelmed and tired. BTW, I know 4 out of the other 5 children in this picture have been adopted and are living in the US (the 5th may have as well, I just haven't connected with their parents), the boy in blue in the front was adopted a week after we met Finley.
2 Days after our visit, Finley left via an overnight train to meet us in Hohhot. The day she left, her foster family threw her a small going away party with a very large (and elaborate!) cake. She looks just a little excited about that cake doesn't she lol! We knew it wasn't possible for Finley to stay with her foster family but it was still so hard to know we would be taking her from the only family she knew. They are amazing people who bridge the gap between waiting children and their forever families and we are forever grateful to them and Little Flower for caring for our precious girl.
If you haven't caught up on the rest of our trip posts and want to do so, go back into the archives starting in November of 2015, or you can watch this short video that I quickly put together once home. I made one for Chen Chen and knew Finley would enjoy having one too.