So far, the pictures I’ve shared from China had been colorful, or grant, or sweeping views of the Great Wall — the things tourists go for, and in all honesty, the pictures people want to see when they think of China. But today’s blog post is made up of pictures far more precious than that. This is the story of a family becoming a family.
Let’s start at the beginning. We met Phillip and Eileen at the Connect Retreat in 2013, and we hit it off pretty quickly. At the 2014 retreat we got to know each other better, and then in 2015, we spent a total of two weeks visiting each other, just doing life together (and doing photo swaps with each other too). All along, we got updates about their impending adoption — they were going to bring home a son from China, and their two little girls would become big sisters. Then, this February, Eileen sent me a text saying they had “a huge request/proposition/favor to ask of you. It involves traveling to China.”
Twenty-four hours later, we had agreed that I would go to China with them — to photograph their family’s gotcha day, and to be an extra set of hands to help out with the girls in the days leading up to the adoption. And then in April, I flew up to Georgia and joined them on their last night in their home as a family of four.
That night was really the first leg of the final journey to China. It involved no sleep for the adults, haircuts for the girls, wrapping up as much work as possible for Phillip, and packing pretty much all night for Eileen. And a lot of nervous anticipation.
By the time our first flight landed in Dallas the next morning, we were all completely exhausted . . . and we had another 14+ hours of traveling through twelve time zones left to go!
Phillip and Eileen’s adoption support group at home had sent along notes of encouragement to read during the flight.We entered the country through Beijing, and we had a couple days in the capitol city to explore. Our big stops were the Forbidden City and the Great Wall (where I took very few pictures, because I spent my time assisting Phillip with a full-blown photo shoot).
The girls were a hit on the streets — because double strollers aren’t a common occurrence in a country where most couples are only allowed to have one child. I was also frequently aware of strangers gawking, and even grabbing my arm to take a selfie with me — because long blond hair isn’t a common occurrence in China, either. Also, the girls weren’t fans of the smell of city streets. Or much of the (delicious!) food. But they loved having a dance party in the middle of Tienanmen Square (yes, the three-year-old and I did that), recreating their parents’ rather romantic photo inside the Forbidden City’s walls, and riding rickshaws through the old part of Beijing, the Hutong.Oh, look, proof that I was there — and that the girls are total hams/the best photo bombers.Sorry, this is the only picture I’m sharing of the Great Wall. Most of my pictures were behind the scenes shots from Phillip’s photo shoot!It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of visiting places that are so iconic, but the most important part of the trip was just about to begin.
Three days after we arrived, we found ourselves back in the Beijing airport to catch a two-and-a-half hour flight to the Szechuan Province in Central China. We were flying down to another mountain range, to the sprawling industrial city of Chongqing.As we waited for our flight, the girls played games on their tablet. Beside them, Phillip and Eileen re-read the booklet they’d been given: The Crunch-Time Guide to Parenting Language for Chinese Adoption. The book told adopting parents how to speak reassurances to their new children in Chinese — phrases like, “You are safe,” and “We are your family.” It was such a poignant dichotomy.And then . . . we landed in Chongqing. After all this time waiting, they were finally in the same city as their son. And in less than 24 hours, they would meet him.Part 2: Gotcha Day will be on the blog tomorrow.