Thursday, April 10, 2014

April updates of Oliver!

Awwww...

Our cute little button (18 months old)!
The day after we received "soft LOA" we submitted five questions to our agency as per their request. They would forward our questions to China and request an update of photos of Oliver, his general health, and his growth measurements. That was on March 12th. I was told I may have to wait a couple of months to receive updates.

So, when I noticed an email late this afternoon from my agency with a little "paperclip symbol" attached, I KNEW it was an update of our little guy! He has grown so much since the last set of photographs we saw of him back in early January! We haven't seen him smile yet, but we are certain we will make him crack a smile between the three of us :D.

Anyway, in terms of paperwork, we are moving swiftly along. We received our I-800 Approval and the NVC letter (PDF format); I filed for the DS-260 (Oliver's US visa application), and our agency submitted our paperwork to the US Consulate in Guangzhou on April 8 (known as "drop-off").

In about two weeks (say, April 22), our agency will notify us of the next step: "Article 5 pick-up" from Guangzhou to Beijing. What happens after that? We wait for our Travel Approval, or "TA" -- China's official invitation to visit China to adopt our child!!!

As soon as we receive "TA" I will drive to the Chinese Consulate in Houston to apply for our Chinese visas. (The last time we did this in 2012, we were able to apply for our Chinese visas after receiving the I-800 Approval; however, the Houston Consulate now requires that we have a copy of our TA to apply for visas through their Consulate.)

Gotta go! Still looking like we'll be traveling around the third week of May…that's 6 weeks from today :O! So much to do!!!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Our I-800 has been approved!

I'm currently working another book about our first trip to China, and I'll be including my blog posts in the book. I discovered from one of my older posts that I had emailed the National Benefits Center (NBC) nine days after our "received date" for our last I-800 Approval in 2011. I found the email I sent to the NBC asking for the name of our assigned officer and the status of our application. I don't quite remember why I did this because you still have to wait about a week after your Approval Date is known in order to take the next step, which is to contact the National Visa Center (NVC)...and by that time, your I-800 Approval should have arrived in the mail.

Out of curiosity I pulled out our current receipt of the I-800. We received the receipt Notice in the mail on 03.26 (and the "USCIS Acceptance Confirmation" via text and email on 03.23), but had a "received date" of 03.19, which had been nine days yesterday! :D I made a few minor tweaks to the 2011 email and hit Send. It wouldn't hurt to know!

In less than fifteen minutes, our officer replied to tell me that our "I-800 was provisionally approved earlier today" (03.28) and the notice will arrive in the mail!! :D I was so excited!!

NEXT STEPS:
  1. When the I-800 Approval arrives in the mail, probably some time next week, I'll contact our agency.
  2. One week from our I-800 Approval Date, which will be 04.04 (our Shih-Tzu's 13th birthday!), I will email the NVC to check if we are in the system. If we are entered into the system, I will request a PDF copy of the NVC letter to be sent to me via email. I will then forward that PDF to my agency, and we can then prepare for the next step (applying for Oliver's US visa).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

China Adoption Paperchasing Acronyms

I created this table for our second adoption to help me follow along each milestone, and just for fun, I added the "levels of celebration" to remind myself when it's time to buy cupcakes...and cranberry juice in fancy glasses (of course) :D.

I will probably add other commonly used adoption acronyms (i.e. SN, NSN, WCP, DS, DD, etc.) in a separate table at a later time.



**Please check with your agency for details and changes (table created in March 2014).**

Waiting Child China Adoption Paperchasing Acronyms
ACRONYM STANDS FOR WHAT IT MEANS (BASIC) LEVEL OF CELEBRATION
Dossier To China Your agency has sent your dossier to China, or, the CCCWA, where it will be translated into Chinese and logged into the system.
Out Of Translation Your dossier is out of translation.
Log-In-Date The date your dossier is officially received by the CCCWA.
Letter Of Intent Your agency submits this letter to China after you have accepted a referral.
Pre-Approval Pre-approval from China (effective June 2013, PA is not required for LID-already families).
Letter Of Acceptance, or, Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC) Official approval from China (effective June 2013, your agency will receive an electronic “soft LOA” prior to the hard copy of LOA).
National Visa Center NVC sends you an email with a PDF indicating your file has been forwarded, or, “cabled” to the US Consulate in Guangzhou (printed copy arrives later).

Article 5
(drop-off and pick-up)
Your immigration information and child’s visa application
are dropped off at the US Consulate in Guangzhou, and then picked up 2 weeks later.
Travel Approval Your agency has received TA from CCCWA, which means you are one step closer from traveling to China. Start packing!
Consulate Appointment Your agency will request a CA with the US Consulate in Guangzhou in order for you to obtain your child’s US visa when you are in China.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Finally received our LOA!

I took this picture at the beginning of March thinking "any day now" -- ha! These are Henry's old baby shoes, and they'll all be handed down to little Oliver :).

Just a few more steps closer to our little guy!
Anyway, late this afternoon, we received an email from our agency announcing that our hard-copy of the LOA arrived from the CCCWA (that's 81 days from LOI, and 6 days from "soft LOA")! A black-and-white copy of the LOA was then emailed to me for our signatures, so the agency can get a jump on filing our I-800 materials (see "NEXT STEP" below). I scanned and returned the signed copy by email right away! :)

Our agency will ship the original LOA via FedEx Express Saver service tomorrow, so we should receive it by the end of the week. Upon arrival, we will "officially" sign and date the hard document and return it to our agency. Then, they will forward it on to China!!

We have been told that the estimate for our travel is "ten to fourteen weeks" AFTER our I-800 is submitted to Immigration. As we had anticipated when we received the "soft LOA" we could be traveling the last week of May or some time in June!

NEXT STEP:
This I-800 form officially titled Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative will approve the "specific child" (Oliver) we will be adopting. (You may also remember a similar form called the "I-800A" which approved us as a family several months ago.) We will receive a "receipt" letter from the USCIS and wait 7-10 days for the I-800 Approval.

It's getting exciting, folks!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Care package #2 for Oliver

I've been meaning to send Oliver's second care package for the last 3-4 weeks (?) now. Around early February I was informed by a care package company that "ZhengZhou CWI will not share pictures or information anymore [...]." I was very disappointed because that's how I obtained "additional photos and updates" (outside of my agency) of my first son. :(

So, within the last few days, I managed to scramble some items for this round of care package operation (except * -- but I just "had" to send them out today!). This time, I wanted to be more practical and bought items to fill the orphanage's medicine cabinet. After I mailed out the packages, I emailed my agency to ask if they had a "needs list" for my son's orphanage, so I could share it with my Facebook group (besides, I may send out one more package before we travel...probably in early June?).

For the orphanage:
  • White and milk chocolate cookies for the nannies
  • Tootsie Roll Pops (*should have bought another bag)
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste (*the tube was considerably smaller than I had expected when I removed the packaging!)
  • Soothing Relief Moisturizing Cream
  • Diaper rash cream (got $2 off with a Target coupon)
  • Butt Paste
For our son and foster family:
  • White and milk chocolate cookies
  • Tootsie Roll Pops
  • (*Probably should have also packed toothbrushes and toothpaste!) 
  • Clothes for our son (*forgot to pack an extra pair of pants to go with the top!)
  • Squeaky toy
  • Jump drive (I've been told this is the way to go these days!)
  • Disposable camera (I threw that in as I was packing; may as well see if I can get even more pictures of our son and his foster family!)
Here are the weights and costs for my two packages (First Class to China):
  • 3 lb. 9.8 oz = $37.10
  • 3 lb. 0 oz = $31.55
Come on, LOA! Monday, maybe?

Gotta pack extra toothbrushes after all that candy, right?!
**** ****
Packed the disposable camera hoping to receive
extra pics of our precious little boy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Soft LOA" finally here on Day 75!

Well, finally! Some action happening over here! Today is Day 75 since our Letter of Intent (LOI) was submitted and I had almost given up hope of receiving news of our LOA (Letter of Acceptance, or its official name, Letter of Seeking Confirmation from Adopter). Recently, I've been hearing about folks in their 80-to-100-day wait just for this one document! No LOA-news anywhere! I was prepared to wait another month.

Then, this afternoon, as I was getting ready to take Henry out to the local park, I noticed a NEW EMAIL from my agency on my laptop! The subject line read, "Soft Copy of Your LOA!" -- I shrieked, then smiled at Henry, and chanted "soft LOA, soft LOA" and Henry repeated after me (oh, my sweet love)! Anyway, this "soft LOA" is an electronic version of the actual LOA, which the agency receives from China telling them that the hard copy will be on its way. My agency estimates 1-3 weeks of arrival but I've heard several people receiving their hard copy within a week. Fingers crossed!

Families receiving "soft LOAs" is a fairly new step as it was implemented with the "new system" in June 2013. It is definitely something new to us as we only received a hard copy back in 2011.

Below is a wee "Waiting for LOA" chart I've been keeping track of recently (and a couple of bonus pics, lol).

I'll be posting again when the hard copy of the LOA arrives. In the meantime, I have a list of things to do for my agency! Woo-hoo!

Woo-hoo! "Soft LOA" on Day 75!
**** ****
My baby celebrating the good news
on the see-saw (well, sort of).
  **** ****
Not a great picture of the new baby room because this was the picture
I sent my sister about the boring beige I had just painted over
(it's not obvious but the new paint color is more like a "baby green").

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Going to preschool part-time

"Mommy, is it NOT school day today?" is what my 3.5-year old son asks almost every morning. Henry goes to preschool three times a week (MWF) but he used to go only twice a week at his first preschool when he was 26 months old. Yes, he was probably very confused.

I'm very fortunate to be working from home (although I've reduced my workload considerably to care for Henry) and to be spending "Mommy and Henry" days with my son twice a week. We have a lot of fun together, so naturally he doesn't always want to go to school and listen to his teacher and follow the class curriculum or play with his friends or enjoy being bossed around by his classmates. He prefers to boss mommy around at home.

At his first preschool, the teachers were really impressed with his transition into school. We had a few separation issues, but no biggie (harder for mommy). Then, when he turned 3, the school wanted Henry to move up to the 3-year old class. I told the owner that we were moving in 5 weeks and asked to allow him to stay with the teachers and friends he's known for almost one year. She refused and said, "Oh, he's 3; he'll be fine." He was not fine. For the first four weeks, he cried and threw tantrums before school and I struggled to carry my little angry bird down our stairs, into the car, out of the car, and then up the school stairs and into his classroom!

We then moved to our new house and Henry started preschool #2. He didn't like it there either and his tantrums grew worse. After the Christmas break, I knew I had to take him out and enroll him into another school, which was more stimulating for him. He cried on and off for the first three weeks (and he's had a few whiny mornings), but he no longer throws those terrible tantrums! :D

So, on Monday I thought we had a breakthrough as he never once asked, "Mommy, is it NOT school day today?" and cooperated all morning as we were getting ready for school. However, just seconds after he woke up on Wednesday, he asked the same dreaded question, and as usual, I'd answer with honesty and some redirection: "Yes, it's school day, honey, but it's also iPad day! Mommy has to take care of chores today and I have to go to the dentist for a clean-up, remember?...it's going to be a loooong drive for me...I think it's your turn to see the dentist next month...she's going to be so impressed with your lovely, clean teeth! How is she going to polish your teeth again? That's right... Would you like cold milk or warm milk with your breakfast?" Other days, I remind him that I have to vacuum (he hates the vacuum cleaner), or mop the tiles, or get the car washed (he doesn't care for the car wash), or whatever I have to do that day...as long as I don't mention any toy store or Target!

Below are some ideas, which I personally believe helped and still help alleviate Henry's anxiety over "school days." I sure don't stress over it these days because I know Henry is finally settled and happy (we are so proud of our little man!). Good luck!
  1. Taking pictures of the classroom and/or school facilities
    When Henry first started preschool, I took pictures of Henry with his new teachers, and because the school was new and the class empty I also took several pictures of their circle-time corner, the kitchen area, the birthday wall, the Family Tree, the cubby section, etc. I printed the pictures on a sheet of paper and hung the sheet on the wall or the side of our fridge. When we had the opportunity, we'd talk about the names of the teachers, the activities on the class walls, and discuss what he may be reading, singing, learning and eating that day (the school emailed weekly class curriculum and menu to all parents). At his current preschool, I asked for permission to take pictures of Henry standing inside or outside of each super cool "learning classroom." Again, I printed out the pictures, and together with the class curriculum, we'd talk about the "day's fun things to do at each center" over breakfast.

    Aww, Henry's first classroom (school #1; Oct-2012).
      **** ****
    I also took pictures of Henry's new teachers
    with this picture when he moved to his
    second class (school #1; Aug-2013).
      **** ****
    Again, I took several pictures of the
    teachers and Henry's class (school #2).
      **** ****
    Henry's class (school #3; Jan-2014).
     
  2. Getting involved with school activities
    Whenever there was a school or class event (Halloween party, Valentine's Day party, etc.) at Henry's first preschool, we'd talk about what materials we needed to buy or make for the event and we'd go shopping together, which was always exciting for him. At the new school, they have something going on every Friday, which I love! I "hype" it up all week and we either buy or create stuff together all ready for Friday. (This is the day I rarely have to exhaust all my "school day excuses"!)

    My little pirate at the school's
    Halloween party (2012).
      **** ****
    Henry wore this outfit for a recent event at the school.
      **** ****
    I made this cute hobby horse for "Go Texan Day"
    (will post more pics and resources soon).
     
  3. Using a "Surprise Box"Since Henry had to deal with a lot of new changes when we moved, I started this idea only a few months ago. I used one of his kids' toy storage suitcases and filled it with a bunch of small toys or fun things from Target's $1 to $3 bins. During breakfast on a school day, we'd talk about his Surprise Box and wonder which toy he'd pick after school. I'd also remind him that he can open his Surprise Box only if we have a "good morning" (= "no crying or tantrums before school"). When I'd pick him up from school, I would say, "Did you have a good day? I'm so proud of you! We had a great morning, didn't we? That's right, you didn't cry or hit. I wonder what you're going to get in your Surprise Box? I'm so excited for you!" Coincidentally, he hasn't asked about his Surprise Box in a few weeks until tonight, when I filled it with some new toys.

    Simple decoration on the top of the box
    (this box is approx. 12"W x 8"D x 4"H).
    All $1 to $3 toys. On Fridays he could choose and open
    one "gold packet" which was just a piece of chocolate
    wrapped in gold tissue paper.

  4. Printing and showing vacation pictures to the class
    Before/during/after our short trip to Colorado, I was sweating over his return to school after hanging out with mommy and daddy all day, every day for 5 days. I was sure Henry would have a hard time resuming school duties. So, prior to our trip, we talked about taking pictures of his adventure and showing them to his teacher, Ms. Katherine, upon our return. Once home, I picked out a selection of fun and memorable pictures of Henry and created a simple collage for his teacher. On his first school day back, he was so excited to show our pictures to his teacher and classmates that he practically ran from the school door to his classroom! All the kids gathered around and we oooh'd and arrh'd over the snow! It was a success and I shall be doing the same thing for our 18-day trip to China! (Hope it works!)

    Henry still loves to talk about each one
    of these photos!
  5. Breaking out the iPad
    We've established that "school day = iPad day," which probably helped the most when he was going through his tantrum stage. Henry plays on the iPad after school on MWF for about 1.0-1.5 hours while I prepare dinner (sometimes less when he's distracted)...or, until dinner is served. Now and then, like when he's having a particularly rough day on a Monday morning after a long weekend, we'll talk about "buying" a new app, which will be ready when he comes home from school (I tend to buy free apps until I think they're worth upgrading).

    Henry on the iPad.

  6. Other random "treats"
    • When Henry managed to show "good days" earlier on, we would also reward his good behavior by doing fun stuff on "Mommy and Henry days" such as visiting the mall's play area and carousel, the zoo, etc., and these days, a walk around Lakeshore, Target or Toys R Us! He's totally happy with just walking up and down the aisles, "playing" with some toys and not expecting to buy anything. 
    • Henry also loves to help build different types of obstacle courses at home (made up of sofa cushions and a plethora of foot stools and benches), our favorite since he was 18 months old. It's our "30 minutes of physical activity" on non-school days!
    • Of course, there's TV time on certain days; our favorites are Peppa Pig and Kai-Lan, and sometimes Olivia and Octonauts. All prerecorded.
    • Also:
    When Henry started preschool, we bought him
    this backpack, which he proudly wore
    around the house (Oct-2012)!
      **** ****
    One "mild sunny" day I thought it would be
    fun to pick up Henry from school with
    this wagon. After carting 30+ pounds of weight
    back home, I decided it would be my last time
    (Feb-2013)!
      **** ****
    My sweet sis-in-law bought this awesome book for Henry
    during his days of "I don't want to go to school" -- this book,
    "The Things I Love About School" by Trace Moroney
    has become one of our favorite bedtime stories.