Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sterling Mei: (22) Down the Rabbit Hole

The leather on the tall, black executive chair that I sat in creaked as I leaned back. I reached for the white china tea-cup and gently lifted it from the matching saucer. The tea was smooth, warm, and calming. Although it was fresh from the silver pot, the temperature was perfect, with a gentle steam wisping up toward the massive chandelier. The table was a thick black glass and it held our documents. My daughter was eating cheerios from its surface.

The wall was made of glass, and through it I could see the revolving dining floor below. The dining room was also encased in glass and so we could see the towering buildings that surrounded us, disappearing into the clouds. 

My view from the looking glass.

I was held captive by evidence of wealth far beyond my reach. The space in which we sat was an inner sanctum of sorts, deep within an executive board room, beyond the VIP lounge at the top floor of the Garden Hotel, Guangzhou, Guandong Province, China.

Earlier in the week, while signing documents early in the day, we sat at the entryway of the VIP area. The staff was bustling about us, preparing for the high rolling guests who would walk through the massive elevator doors, wearing professionally tailored suits, designer original dresses, exclusive footwear, and stunning jewelry. Our agent slipped away to photocopy some documents, and I took the opportunity to explore beyond the area we had been permitted to view.

I had on that day found the board room that we sat in at this moment. I had stood in it, imagining the types of business that must be transacted in this place. I imagined smokey, backroom deals involving corrupt politicians, and those who could make things happen for a price. I imagined the opulence that must accompany those dealings. I did not imagine that in three days time, I would be sitting at that table, along with my wife, my newly adopted daughter, and two other nervous adoptive families as we scrutinized our documents that would forever alter our days.

The information we were completing was basic. Things such as: city of birth, wedding anniversary, mailing address, child's Chinese name, child's new American name, and current address. But, the documents had to be perfect… and things were a bit confusing. Depending on the document, you may need a European style date, or maybe dated in western tradition, or maybe you were supposed to list the name surname first, or maybe the middle and first names should be combined. Maybe you are supposed to sign here now, but don't sign there until the official is present. 

Suddenly I found myself completely perplexed by the most basic of questions. "What is your present address?" It become quite confusing. Were we staying in room 1216, or 1612? Are we staying at The Garden Hotel, or just Garden Hotel? Guandong & Guangzhou… which is the Province and which the city? Am I spelling that right? What was Sterling's name before I named her? Was it Luo or Lou? How do I spell her middle name now? Is it Mei, or is it Mie?

What happens if I spill this perfect tea on these perfect documents? I start to laugh with a release of tension… all present in the room look at me like I am nuts. I suddenly imagine myself the Mad Hatter at a tea ceremony in Wonderland… Ironically, there is a first edition copy of the story sitting on a shelf across the room. I find this absurd and laugh ever harder.

I have candy in my pocket that is the favorite of the children of China. I realize that it is called, "White Rabbit." I consider that I really may be insane, perhaps I have separated from reality and I am strapped to a board? Or maybe I am simply dreaming? How can I be at the top of a skyscraper in China, adopting a young girl, staring at a first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with a White Rabbit in my pocket while I participate in a tea ceremony?

I have to excuse myself and I wander aimlessly through several rooms, ignoring the words I cannot understand as the VIP staff follow me around and jabber at my back. I find the men's room and soak a towel in warm water and hold it to my face until I have again found my wits and climbed back up the rabbit hole. I have documents to complete. I must be sane to do this.

I return to the imagined mobster board room and complete the documents as Kellie wrestles a tired and hungry 14 month old girl. I get through it. We count out the cash. The stack of documents that I have completed is well over an inch high. It has taken 2.5 hours… all of us, including our agent, are visably relieved after we make the final review of each document. 

All is in order. Every number is correct. Every line is complete. The dossier we have completed holds the result of nearly 6 years of paperwork and waiting. It seems very fragile as I hold it in my hands.

Monday morning, 0755 we will make our way to the American Consulate. We will submit the documents. And then we will spend two days waiting. And hoping. And praying. We are sure that everything is in meticulous order… but our opinion holds no value. We are now at the judgment of officials of the U.S. Consulate. I think back through the stack of papers, and I can visualize each and every page. I remember every signature. I remember every stroke of my pen that I wish would have been clearer.

But, what is done… is what only can be. We have done our part. Tomorrow our job is to get up on time, have breakfast as a Dad, a Mom, and a Daughter. And then we submit the documentation of our desires to the system.

We have only until the 12th of this month to get everything correct before our adoption window expires. The margin of error is slight. And, while I still have my Lewis Carroll moments… I also know at the deepest level of who I am, the solid truth that I should not have gotten this far. I am here by the grace of One who is greater than these circumstances.

And that is enough. We sleep with peace. Sterling sleeps in peace in our arms. That is enough.

Lewis Carroll - Alice:
"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?"

Lewis Carroll - Eaglet:
"Speak English! I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and I don't believe you do either!"

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