Tuesday, January 31, 2012

State of the Union Address

Oh hi there. So, yeah. Things were a little heavy around the ol'blog last week, no? Jeez. Apparently I had some thoughts and some feelings and I needed to spew them all over the interwebs.

Thank you all for your positive feedback and contributions to the conversation. This is hard stuff, and it can be uncomfortable stuff. In many ways I am grateful that our wait to take custody of YH has been longer than expected because it has given me time to learn more and grow more confident in my knowledge of issues and politics surrounding inter-country adoption.

It has also given me time to progress from the stage of feeling like I know it all. Remember when you first learned about orientalism or feminism and you suddenly felt compelled to tell everyone you knew about how they were appropriating another culture or how they needed to subvert the male gaze? NO? Just me? Ok, well I had a similar overwhelming need to unburden myself as I learned about inter-country adoption.

I remember being absolutely certain that we had found the right program pretty early on in our process. In this program we would sign on with a smaller agency, wait 6-9 months to be matched with a mother who had just given birth and then travel to the country of origin. We would spend 6 weeks in country. The birth mother would physically hand her child over to us early in the trip and maybe come by the hotel once or twice a day to nurse the baby. We would get to know her and her family and hopefully have an open adoption (albeit one where we were separated by thousands of miles). It seemed so perfect! We wanted an open adoption! It is so much better for everyone!

And then. Then it began to sink in that if the money we were paying for an adoption were invested in family preservation efforts this child, this nursing infant, might get to grow up in his/her home culture. With his/her cousins and aunties and uncles and birthparents.

In this scenario the concept of an "open adoption" is pretty misleading. The adoption would be "open" in the sense that the adoptive family could agree to sending updates and coming back for visits but because of the huge imbalance in adoptive parent and birth parent resources, it is unlikely that the birth family would have as much access to the child as the term "open" would imply. The adoptive family would always hold the upper hand.

I am not bashing this particular program (although the agency was investigated by the central adoption authority of the placing country last year and it did suspend its program--but good news! The agency just opened up a new program in another impoverished part of the world! hooray!). I am just illustrating how easy it is for us to see what we want to see when we start researching the options for growing our families.

After this particularly enlightening moment I felt the need to cry "corruption!" at every adoptive parent story/blog post. It was not pretty. It was a reflex driven by fear and panic that despite our good intentions we were actually making the world a not-so-great place. I'm over that now. I will proudly shout from the rooftops that I am ignorant, that I am a work-in-progress. That circumstances are rarely GOOD or BAD and that in fact they are almost always BOTH.

As it currently stands I think there is room for awareness, joy, and anger in the adoption process. All at once. I think these heavy thoughts all the time. But I am also eagerly awaiting the GOOD STUFF. The chubby fingers, the belly laughs, the first trip to the beach...all of it.


My situational anxiety is at an all-time high. The latest rumor is that the Korean government will start processing Emigration Permits on February 1st. We don't know if YH's permit will be in the first batch or the second batch of permits to be processed. Chronologically it should be the second, but because of his age and medical status he may be moved to an earlier batch. Each batch takes about 4--6 weeks to process and then adoptive families get their travel calls.

Of course that's the way it usually works. So far this year nothing has gone "as anticipated" so I am wincing in the corner, awaiting the next devastating blow that will further delay travel for us.

Additionally, we received confirmation last week that YH does indeed need surgery. Due to schedule issues with the surgeon in Korea it is recommended that he have his surgery here in the US. We are gathering specialist names and researching recovery times and other things that as a parent you hope you never have to do. I am exploring websites with information about his medical need with my fingers splayed across my eyes--peeking through at pictures of other children who have walked this road.

It's not fair to be this consumed with worry so I'm trying to find some time each day to allow myself to be excited. To let myself organize his "room" (really a nursery/office space that is attached to our master bedroom). To look at his pictures over and over. He turns two this weekend. Two years old. He was 11 months old when we accepted his referral.

That's just the way it is.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ears open, Mind Engaged, Mouth Shut.

Do you know what are my favorite kind of adoption blog posts to read? Referral posts!

I love it when a blogger I've been following for months finally gets the long-awaited email containing pictures of their child-to-be. Or when the social worker calls while the adoptive parents are at work, or in Target.

I love the carefully cropped photos that only show a smile, a chubby baby foot, big eyes with impossibly long lashes. I love seeing older adoptive siblings proudly clutching photos of their little brother or sister. So much hope, so much emotion, so much joy.

Joy for the adoptive family of course.

Because the blogs are almost always written from the adoptive parent perspective. I mentioned in an earlier post that in the adoption community people refer to the "triad" as being adoptive parent/first parent/adoptee. I also mentioned in my last post how much privilege is involved in being an adoptive parent.

Can you guess which member of the triad has the loudest voice on the interwebs? Which member has historically controlled the public representations of adoption?

(It's us.)

Adoptive parent blogs are legion. Seriously: google "adopting from..." (take your pick: Korea, China, Ethiopia, Foster Care) and you will come up with a jillion adoptive parent blogs.

Adult adoptee blogs and first parent blogs are far fewer.

You would think that as adoptive parents we would actively seek out the voices of adults who shared the same experiences and backgrounds as our children not-born-to-us.

Sometimes we do.

And we read them until we come across something that we don't like. Something that makes us uncomfortable. Something that challenges our ideas of what our own children will think and feel when they are adults.  Many times these challenging thoughts express a level of discomfort with the adoption industry. Or a level of preference for children being raised by their original parents/in their countries of origin.

These criticisms often strike at our tender good intentions. We denounce them as the rantings of an "Angry Adoptee" (this is the adoptive parent version of the boogeyman).

We become defensive:
"Look, my adoption was ethical. I know this because the agency showed me a video/the relinquishment papers/I met the first family."

"I'm sorry you were told to act American. In my family we celebrate lunar New Year! My child attends culture camp once a year and language school every Saturday."

"I fully support my child searching for her birth family. When she's 18 we will absolutely help her with that."

"Would you rather you were raised in an orphanage?"

And in our defensiveness we push away the words and the message. It is so hard to sit with our discomfort. It is so crucial to sit with our discomfort. Because that tiny bit of discomfort? It is a glimpse at what a lifetime of marginalization feels like. A passing glance at the realities our children and their first families face.

We need to read these blogs and we need to hear these voices. And you know what else we need to do?

We need to SHUT UP.

 We need to sit and listen. Our voices do not need to be a part of every conversation surrounding adoption. They don't. Because our voices? They wrote the conversations surrounding adoption.

Think about it: adoptive parents get heaped with praise for taking in orphans. Birth parents get scorn and shame for relinquishing their children. For getting pregnant in the first place. Adoptees are expected to be grateful for their entire lives. To be eternally vigilant to the notion that they were saved.

I challenge you, my fellow adoptive parents, to seek out the uncomfortable stuff. To hear it and not comment. To process it and live with it.

Ears Open, Mind Engaged, Mouth Shut.

(for starters--add your favorites in the comments)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Before we started our adoption process I had no idea how much privilege was involved. We started out with idealistic notions of giving a home to a child in need. We thought, "We don't have much, but we can share." We looked around at our not-so-big house and thought "We can make room."

We wrote detailed autobiographies and filled out parenting questionnaires. We made lists of friends and peers who we could ask to write references. We checked to make sure each room had a fire alarm, that the back deck had a safety rail, that the kitchen fire extinguisher was accessible.

We had our doctors fill out medical forms. Employers wrote letters verifying salaries. We were fingerprinted and had our criminal backgrounds checked. We gathered copies of birth and marriage certificates. Our social worker came to our home and looked in each room. She liked our bookshelves and our pets.
Our rain gutter bookshelves

Our homestudy (a document written by our social worker meant to prove our readiness to parent a child) reads like a love letter. When it landed in my inbox I had to read through it several times to make sure it was really talking about us. And then I had the wind knocked out of me as the full weight of my privilege scrolled before my eyes.

Because I am: white, able-bodied, cis-gender, married to a man, raised by my birth parents, employed, fiscally solvent and college educated. Of course I know I am all of these things --but never before has one process so thoroughly documented the extent of my privilege.

In order to be approved to parent YH I had to show that I was healthy (mentally and physically), appropriately aged (under 43), legally married, met the minimum income requirements, had adequate life insurance, had no criminal background, was within 30% of of "normal" BMI and could cover the costs of the adoption. I also had to navigate several bureaucratic processes and have a level of job security that allowed me to take time off to accomplish these tasks.

The great irony of it all is that this staggering level of privilege is likely to extend to two of my children--but not necessarily to YH.

YH is not white, he may not be able-bodied. It would be easy to forget that he will not always live within the protective shadow of my white privilege; to forget that one day he will be a man of color. That I will not always be there to shelter him from racial insults. To delude myself into thinking that just because "I get it" I could ever actually know what it is like to navigate life as a person of color. 

The great irony is that my impressive amount of privilege may actually be a burden to my sweet boy. I cannot allow my privilege to blind me to the realities of his experience. I cannot allow him to live only within the confines of my privilege. It is my duty to make sure he has access to people who share his culture, his adoptee status, his race, and his special needs. It is not enough to have colorfully diverse books lining our shelves. It is not enough to gather once or twice a year with other white adoptive parents of Asian children.

We need to do better. We need to do more.

We will do better. We will do more.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Part VI: His name

Wee tiny YH

Here's one thing I've learned during my seven year tenure as a mother--one crappy thing: Mothers love to judge other mothers. Mothers are constantly comparing their parenting choices to one another and passing judgement on what is best. There are certain topics that come up over and over for mothers--especially first-time mothers--that are sure to be divisive. Breastfeed or bottlefeed? Circumcise or not? Co-sleep or cry-it-out? Cloth diaper or disposable?

These choices we make we make out of love. I have never heard a mother say "I want my baby to have second best so I'm choosing to bottle feed/breast feed him." No. It doesn't happen. Yes, there is all kinds of research out there to support one view over another. Yes, it is good to educate yourself.

But also: it is really really good to give one another the benefit of the doubt.

An example: my very very good friend who I love like crazy-pants has a beautiful son just a few months older than Miss A. Miss A is going to marry this boy; they have both decided. Both children are out-of-this-wold physically attractive. Both are designated "gifted" by the school district. Both love to run and play and draw and read and be silly together. And as mothers my friend and I made pretty much opposite decisions on all of the hot-button topics. And you know what? You would never be able to tell who did what. Both kids are the picture of health and achievement. Because both were so so loved.

When I began reading blogs of adoptive families/adult adoptees/firstmothers (commonly known as the "triad") I learned a whole new cadre of "hot button topics". Open adoption or closed? Domestic or international? Foster-to-adopt or private domestic? Infant or older child? Artificial twinning?

You see, in adoption too there is a hierarchy of "rightness". There is a scale by which we judge ourselves against one another. Within the international adoption community one such issue is "naming".

Many of the children referred for international adoption have names. Names given to them by first parents, relatives, intake officers at social welfare offices, orphanage names or names bestowed by missionary workers. It would be cruel to not "name" a child under your care, so even the children with unknown origins are given a name.

In YH's case he was given a name at birth by his first mother. A beautiful name. It is a name that means "deep charity" and it ties in directly with her hopes for his future. She also gave him her family name. The two names (three syllables total) flow together so well, both in the traditional Korean order of Family Name, First Name and in the more American First Name, Family Name order.

When we saw YH's name written in Hangul on the referral papers, and then written phonetically in English, we knew we could not take this gift away from him. Yes, his name is unusual by "traditional" American standards. But in our community and in our local school the number of "traditional" American names is few. My children play with Toussaint, Jenevie, Valentina, Sol, Flora, Ladea, LaMaria, Professor, Otter...a host of melodious names. YH's name is two syllables. Two syllables that sound pretty much the way they look.

His full name will be YH, Korean Family Name, Samuel, American Family Name. Samuel is a name from my side of the family and the American Family Name is my husband's surname, which all the children share. It is our hope that this name will give him flexibility as he grows and explores his identity. We want him to know that we love him and support him--even if he decides to be known only as YH Korean Family Name. Or as Samuel American Family Name. Or keep all four.

It's his name, and it was given with love.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Part V: His story

                                                  Pouting YH with a bucket, age 14 months

Several times over the last few weeks I have had people congratulate me on my decision to be a full-time parent for YH during his transition to our family. I love hearing the words of support, as I feel on shaky ground in this new role.

The words of encouragement are sometimes followed by a question posed in lowered voice, "What happened to his real mother?"

I understand the subtext: What happened? What tragedy took place? Why does this beautiful boy need to leave his birth family/home country/foster family? Was she a teenager? Was she homeless? Did she die?

People want to understand. They want an answer that will make them shake their heads in sadness yet at the same time be reassured that good people are entering this boy's life to change his fate. It is human nature to want to know the particulars of another person's life story. We are hard-wired to sniff out the lineage of those who cross our paths. We look for similarities and connections, anything that makes it easier to find the humanity in one another.

 My answer to that question is a simple "She was unable to parent him."

I will not go into the details of how he came to be surrendered. I will not disclose the details of his first parents' lives and histories.

Firstly the story as I know it  is one that has been told to a social worker, translated into another language and re-recorded in an official document. I have no idea how accurate this story is--by his first mother's standards. I find it hard to believe that the decision to not parent your child can be easily written in a few sentences. How could such complicated, painful thoughts be boiled down to a cohesive narrative? Additionally, the story as represented in his referral papers captures a moment in time in his first mother's life. I have no way of knowing what her life looks like right now, almost two years later, or what it will look like ten years from now. It is not fair to her to represent her reality as stagnant--in all likelihood much about her circumstances has changed and will continue to change.

Secondly, this is YH's story. It is one of the few things he will carry with him from his home country. One of the few things that we can protect for him, and keep private until he is capable of making the decision of when and with who he wishes to share it. My son has had his baby pictures and medical history posted on a website for prospective parents to review. He will lose his first language, his favorite smells and sounds, and a physical connection to the family that raised him through infancy.
He will join our family with very little to call his own; the least we can do is ensure that his history remains his. 

Thirdly, I know that the people asking the question are expecting a neatly packaged response that will answer all their questions and reaffirm their understanding of the dominant cultural narrative surrounding adoption issues. This narrative often strips the adoptee of person-hood status, in part by reducing their history to an anecdote. In this way the adoptee becomes known *by* the story of their surrender--it becomes the defining characteristic of an adoptee, often before he can even speak for himself. The experiences and family connections of an adoptee are his/hers alone to share and I will not be complicit in furthering any notion to the contrary.

And so YH's story will remain with Sean and I. We will make a life-book for him that includes all the answers we have. It will be his and his alone to look through and explore at his own pace. We will endeavor to answer his questions about his history to the best of our abilities, without defaulting to the responses that are most comfortable, or the responses that fill-in answers we don't have.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The aftermath.

The veterinarian and the vet tech knocked on our door in the early evening. They had been delayed due to an emergency case that came in just before the vet office closed. They were subdued and gentle with our fragile hearts.

We led them into the family room where Sheila lay curled on the new hot pink shag carpet. She looked confused and tentatively wagged her tail at the visitors. Archie (our three legged beagle) was outside on the deck, pushing his paws into the windows and baroo-ing to be let in.

The doctor explained to us what would happen as the vet tech rubbed Sheila's ears. I left the room to get handfuls of tissues. The vet tech told us they would probably cry too and we all laughed at our impending sorrow. The doctor got out her syringe and began to unwind the neon green bandages that secured the IV catheter to Sheila's leg.

It happened just like the doctor told us it would. The first shot made her sleepy. I held her head and whispered to her what a good dog she was. What a beautiful girl, what a gentle girl, good girl, sweet baby...

She looked at us and YAWNED mightily, then put her head down. The second shot worked quickly; we stroked her fur as her heart slowed, then stopped altogether. The doctor and the vet tech left us alone with her for a few minutes after it was over. As soon as the door to the family room closed we sobbed and sobbed over her tiny body, still warm to touch.

The vet tech let Archie inside and he came to sniff his friend. He figured out pretty quickly what happened and moved on to getting elaborate pets from everyone in the room. We told a few stories from Sheila's life, thanked the doctor and the vet tech profusely and ushered them out the door. They took Sheila with them and promised to call us when her ashes were ready to be picked up.

We left to get the kids from my parents' house a few minutes later. They were giggly and happy. Miss A asked "How is Sheila?" and we told her Sheila had died.

We let the kids stay up late watching "Project Runway All Stars" hopeful that Mondo and Austin Scarlett might ease their sadness. It didn't work; Miss A cried for hours past her bedtime until she was too drained to stay awake any longer.

The next day we moved slowly through our routine. Sweet Bubs told Miss A that he thinks that when a dog gets to heaven God looks at it really closely and then makes a cloud that looks exactly like that dog.

The kids searched the skies all weekend long, trying to find the Sheila cloud.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Our first baby

                                                              Sheila Rose 1997--2012

In 1997 Sean and I lived in Berkeley with our two middle-aged mutts. On the weekends we liked to wander around 4th Street--we would stop into the Vivarium, grab some coffee at Peet's, poke around a bookstore or two and end the morning with a bowl of udon. It was paradise. One Saturday morning we were drawn in by a little girl who was helping out at a mobile adoption center staged by the Milo Foundation. The little lass held a tiny, blue merle puppy in her arms. She sweetly asked if I wanted to hold the puppy. (As an aside: YES. I ALWAYS WANT TO HOLD THE PUPPY.) I scooped the little bundle of grey and black fur into my arms, peered down at its amber eyes and knew we were leaving with that puppy.

We found out that the puppy was part of a litter born to an Australian Shepherd up in Willits--a town that played an important role in the epic "Story of Nora and Sean" (perhaps I will write that story some day...) I took it as an immediate sign that this pooch was meant to be ours. The puppy was a girl, about 3 months old. She had a delicate snout, lovely puppy breath and gleaming white "socks" on all four paws. Her belly was pink and round as a drum. I loved her.

We filled out the paperwork and took her home that day. We named her Sheila Rose as an homage to her Australian Shepherd-Blue Heeler heritage. Our elderly puggle was not thrilled with the new creature that leaped and swatted at her velvety puggle-ears. Our middle-aged bright red mutt took a liking to the puppy and began to give Sheila's ears a thorough cleaning. Wildfire soon progressed from ear licks to nibbles up and down Sheila's back, like a canine shiatsu massage.
                                               Sheila and Wildfire in our Vermont house

Sweet Sheila was the first dog we'd raised form puppyhood. She howled at night until we let her into the bed. She puffed hot little doggy breath onto my pillow as her paws twitched in complicated tempo against my back. The first time we left her alone and uncrated for a few hours she destroyed an entire futon mattress, gleefully flinging the stuffing over an entire floor. She peed with abandon in the kitchen.

She loved to run and be chased by other dogs. Her best friend was Dude--a black lab mix owned by two women who were students at the Pacific School of Religion. We would walk Sheila (also known as Lee Lee or LouLou or Sheila-lou) up the street to the PSR campus and let her and Dude chase each other at top speeds around bushes and religious scholars alike. They were oblivious to the view of the bay just peeking over the stone steps, and to the hushed theological conversations at play around them. All that mattered was running HARD and running FAST and collapsing in a panting heap on the cool grass.

When we moved to Vermont Sheila learned to love the snow. She leaped through drifts in playful bounds. When our first human baby came home she hung back, letting Wildfire (the big mutt) take the role of protector. When our second human baby came home, and the old dogs slipped quietly away from this world, Sheila assumed protector of the herd status. She patiently allowed Sweet Bubs to toddle after her, and pull on her fur. She let gummy little fists pet her a little too hard, and gladly cleaned the floor of any snacks that fell from the highchair.
                                              Sheila drinking baby soup in Texas

My favorite moment with Sheila happened in Texas, before we had human babies. Sean and I took all three of the dogs to Barton Creek to splash and play in the run-off from Barton Springs. Wildfire was a swimmer, and Molly (the puggle) hated to get her paws wet. Sheila paced nervously on the bank of the creek, wanting to join us and Wildfire but afraid to swim out to where we were. We ambled across some rocks and watched Wildfire splash into the water with great gusto. Sean jumped in to the cool waters as well. Suddenly we heard another splash and when we turned to look back at shore there was sweet LeeLee's head and paws chugging furiously through the deep waters towards us. She looked terrified. She reached us and kept on going, as if her body couldn't believe what it was doing and had no idea how to stop. From that day on she was an avid swimmer.

In recent years our Sheila slowed down. Thunderstorms terrified her and her anxiety grew. We got a kitten two years ago and the kitten fell in love with Sheila. Kitty loved to leap and grab Sheila's tail or to vigorously headbutt her snout for attention. Sometimes Sheila forgot we had a cat and would look startled when the kitty ran through the room. Sheila's passion for running and being chased gave way to hours spent snoozing on the carpet, waking to the sound of the kids coming home from school.

Last week she stopped eating. We took her to the vet and they determined that she was in kidney failure (both acute and chronic). We consented to give fluid therapy a try, but at the end of two days of treatment it became clear she wasn't going to recover. The vet graciously offered to come to our home in order to end her suffering. We prepared the kids the night before her passing and they wept angry tears at losing their faithful friend.

On her last day on earth she stumbled on spindly legs from the water bowl to the dog bed and back again. I stroked her ears with the lightest touch I could manage so as not to disturb her rest.  Her hip bones stuck out and her eyes were cloudy. I told myself I would not cry, I would hold my shit together for Sean and the kids. I told myself this again louder as the tears burned their way across my face.

She was my first baby. I can still feel her weight in my arms, the gentle rise and fall of her sleek puppy sides pressed against my forearms.

Part IV: Third wheel

                         Miss A, Sweet Bubs, and YH. This is as close to a family portrait as we can get.

 One of the most common questions I read on adoption forums is "When should we tell our 2/3/4/5 year old about his/her new sibling?" As with any parenting decision I believe the "right" answer will vary from family to family, but I am certain that for *our* family it was right to tell Miss A and Sweet Bubs early--before we were even matched. My kids have been involved in our adoption process pretty much from the beginning.

Sweet Bubs was totally on-board from day one. Miss A had some reservations. Reservations that she did not hesitate to express to our social worker during our home study visit. Reservations along the lines of not wanting a baby to touch her stuff (cough cough SEAN cough cough) and not wanting the baby to share her room. In fact Miss A discussed these reservations at length with our social worker (who luckily found the little lady to be utterly charming).

Sweet Bubs didn't say much to the social worker but he did say he wanted two babies: a boy AND a girl. He wanted them to sleep in his room and he wanted to help take care of them. And when I read those sentences in our home study draft my eyeballs melted from the cute and I died on the spot.

The day after we were approved to parent YH we received this picture in an email:
                                                                 YH at 11 months old
Wow. What a super cute and smiley way to introduce the kiddos to their new baby brother. Since that first update we have done our best to include YH into our family life. We have several pictures of him on display. We talk about what his life is like with Mrs. S and we try to imagine what he's doing at different times of day. We gave the kids a doll to look after until YH joins us. Miss A takes great care with "YH's baby". We interact with our toddler friends and make sure to say things like "Baby J is the same age as YH--he will probably be able to play with you just like this." Sweet Bubs speaks frequently about what he will help YH with in the future: learning to brush teeth, how to put away toys, how to pet the dogs...

Are you rolling your eyes at how sanctimonious and smug this all sounds? Don't.

Here's the thing: I feel pretty confident that both kids are prepared to have a theoretical sibling. Living with the idea of a toddler is WAY easier than living with the actual little body. A little body that runs and climbs and TOUCHES ALL YOUR STUFF (Miss A, you were sooo right to be skerred of that!). I know that as much as we've tried to prepare the littles for our changing family dynamic, there will still be unanticipated adjustments.

What I am most concerned about protecting is the relationship between my eldest children. Since the moment 19 month old Miss A laid eyes on 12 hour old Sweet Bubs they have been best friends. They went through the "princess" phase together, with Miss A resplendent in glittering gowns while Sweet Bubs (wearing his own sparkling sundress) trailed behind her like a handmaid. Miss A potty trained Sweet Bubs (amazing) and Sweet Bubs can make Miss A laugh just by looking at her. Miss A volunteered to be Sweet Bubs' "reading buddy" at school; every Friday she walks down the hall to his classroom where they curl like kittens in a corner and read books to one another.

                                                   Miss A and Sweet Bubs in Maine

I do not ever want their closeness to change. I want Miss A and Sweet Bubs to remain best friends and to retain the secret language they have built over the last five years. At the same time, I am wary of YH being excluded from this fraternal web. I worry about how a child who already has a different first language than the rest of our family, and who is of a different race form the rest of our family, will feel about the tight bond between his siblings. I do not want him to be a third wheel.

I am hopeful that the age difference between my youngest and his elder siblings will help to mitigate any feelings of exclusions. I am hopeful that Miss A and Sweet Bubs are able to envelope YH in their love and to welcome him into their cozy friendship. I am hopeful that by including my elder children in the conversations and decisions surrounding our adoption they will naturally feel a part of the process of welcoming YH into our home. I am hopeful that in turn YH will see how much every member of our family wanted for him to be with us.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 1: Blood, sweat and tears.

 Oh friends. When I started this blog I imagined it would be much lighter and funnier. Practically crackling with witticisms! And yet somehow this space has become murky with whining and moping. So sorry about that.

Also sad to report that *today's* post is not exactly happy-sunshine-awesome-times.

In the interest of time, you may just want to watch the following video:

Yes indeedy. My first day as a stay-at-home parent was fraught with First World Problems.
Here are some highlights:

1. BLOOD: I managed to wake up on time, make some super strong coffee, pack nutritious and lovely-to-look-at lunches for the kids, get them dressed and brushed and out the door with enough time to walk to school. They even had their darn safety vests on. HOORAY! I felt like super mom. Until Cole wiped out twice and ended up with oozing knees about half-way through our walk. Amalia had to ask a teacher to get giant band-aids to cover his wounds.

2. SWEAT: After recovering from the walk-to-school fail I got *myself* dressed and fed for a Skate for Fitness class taught by two of my absolute favorite people on the planet. Y'all. I have been looking forward to attending this class for MONTHS.

You know what else I've been doing for MONTHS? Sitting on my keister and moping over my job/the adoption process/Mad Men's delayed return to television...you name it. As a result of all this super-productive sitting my flesh has reached a state very similar to that of veal. As in: no muscle to speak of. I guess that despair is kind of like a tenderizer? At any rate, I am not in prime condition BUT I was excited to get out on the track and start from zero. I love a good cleansing sweat!

Which brings me to:

3. TEARS: Yes, class was challenging. And yes, I was soooo excited to be with my friends who are amazing coaches and the most supportive people you will ever meet. Really. If someone ever says to you "Hey--would you like a chance to be friends with Heather Fisher and Wendy Salome?" you should say "YES PLEASE" immediately. But I guess that all that exercise helped trigger some mighty BIG emotions because before you know it I was absolutely LOSING MY SHIT during a footwork drill. Whaaaaa? It was like doing the grapevine unlocked a secret store of frustration and tears. So not pretty or dignified.

I put my tail between my legs and hoofed it home right quick. Wept into my kale and watched "The Chew" until I felt like I could face the world again.

It wasn't all misery: I did manage to walk through the 70 degree sunshine to collect my littles from school, caught up with some parent friends, arranged to go halfsies on a CSA share with my neighbor, figured out science fair projects for each kid, helped with homework, baked a loaf of bread, roasted a chicken and some vegetables, fed the pooches and got everyone ready for bed. Not bad for my first day on the job.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I've got a brand new key. **trigger warning**

                                          the now defunct Austin Rollermoms rollerderby League

Tomorrow morning I will lace up my skates and reconnect with the sport that changed my life five years ago. A sport I took a break from over the past year and a half. A sport that I now recognize as being an important piece of my parenting.

Six weeks after the birth of my second child I went a little crazy. I am pretty sure that the act of giving birth to Sweet Bubs knocked something loose in a remote corner of my brain--a dusty little corner previously fixated on keeping my mental self separated from my physical self. That jolt filled me with an overwhelming faith and pride in my limbs and core. I *knew* I could do any physical task I set my mind to--so I joined the Austin Rollermoms roller derby league. And that one little act probably saved my life, and my daughter's life.

Dramatic, no?

Let me backtrack a bit, to my tortured suburban adolescence. Like many overachieving, privileged, mildly-depressed teenage girls I became fixated on controlling the amount of food I consumed. Through discipline and cunning I got to the point where I ate three oranges and a serving of sugar-free jello every day. Nothing else. I went to the library during lunch period at school so as to avoid food, I had my boyfriend pick me up early in the mornings to get out of eating breakfast, and I took the family dog for hours long walks in the evenings. I did two hundred crunches in my bedroom every night.

My proudest moment was when the scale read 98 pounds. I lost 30lbs in a few short months. And still I showered in the dark; got dressed while staring at the ceiling. I did everything I could to avoid acknowledging that I had a physical self.

When I had a daughter my biggest parenting fear was that I would pass on this very special version of eff'ed-up-ness to her. It took decades for me to get over my own food issues and I was determined to model healthy, normal behaviors for my own sweet girl. Roller derby gives me the essential tools I need in achieving that goal.

Firstly, I am proud that my daughter sees that I am a part of a community. Through my league I have 80+ friends--women from all different ages, all different backgrounds, all different life circumstances. Our sport brings us together and makes us equal on the track. We support each other through job loss, injury, weddings, break-ups, births and deaths. Disordered eating is a solitary pursuit and you cannot maintain isolation when so many friends are there to pull you into the light.

Secondly, roller derby is a full contact sport. You cannot avoid being connected to your own body or the bodies of your teammates and opponents. Every practice and every scrimmage is a new opportunity to feel my own strength and the strength of my leaguemates. We lean on one another, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, and marvel in the beauty of that contact. And then we knock each other down.

Thirdly, roller derby is a sport where women of all sizes can succeed. From the biggest blocker to the tiniest jammer, every physique has a place on the track. This is revolutionary. Because of this sport my daughter sees that no one body type or size is "best".  You can be healthy and strong at any size, as long as you invest in fueling your body with the best choices available. Good food, good rest, good activity.

The stresses of the last year made me lose sight of the rewards of being part of a team sport. I can tell I am at a place now where I need the structure and support of my league more than ever. I need to sweat and move and crash into other bodies. Every practice makes me stronger (body, mind, heart) and every practice makes me a better parent.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Those are mighty big shoes to fill.

                                              Sean and Miss A when she was just a wee thing
                                                              Photo by Damon Leo

Today is my last day working outside of the home. Starting next week I will be the fulltime caregiver for our family. This is a huge change for me (I've worked outside of the home fulltime for the last 10 years) and I'm not sure how I'm going to manage the transition. I'd like to think it will be a seamless transfer of responsibilities with me readily replacing staff meetings with trips to the grocery store.
In all likelihood there will be tears and frustration. It is possible I will fall into a Pinterest hole and never emerge.

You see, I have mighty big shoes to fill. Men's size 12 in fact. My husband (tall-dark-handsome-quiet) was our family's fulltime caregiver for the last seven years. Our babies were born in quick succession and we found ourselves with two nubbins under the age of two years old. My job required a lot of travel (go ahead ask me about ANY Best Western Hotel between Vermont and Claremont, CA! I can tell you allll about it) and Sean had reached a point in his teaching career where he was ready to focus on raising his own kids.

And so he did. He put on a sling and toted those babies all around town. He did the housework, paid the bills, fed the kids, fed the dogs, buried the dogs when they passed away, took the kids to doctors appointments and served as facilities coordinator for our sweet little co-op nursery school. He spent many a day as the only dad on the playground/only dad at the playdate. He grew very skilled at cultivating friendships with other parents. He lost whole days to elaborate lego games with Sweet Bubs, or getting Miss A to cheerleading events. And he did it all so well.

If you know my husband you would be hard-pressed to think of a time when he lost his cool. Dude is unflappable, even in the face of life's great annoyances. His bottomless well of patience is part of what makes him such an excellent parent and teacher (and hockey goalie--but that's another post). He is kind. He will do anything at any time to help a friend, no questions asked. He is loyal and funny and imaginative and a good listener and he hugs those babies so hard they never want to leave his arms.

If you know me you probably wouldn't use the words "patient" or "unflappable" to describe my demeanor. You'd probably use terms from the other end of the temperment spectrum. Terms like "Leo", "sailormouth", "stompy"...

The point is: I am going to work really really hard in order to be 1/5th the fulltime caregiver that Sean was. He set the standard high and I want to make him proud.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Part III: Cue Tom Petty--The Waiting is the Hardest Part

My first child was vacuum-sucked into the world five days past her due date. My second child was coaxed out by a dose of castor oil taken eleven days past his due date. My third child...well, he has no "due date". We are currently in the end/middle/surely-not-beginning? of our wait to take custody of YH. The countdown clock started ticking 13 months ago when we officially sent our acceptance paperwork to Korea.

The super fun awesome (NOT) part of the process is that we have NO IDEA when his emigration permit will be processed, thus triggering our much anticipated "travel call". When we initially accepted his file our wait-to-travel was estimated at 11 months. On Mother's Day 2011 (thanks universe!) we found out the wait would be 14 months. As of today, no one has *officially* said that timeline will also be extended but it sure looks like a possibility to me and many of my fellow waiting parents.

I have done my best to be stoic about the wait. If you asked me what the wait was like, or how we were doing, I probably responded with one of the following chipper phrases:

1. We're so thankful he has more time to spend in his home culture!
2. We know he's being well-loved by his foster family and that's all that matters!
3. This gives us a chance to work on our Korean language skills!
4. I am so grateful for the extra time this gives us to prepare for his special needs!

You know why? Because those are the *right* things to say. Those are the thoughts that my intellectual self has rationally constructed. Those are the bon mots that my brain dispenses in moments of pure panic. Moments when my emotional self takes over and my throat closes up in a swell of despair. In truth when my mouth is forming one of the above sentences, my heart is screaming "This sucks! I hate that I have no idea when this child will join us! I just want him in my home."
I do. I really, really do.

So I've been living in a state of stagnant self-pity for the last two weeks. Everyone in the Korean adoption community expected that January 2, 2012 would bring rapid progress in the emigration process for our waiting children. We pinned our hopes on that day and started researching different flight itineraries and worrying over which hotels were already booked. And I guess we were all getting a little too smug about the prospect of travel...because for the last nine days there has been silence. Now we all sit stunned in front of our computers, alternating between hitting "refresh" on our email, checking adoption forums for news, and then hopping over to our adoption agency website for updates.

And I admit that in my desperation I wished for an email from our program specialist about anything, just something to let me know that she was there and she knew I was waiting.

(Hahahahaha...Oh Nora! How dare you tempt fate that way.)

And so my wished-for email arrived yesterday at 1:43 pm. But instead of telling me GOOD NEWS my wished-for email (now more of a visit from a bad fairy) told me that our son needs surgery.


And so I sit 6969 miles away from him waiting for medical files to be translated, for specialists to be consulted, and for big decisions to be made. I am more helpless now than ever. Instead of feeling stagnant I feel wild inside. This is a real little boy facing real medical intervention and I have no say in the matter. The Korean government is legally his guardian and they get to decide when/where he receives medical treament. His sugery and recovery could very well further delay his emigration process.

I should clarify that my son's medical need is not life threatening, but it does need to be corrected and it would impact his quality of life if left untreated. I should also say that we intentionally set out to adopt a child who needed extra medical support. As it turned out, the child meant for our family had "invisible" needs (or so we thought). We knew that YH would likely need several different kinds of therapies throughout his life and we set about drafting care plans and building resources in anticipation of those "invisible" needs.

And then we were blindsided by a "visible" need.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Part II: Second Mother

**This post is the second in a series about our adoption process to date.

So, I think we established in the last post that Sean and I are kind of jerks for adopting YH.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding --sort of. The fact is it really sucks all around that this sweet kid "needs" to be adopted. I am confident that our family will embrace him, and do our best to support him, and nurture him to grow into the best YH he can be. But it stinks that his first mother doesn't get the chance to do that.

I am not going to go into the specifics of how YH came to be available for international adoption but I will say that he was relinquished at birth. He spent a brief period of time in a reception center and then at 14 days old moved in with his foster family. His second mother, Mrs. S, is his primary caregiver. She spends every day with him--feeding him, sleeping with him on her chest, dressing him in ridiculously cute outfits, bathing him, wiping his nose, taking him for walks in the park--she is his everything.

See this picture?
This is me and my Sweet Bubs, when he was 25 months old. I spent pretty much every minute of his life physically connected to him. At this age Sweet Bubs was an extension of me--my heart outside of my body. You can *see* that in this picture.

Now see this?
This is a picture of YH and his Second Mother taken earlier this month (he is 23 months old). I won't show her face for privacy reasons but if you could see beneath the goofy pink heart you would see that *same* connection between her and YH. They share the same laughing expression in this photo. They are both in on the same joke, delighting in being wrapped up in one another.

I am committed to facilitating a relationship between YH and his Second Mother for as long as she is a willing participant. I can't imagine having to hand over the baby you have raised for two years to another family and I want to acknowledge that our joy is complicit in her grief. I can't prevent that grief but I can hopefully help ease the tidal pull of it by sending her updates and photos and "allowing" her to continue to love YH (and him to love her).

This concept of "allowing" someone to continue to love the child they have raised is a weird one (of course I don't have power over another woman's heart) but there are adoptive parents who feel it is in the child's best interest to cut off all ties with the foster family. There are adoptive parents who feel that since they are the "forever family" they have exclusive rights to their child's love and admiration. I think that's bullshit.  YH and Mrs. S will always be connected--and that's a good thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Part I: Selfish, not a savior.

 **This post is the first in a series about our adoption process to date. 
                                                  The first picture we saw of our son, YH.

 6969 miles from here there is a little boy who will join our family in the next few weeks. Isn't that weird? This tiny little stranger is going to be at my table, in my kitchen, and sharing the tub with his brother and sister--for the rest of our lives. Well, maybe not that bathtub part...

As we get closer to the day when we take custody of our sweet boy I find that I am the recipient of more good-intentioned-but-cringeworthy comments. People attribute all kinds of motives to you when you adopt a child. We have two children who were born-to-us so most people assume that we aren't adopting due to infertility. This gives them license to expound on our virtuous nature. When I tell acquaintances about our son many respond with some variation of "You are a saint." I am still learning how best to respond to this; most often I am left flummoxed, trying to sputter out a graceful rejoinder. Because the truth is: I am selfish, not a saint.

Our adoption journey began in December 2009 as we drove home from IKEA. True story. As we sat at a stop-light with our 5 and 3.5 year old gremlins giggling in the backseat, I was overcome with the selfish desire to have another child. Sean looked at me aghast when I told him I wanted another baby. He expressed several rational concerns including the general over-population of the planet. He ended his speech with a mumbled "I mean, I'd rather adopt than bring another kid into this world..." and I saw my opening.

I latched onto the idea of adoption immediately--it all made so much sense!--and we started daydreaming about *where* and *who* we would adopt. I said "We've always wanted to go to India! We could adopt a little boy from India! He would be 3 or 4 and we could name him Rudy..."
Do you want to punch me right now? Because I totally want to punch myself. SO arrogant. SO privileged. SO naive. I know. We were all of those things, and we remain some of those things.

The truth is that in the best case scenario adopting a child is a means to build a family. We are not saving our son and he does not owe us anything--not even love. The truth is that as I fold tiny hipster
t-shirts and organize our cloth diaper stash he is experiencing the loss of his firstmother. And soon he'll experience the loss of his foster family, his first culture, his first language, all the tastes and smells of his homeland...It's enough to make me feel like a monster-- not a savior.

Another truth is that our son was available for adoption in his home country for 6 months before he was available for international adoption. Another truth is that he was placed on a waiting child photolisting because his file was passed over by families in the US who were waiting for a referral. Yet another truth is that his medical history puts him at risk for some degree of developmental delay/behavioral issues/"special needs." If he was not matched with a family he would be removed from his foster home around the age of 3 or 4 and placed in a government run orphanage. He would likely spend the rest of his childhood there. Do you see how I feel compelled to share this with you, in the hopes that it will somehow absolve me of my selfish motives?

My truth is that I wanted to raise another child. I wanted another little boy to sit at my table. We found our son on an adoption agency website in a tiny out-of-date picture accompanied by three sentences of cryptic text. I believe that we will love him fiercely and we will work hard to parent him to the best of our abilities. Our selfish abilities.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Once upon a time I was fancy.

One of the biggest challenges for me as I transition away from working outside of the home is that my wardrobe, and my sartorial choices, are skewed heavily towards Team Fancy. So much so that ye, once upon a time I did doth win an epic battle of glitter and was crowned winner of the FANCY OFF. Well, co-winner.
That's me at my fanciest.

These days I am considerably less fancy. The stress of my work situation and the adoption process has led to an overall toning-down of the fancy. But still I feel most comfortable, and most myself, clad in clothing that most of the world--and certainly most of my hippy/hipster city--would deem "Business Casual with a slight Filthy Librarian bent". Not so sure this lends itself well to my new life.

So my challenge to myself in the next few weeks is to practice being casual. I will wear jeans intentionally, and I will even attempt a t-shirt or two.
If you see me out and about in yoga pants please do stop to congratulate me. I welcome your suggestions in the comments about how to dress casually. Totally serious on this--I don't even know where to start.

Oh--I promised shoes didn't I? These sweet morsels are by my favorite brand, Miz Mooz, and they have become my workhorse shoe of winter. The whisky color is more butter-scotchy than this picture shows, and they go with EVERYTHING. I love them so much I call them my "awesomes" instead of my "shoes".

And look: on sale! You are welcome.

Spicy* said I should, and so I did.

Well hello there blogosphere. How funny to see you from this angle. Usually I am ambling through your twisted alleyways from the comfort of my desk at work--but that's all about to change.

I'm looking to hit all the lady-blogger-tropes in one fell swoop, so I give you: The MomBlog-AdoptiveParentBlog-FashionBlog-PopCultureBlog-with occasional emo whinings.

You're psyched aren't you? Also: I'm bringing back "psyched".

So yeah. I'm Nora. I have two kids and we're in the final steps of the process to adopt our third child. I am leaving my full-time job at the end of this week in order to focus on my family for a bit. I have mixed feelings about this change and I'm pretty sure the potential for me to screw this up BIG TIME is ginromous. Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha? Ha. Ha. Ha. Sob....sob...sob...

Enough typing--let's talk about shoes or something.

*Re: The title of this post. Sometimes I forget that most grown-ups call each other by their real names. "Spicy" is in fact the roller derby persona of a dear friend of mine. We play the roller derby together and so it is hard for me to look at her and think "Heather" because she is so obviously "Spicy". Got it?