Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Second meeting.

Once we arranged a time for the second meeting, Mrs. S scooped up YH and prepared to take him down the hallway for a last doctor's appointment. Before they left she had him give Sean and I each "po-po" (kisses). That little guy did exactly what his Omma told him to do; he walked resolutely over to us and put his tiny warm hands on our shoulders and leaned in to press his lips on ours.
YH's self-portrait, taken when he commandeered Sean's camera

I might have died a little in that moment. I might have held my breath in fear of scaring him away.

We walked out of the agency stunned and giddy. It was like the aftermath of a great job interview, or a fabulous first date. We kept saying things to each other like "He seems really smart, don't you think so?" and "I know Mrs. Shin is concerned about (x factor of his development) but I think once he's in the right environment..." and "Did you see when he hugged that teddy bear? He's so loving..." and "His smile is incredible".

And underneath the giddiness that buoyed us through a shopping trip to Insadong, was creeping dread at our role in turning this boy's life upside down.

The next morning we left the hotel early in order to fit in a ride on the Seoul city tour bus before we had to be back at ESWS.
The big kids took the tour very seriously and listened with great care to the pre-recorded spiel for each stop. Based on the recordings, Amalia decided Itaewon must be the most exciting place on earth and begged for us to stop there. We conceded and decided to hop off for lunch--and immediately regretted it. Not so much a great place to take your kids. Unless your kids like restaurants and clubs geared towards the recreational pursuits of single servicemen. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

After our brief gritty detour, we got back on the bus and headed to Namsan Mountain, in hopes of putting a "family love locket" on the fence at the base of the N Tower.
We bought our lock and wrote all five names of our family members on it, added the date and a message of love forever. Then we locked it to one of the "love trees". And of course I cried.

We rushed home with just enough time for everyone to get changed into their best clothes for our meeting. We picked up Nana and headed over to ESWS. We hoped our squeaky clean exteriors would help to show Mr. and Mrs. S that we were going to love YH. We really, really were.
When we arrived at ESWS Mrs. Shin and Mrs. S cooed over how cute the big kids are. Mr. S and YH sat in the playroom already; as soon as the big kids came in they began valiantly trying to win over their littlest brother.

They did a good job.

While the kids played the adults talked. Mr. S wanted us to know that we must be consistent with YH; we can't give in to his tantrums. He wanted us to know that YH probably wouldn't sit still on the plane ride home--we should know that beforehand. He might scream, he might try to run away. He will get frustrated if we don't understand what he is saying because of the language barrier--we should know that ahead of time.

Were they telling us he is a bad child? A difficult child?

No--he's a child they love very very much and they don't want anyone to treat him with anything less than kindness, especially if he doesn't live up to our expectations. I understand that, and I understand why they felt the need to fill us in on his behaviors (pretty typical for a two-year old behaviors) beforehand.

I asked Mrs. Shin to tell the S family that I appreciate all they have done to raise YH, to love him. I promised them that we would love and support him forever--no matter what. That we have prepared ourselves to help him face any future challenges and to meet him where he is; not to push him to be something he is not. I asked her to tell them that we would like for them to be a part of YH's life forever--that we will send them pictures and updates frequently.

They watched YH play with his new brother and sister, and give his new halmoni (grandmother) kisses.

At the end of the hour we took pictures together--pictures of all the people who are united by our love for this little boy.

Umma and the big kids.

Umma and Mom
Appa and Papa

And the whole of TEAM YH.

I can't even describe to you how important this meeting was for us--for the S family--for YH. I think it made a big difference in everyone's comfort level about the upcoming custody transfer.

I know it helped the S family to meet our big kids; to picture how YH's life will be enriched by having them at his side. To see that they are healthy and smart and well-cared for. That we can raise children who are loving and funny. That he fits in with them, and with us.

 Saying good-bye was hard; especially since we knew the next time we saw each other our motives would be opposing. Sean and I would be so happy to hold our son, while the S family grieved the foster child they were  losing.

Hard all around.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

First meeting

I do finally stop worrying long enough to sleep--for a few fitful hours. None of us can sleep past 6am so we are up and bickering with each other for an hour or so before breakfast begins. We wrap the million gifts we have for the foster family and social worker and pack them carefully away in subway-proof backpacks.

I try to remember what each task feels like:

This is taking a shower on the day you meet your son.
This is putting on a dress on the day you meet your son.
This is trying to fill in your eyebrows with hands made shaky at the thought of meeting your son.

My mom comes up to hang with the big kids while Sean and I nervously stuff our pockets with "essential" items that we will forget about as soon as we leave the hotel.

Suddenly we are on the street. We are on the subway. We are at the right stop, searching for the appropriate exit. We are stricken.

We are early--about 40 minutes early for our assigned "check-in" time.
We sit in the cafe at ESWS, our placing agency. The cafe employs single mothers; thus helping to support women who choose to parent their children (women who are largely seen as "unemployable" due to their single-parent status). We are nervous and self-conscious as we order iced americanos. We are overly thankful to the barista and we sit and sweat in shamed silence as we sip our drinks.

Finally it is time to check in. Our assigned social worker is busy in appointments all day, so another woman guides us through paperwork. It is so busy at the agency that we are seated in a waiting area outside of a room where a family is meeting their child for the first time. My eyes water as the door to the playroom opens. A tall and beautiful woman steps shakily out--her eyes are damp too but she is laughing. I know who she is immediately--an Australian woman I "met" through the internet. We greet each other and laugh and cry together.

We are led on a tour of the agency.

We are taken up to the floor that houses that baby reception room. Currently there are 50 babies there, waiting for foster or forever homes. About 15 of the babies are sick and are in a separate room to receive extra care. The babies are SO small.

Next we (about 10 families in total) file into a room to listen to a presentation by Dr. Kim, president of ESWS. Dr. Kim tells us about the history of her country, the history of adoption in Korea and the many projects that ESWS runs to care for at-risk families/women/children.

I am trying to pay attention, but in my head I am only thinking about the fact that we will be meeting YH in two hours.

Now one hour.

Our social worker finds us and chides us for not bringing Nana and the kids to the meeting. She leads us to a playroom and we sit nervously on the floor.

The door opens and we see this.


Mrs. S pulls a package of crackers out of her purse and immediately starts feeding snacks to YH as a way to ease him into the room.

He looks around at us and then dives into the toys. He plays and plays, leaving each toy after a few seconds of attention. I try not to reach out to him, hoping that his ambulatory circuit will bring him naturally to my side. I try to ask Mrs. S the questions I formulated months ago, when none of this seemed like a real event.

Mrs. S answers in paragraphs with sweeping arm movements. I look at her while she speaks, waiting for our social worker to translate.

He is very busy. He gets bored with toys easily. He isn't interested in books. He waits for his Appa to come home each night, and then leads him through his evening routine. Appa, take off your shoes. Appa, wash your face. He loves smart phones and can use a touch screen readily. He drinks a few ounces of water or milk each night before bed and then goes to his room. He lies down and waits for Mrs. S to rub his back until he falls asleep. He is sensitive to the word no, and does better with redirection. When he doesn't get his way he screams. He climbs onto everything, opens every drawer, hides bits of paper int he corners of the apartment. He loves flowers, trees and big dogs. He is attuned to the moods of others and will comfort those he thinks to be in distress.

So many details about his life. And I haven't even touched him yet.

Finally, he wanders my way with a balloon in his hand.
 This is it. This is my son.


Later, Mrs. Shin will ask us questions about why we didn't pursue a "standard" referral (ie: one without identified medical needs). "You qualify, right?"
We explain what led us to the waiting child program.
She asks us why we want to parent this boy--she has another child with a similar background/profile who is almost three. This child will be transferred to a government orphanage soon, with no hope for being adopted, because no families have expressed interest in his file. (For the recond *YH* is almost three; this boy's fate could easily be his own).

We talk a bit about how we have prepared ourselves for his potential needs, and the personal connections we have to his "risk factors".

She asks us how he seems to us--developmentally.
I say he seems perfect, exactly the boy I was hoping to meet.


In the middle of our hour-long meeting, YH's foster brother calls his father (YH's "Appa") on the phone. YH talks animatedly to him in gibberish. He smiles at the phone and listens intently to his beloved Appa's responses. This is a routine for him; talking to the man he loves best, in a language noone can understand.

Mrs. S asks if we can come back the next day. Mr. S has the day off from work and wants to meet us.
Yes, we say, of course.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Seoul Day 1 and 2

When our plane landed at Incheon, after a 14 hour flight from Dallas, I was groggy. Too groggy to really *feel* anything, you know? I fussed over the big kids--were they ok? Did they get any sleep? And focused on getting our luggage, getting my mom the phones she rented, and figuring out the best way to get our tired selves into Seoul.

Then, as our taxi-van pulled away from the curb, I started to feel stuff. I started to *think* stuff. Thoughts like:
Is that guy related to my son?
Is that old lady his great-grandmother?
Is that his mother?
His uncle?

Every person we passed became a potential genetic link to the child about to join our family. It was overwhelming and sad, and made my heart race.

We checked into our very very nice hotel, and gawked at the view from our 2 bedroom suite on the 15th floor.
The windows wrapped in a boomerang shape along the curves of our apartment; through each frame a different urbanscape pulsed with noise and light.

We all crashed that night, barely managing to eat some take-out bibimbap that Sean found at a neighborhood restaurant.

The next day we woke up early--4:30am early--and watched Pororo cartoons until the breakfast service began. After we gorged ourselves we ventured out into our neighborhood--the financial district. I didn't have high hopes for the "interesting" factor of the area, but was pleasantly surprised to find a winding tree-lined street that led us to Deoksugung Palace where the changing of the guard ceremony was underway.

We stood and watched the elaborate process as little old ladies pointed at Sweet Bubs and Miss A and smiled.

It costs about a dollar for an adult to enter the palace, and that dollar is well spent. We wandered the grounds and peered in the ancient buildings. Several school groups were there and teachers and students alike stopped to talk to the big kids and take their pictures with them.

I watch the school boys with particular interest--will my son look like them when he is older? Will he work diligently on his assignment like that boy? Or goof off with friends like that one? My eyes fill with tears for no reason. For every reason.

Later that night we take the subway for the first time.

It is so clean, and so easy to navigate. There are special seats for the elderly, pregnant women and women with small children. Invariably someone gives up a seat for my snow-haired mother. Someone else smiles at the big kids and laughs when they respond with "Hello" in Korean. We teach them to give up their seats if an older person gets on a crowded train and is without a place to sit. They watch with eagle eyes for any opportunity to leap up and bow to an elder. This cements their position as most popular foreign children in Seoul.

We get off at our stop just before dusk and set off to find the Lotus Lantern Festival, an annual parade that celebrates Buddha's birthday. We think we are lost and ask for directions. We pass a hundred coffee shops (thank God Koreans love their coffee as much as I do) and finally find ourselves in the thick of a crowd. We go with the herd until we see this:
And this:

And then we are scrambling for a curb to stand on, to watch the lanterns swirl by:

It is one of those events that is so beautiful you can't believe you are really there. Sweet Bubs falls asleep and snores on my lap through the whole thing. He misses bright lights and loud cheering. He misses his sister's eyes wider than I have ever seen them, and hundreds of Buddhist monks marching in throngs illuminated by lotus shaped globes of paper.

We try to leave early to beat the rush but the joke is on us, because this is a big city and there is ALWAYS a rush.

The next day we wake up and plan to visit the COEX mall aquarium. The COEX mall is the largest underground mall in Asia, and the aquarium is massive. We see manatees and electric eels and manta rays with wingspans as wide as I am tall. We have the dead skin on our hands nibbled off by tiny ravenous fish. An older woman fills Miss A's cupped hands with homemade snacks and strokes her cheeks. Miss A says "kamsahamnida" and bows, because she is a polite girl and then looks at me with a bewildered smile. "Why do people keep giving me stuff?" "Why am I allowed to take food from a stranger here but not at home?" Oh, you got me with that one child. You got me. "I think it's because they are giving me things as a way to say welcome to my country? Do you think mom?"

As we leave the aquarium, my mom and Miss A fall ill. We find a pharmacy and pantomime the symptoms, leaving with bags filled with bottles and pills labeled in hangul. Miss A's fever burns through the night and she sleeps hard for the rest of the day.

I am burning too--but with the nervous energy of knowing that it is the last night I will ever spend without knowing what my son looks like face to face. The last night wondering what his hair smells like or what his laugh sounds like.

Our first meeting with him at Eastern Social Welfare Society is the next day.

I think of the worst case scenarios. He will be totally withdrawn. His development will be vastly different from what we expected. His FM will hate us. He will hate us.

I can't sleep.

I am terrified. I want everything to slow down or hurry up.

I can't do this. I have to do this.

Monday, May 21, 2012

More things I know

I'm alive! Technical diffuclties in posting. Hope to have a full post up soon, withpictures of my beautiful youngest son. I set expectations low--didn't want to be disappointed if I didn't "feel it" when we first met. But the sight of him, and the feel of his skin, and the kisses he gave us--I felt it. I felt it big time. His development and personality match the picture of the child we had in our minds. He will fit in with our big kids SO WELL. Headed back to ESWS tomorrow because YH's foster father wants to meet us on his day off. He and YH have a very strong bond--YH calls him on the phone everyday and when Appa gets home from work YH helps him with his evening routine. YH loves to follow big dogs around (PHEW). He is very busy and very curious, always asking "What's this? What's this?" He is tech-savvy and can operate a phone/tablet touch screen easily. He is sweet and loving, giving kisses and backrubs. He laughs a lot and is playful. I didn't cry until the end, when I hugged Mrs. S. Our outfits matched--two mothers with tender hearts dressed in the blues and blacks of a bruise. Oh, I ache thinking about what is to come.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Big feelings.

Our household is boiling over with big feelings this week. It should come as no surprise that beneath the excitement of our trip, and finally meeting our son/baby brother, we are each struggling with some less-than-happy feelings. Complicated feelings. Miss A described them as "purple feelings".

For Sean and I, the big feelings are expressed through spurts of manic activity. For instance: on Monday I decided we absolutely could not go to Korea unless I cleaned and organized our hall closet. Obviously. We keep our hands moving so that we don't have to listen to the nagging worries in our heads. We act like we have it together because we *have* to have it together--for the kids.

The kids, blessed creatures, are free to wear their big feelings on their sleeves. And they have, in impressive ways.

Yesterday was supposed to be Field Day at school and Miss A had a very specific idea of what the required dress code should look like. The knee-length shorts that I picked out for her (to protect a healing patch of poison ivy rash) did not fit her definition. And we battled over it. And I saw her frustration mounting, and I saw anxiety taking her over. Instead of insisting "Put on the shorts--no argument. I am the adult here." (or some related directive) I put down the shorts and wrapped her in my arms. I asked if she was nervous that she would get into trouble if she didn't wear shorter shorts, and she nodded her head. I offered to write a note for her to give to her gym teacher, explaining the wardrobe choice; would that help her to feel less nervous? Yes it would. At that point her anxious little body softened in my arms and the angry tears turned into just straight up tears. I said "It's hard to be seven, isn't it?" and she said "It's hard to be seven when everything is changing!" She talked, I listened.

(It's hard to be 36 when everything is changing, too.)

Sweet Bubs is usually harder to read, but this week he has made it very clear that his feelings are muddled. During the day he is loud, clumsy, quick to argue with his sister. None of these traits are his norm. At bedtime he becomes softer and quieter; for the past several nights he has skipped reading Harry Potter with his dad and sister. Instead he walks up to me and says "Mom, can I invite you snuggle?" We cuddle up together and he tells me about his day and burrows his head into my neck.

Yesterday a friend generously offered to have Sweet Bubs over for a playdate after school. When I went to pick him up he was like a different child: angry, crossing boundaries, not following any directions I gave him. It was a struggle to get him out of the friends' house and I was pretty embarrassed. On our evening walk he brought a toy sword and furiously whacked at every signpost we passed. This morning he told me he had nightmares, but didn't want to talk about them.

I tell him I love him, he will always be my boy. I tell him I am a little nervous about our trip; is he nervous too? He doesn't answer.  I hug him and rub his back.

Big feelings can be scary feelings. Scary feelings can creep in when you least expect it. It can be surprising to feel sad, angry, or worried about something that everyone else tells you is a happy event. I get it son; I really, really do.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Travel nerd alert

Peoples. If you know me in real life, you know that international travel is one of my favorite things. There are few places in the world I wouldn't jump at the chance to explore, and I've been fortunate to travel for both work and pleasure. Over the years I've honed my packing strategy to travel light under pretty much any circumstances. Once, I went from three days at a conference in Arizona (where I was presenting) to one month in Mongolia--in November. That was probably my most challenging itinerary in terms of differences in temperature/purpose of each destination.

For this trip we've learned that the temperatures will be in the high 80's low 90's during our visit. Higher than expected, but overall not a problem for a family of Texans on the go. We have been advised to pack "dressy" clothing, especially for our official meetings and to not show shoulders/cleavage/back.

Now, I know a lot of people who have come back from traveling to Seoul and said that the above advice was off-base--that in fact you would be fine in your yoga pants and sneakers. And while I am sure that this is factual feedback, I'm still going to pack along the "official" guidelines. My travels around the globe have taught me that nobody, and I mean nobody, does "casual" like Americans do casual. I would wager that the average person in most global big cities dresses in a more "put together" manner than the average American tourist. I can say this because I live in Austin--people here wear flip-flops EVERYWHERE and it makes my eyeballs hurt to look at them.

In my professional life I have had many an argument with a study abroad student who is miffed about a suggested packing list. Said student will invariably complain about the "stuffy" nature of the list, and then come back and tell me how people *totally* wore shorts in Barcelona. Fine, student, fine. I grant you that *some* people wore shorts in Barcelona--but chances are, if you dress in white sneakers/shorts/flip-flops/yoga pants/tank tops and the majority of people around you are dressed more conservatively, you are not adhering to the cultural norms of your host culture. This carries the risk of offending the host culture--but it also makes you an easy target for the petty thieves that thrive in every big city.

For me, appearing to dress in accordance with my host culture's expectations of a woman of my age/social status makes me feel more comfortable when I travel. I learned this quickly when I studied abroad in Madagascar as an undergrad. I packed cargo pants, hiking boots, button-down shirts with mesh inserts--all manner of trekking attire. And I looked the fool, because in fact I studied in the capitol city, Antananarivo, not the rain forest. And my many shades of khaki and my clunky footwear looked absurd next to the smartly pressed skirts and dresses of my Malagasy peers.

So yeah--I'm making my whole family dress fancy. Not uncomfortable mind you--just with a bit more care than we might exercise on a typical Saturday morning stroll to get breakfast tacos.

For myself I've put together a capsule wardrobe built around the colors black, royal blue and gray. I'm taking black ponte skinny pants, a black ponte knee-length skirt, a blue/black/white print dress, a gray jersey cardigan, a gray t-shirt, a royal blue waterfall cardigan, three short-sleeve blouses, 2 scarves, bronze flats and black flats. And a bight coral trench.

Our travel itinerary has us landing in Korea on Friday afternoon. We did use a travel agent to book the tickets, mostly because our travel party is so large. Feel free to email me if you want to know who we used.

 Once we clear customs we will board a bus that takes us to Seoul. We decided to stay at Fraser Place Central--a residence hotel that offers 1-, 2-, 3- bedroom apartment/suites. The hotel also has an indoor pool (the kids demanded this amenity) and an indoor playscape. This will come in handy when Sean and I are at our Korean placing agency (ESWS)--Nana can hang at the hotel with the kids if she doesn't feel up to taking them out. We used a booking agent to secure the rooms--for traveling families I highly recommend checking in with Phil Yeo at about availabilities/discounted room rates.

We have a list of fun, non-adoption related activities that we hope to do while we're there:

Night-bus tour of Seoul
Baseball game (Go Doosan Bears!)
Lantern parade and festival
Food Tour
Going to a "cat cafe"

Not to mention visiting the aquarium in the Coex Mall, Lotte World, wandering through Insadong, visiting a palace....

And oh yeah, meeting our son.

8 days is definitely not enough time.

We leave in the evening on Friday May 25. We'll be leaving as a family of five. I have very low expectations for how the flights home will go. Luckily my eldest child was kind enough to make it so that we will never again be embarassed by a child's behavior on a flight--when she was 7 months old she screamed for the entire 8 hour flight to Amsterdam. Not an exaggeration: the.entire.flight.

We survived that experience, so I think we can survive anything.

We will be arriving in our home city at 11:30pm Friday. We have decided against having a big airport "welcome" party. None of us will be at our best after a long day of travel and we want to minimize the amount of outside stimulation for our YH. We'll head home and try to get everyone to get some rest, and then wake up and start the rest of our lives. Together.

I do intend to blog while we're gone, so stay tuned.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

And now we rest.

Now that I know we will be traveling, that YH is legally able to join our family in the US, I am feeling all kinds of relief.

And all kinds of panic. But the panic is over the little, easily remedied stuff: travel details, packing, forgetting to register Miss A for swim team...and so on.

This kind of panic is far preferable to the deep and wounding panic of our wait. And I am more than aware that my relief comes at the cost of other families' despair. Because you see, it turns out we were rather lucky amongst the families in our batch of Emigration Permit approvals. My program specialist had told us that we would likely be in the middle of the travel calls due to our ATK date. I thought for sure that meant at least a week after the first calls came out.

Instead, we were one of the first three travel calls for our batch. From what I know, it looks like our placing agency moved the "waiting children" (the ones with medical needs) to the front of the line. Now there are rumors that the US embassy will only be scheduling 9 VI appointments per Korean placing agency, per week. This is in contrast to the "normal" schedule of 10 VI appointments per day total, with no specific days for particular agencies. If this rumor is true it has the potential to really slow things down for families waiting for travel call.

And I feel sick knowing that my happiness comes with the collateral damage of someone else's disappointment. When we were mired in the muck of our wait I was quick to brush off the sentiments of families already untied with their children. Sentiments like "I know how hard it is. Believe me it is all worth it when you hold your child. You won't even remember the wait once you're home..."

We are the first families to EVER endure a wait to take custody that is this long. While I am sure the anxiety is at core the same for families waiting 2 months or 12 months, the reality of such a prolonged wait is that it drains the adoptive families of hope/enthusiasm/joy. We dare not celebrate any movement for fear the next news to come out will rob us of our expectations. We live on edge for over a year. It *is* hard and it *is* unfair. And if you are reading this and you are still waiting, please know I am rooting for you and your family. I will not try to placate you now that my wait is close to the end. You have a right to be angry at the circumstances and a right to mourn your expectations.

The other day, before our travel call came, I had coffee with a friend and fellow adoptive mother. She asked me what kind of "self-care" resources did I have lined up. Huh. "Self-care". Yeah--that would be a good thing to do... Of course I hadn't thought a lick about how best to take care of myself during our transition, so that I can be the best me I can be for YH.

We came up with a list of items: schedule a massage for a week after our return, schedule an hour or two for drinks with my ladies within 2 or 3 weeks home, make sure to move every day, make sure to write...

Little things. Little things that replenish the spirit and body. That strengthen my tie to the outside world.

For my waiting family friends: I encourage you to think of your own self-care list. What makes you feel like yourself? What can you plan or schedule now, before you're in the thick of parenting?

My next post will have some practical travel details, and some thoughts on "the airport welcome" and our plans for our first weeks home. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Travel Call!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday morning I decided to further torment myself by calling the National Visa Center again. I dialed the number with dread, expecting the same bad news as the day before.

I got through to an operator right away. I sort of mumbled my request, already kicking myself for inviting disappointment.

My operator (Ana) said, "Ohhhhh..."
And the voice in my head said "Nora you idiot--of course she has nothing to tell you."
And then Ana continued with, "Ohhhhh....he's so cute! His VI appointment is on Friday."


I then professed my undying love and admiration for Ana until it made her uncomfortable and she had to hang up. (I wish this was an exaggeration).

The rest of the day was a blur--coffee with an AMAZING friend who rocks my world and a hair appointment with my bestest stylist ever. Common wisdom would have you believe that when you are on the cusp of a major life event you should avoid drastically changing your hair--but I say the heck with that.  So I went from red to dark brown, from slightly shaggy to tight pixie.

Last night Sean and I talked about the possibility that our travel call would come on Monday; maybe Friday but probably Monday. We debated over when to buy tickets and made a list (a looooooong list) of all the things we still need to prepare.

I slept really well, with the cat curled at my knees.

This morning we went through our normal routine. Sean took the kids to school and I got ready for my regular Friday morning hike with Ruthie. Sean came home and got ready for work while I cleaned up in the kitchen.

At 7:40 my phone rang.
I thought, "That's weird. Who's calling so early?" I thought maybe it was the school; maybe our poison-ivy afflicted child is having a hard time.

I looked at the caller id. It said "Childrens Home..."

I picked up the receiver and J*** said "Good morning Nora. I'm calling to tell you to go get your son--he's ready."

I said, "Really????? We can really go?"

J*** said, "You can really go. It's been a long time waiting , I know."

I said, "J*** it's been a really effin' long time waiting."
 J*** said, "It's been a really, really effin long time waiting."

And then we both laughed and said more curse words to one another. Because she's cool like that.

I hung up the phone and then had to wait an eternity for Sean to get out of the shower so that I could tell him the good news.

We are stunned. We are amazed. We are SOOOOOOO HAPPY. We are sooooo scared!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"I bet they'll be pretty awesome"

Yesterday was a bad day.

Nothing awful happened, per se, but an avalanche of tiny misfortunes had me pinned down by despair. Of course the giant tremor that let loose the avalanche was the fact that it has been 7 days since we were notified of EP approval--and still no travel call. The last batch of families got their call in three days. Not a single person on the many, many forums I troll has received a travel call. It is an ominous sign that something is different this go round--that maybe my expectations need to be reset.

Of course my program specialist told me that actually, it was a sign that I need to turn off the computer. She's wise, that one.

Instead I decided to poke the situational anxiety beast and call the National Visa Center (NVC). When you call the National Visa Center (post EP approval) your goal is to find out if your child has had his/her "visa interview/embassy appearance " (VI/EA) yet. The VI/EA are typically the last steps before travel call. If VI/EA have taken place, the person at the NVC will say "Oh, he/she is so cute"--because your child's photo will be uploaded into the system. This is code for "Buy your plane tickets! Your phone is about to ring."

The second best thing to hear is "Your child's VI appointment is scheduled for..." because that gives you an idea of when to expect travel call.

What you do not want to hear from the NVC operator is "The embassy is waiting for your packet." This means that your Korean placing agency has not yet returned your "P3", or "packet" to the US Embassy. Nothing can happen until the packet is received at the embassy.

Guess which phrase I heard yesterday??

Packet out. No picture. No VI/EA appointment scheduled.

Cue sad trombone.

I was pretty devastated by this news, and mad at myself for calling in the first place. I wish I could let it all go--just trust in the process. But I feel responsible for having to readjust not only my expectations, but the expectations of everyone around me.

So I was sad and grouchy for the rest of the day.

The big kids were driving me crazy. One was exceedingly whiny, and one has poison ivy that pushes his/her sensory issues to the limit. This child is "highly spirited" to being with, and when his/her stress cup is filled to the brim by sensory input (ie: itching like crazy) he/she is really no fun to deal with.

One dog was extra bouncy because she's been trapped inside by rain for two days, and one dog is recovering from a spinal injury that requires that he be carried up and down stairs.

My inbox is filled with messages from people who I love, but cannot muster the strength to reply to. I feel like an ass. 

I owe three people who I love dearly a phone call--but I can't bring myself to dial their numbers.

Basically, I'm feeling like a failure on all fronts. And *everything* annoys me.

In the evening, after being exasperated with the kids' giggling and super-slow bedtime preparations, my son said "Hey Mom--instead of listening to stories with Dad and Miss A, do you want to snuggle?"

And it turns out that's exactly what I wanted to do. We went into his room and climbed up into his loft bed. He moved the stack of books he keeps next to his pillow and turned down his blanket. He patted the mattress and said "Mom, how do you think the snuggles will be? I bet they'll be pretty awesome."

We snuggled and talked and giggled for the next twenty minutes.

And it was indeed pretty awesome.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mi cuerpo, mi cuerpo hace musica....

My middle child is in the final weeks of his kindergarten year. He is part of our school's inaugural Dual Language cohort, and I could not be more excited about this path for him.

In this program the class is composed of students who primarily speak English at home and students who primarily speak Spanish at home. The same group of children will move through elementary school together creating a consistent learning community. Students learn in both languages; at the kindergarten level this is accomplished through a "language of the day" and through the amazing work of our children's teacher. I have been in the classroom and witnessed firsthand how learning and conversation consists of a blend of directions/questions/comments delivered in two languages.

It's awesome.

What's even more awesome is that it is working.

At mid-year my son had some pretty solid pre-literacy skills. He could "read" a book to you if it was one he was already familiar with, he could sight read a handful of words. Then, seemingly overnight, he launched full-force into reading with fluency. I love to have him read to me--he tackles challenging books and is able to see them through without getting frustrated.

Recently his teacher has been sending home books in Spanish in his homework folder. And not only can my son read in English, he can also read in Spanish. He sounds out the words--in proper Spanish pronunciation. He can switch from one language to another, from one accent to another.

It's maybe the coolest thing ever.

Critics of the dual language program question how our children can gain the requisite depth of knowledge in subject matter to pass standardized testing. They worry that the English speaking kids will miss out on content, and that the Spanish speaking kids will miss out on developing true fluency in English.

Watching my son and his classmates at work and play, I can tell you that I have no such concerns. Yes, I am concerned with curriculum and training for the teachers. I am concerned about the school district's commitment to the dual language model. I am motivated to improve my Spanish skills so that I can keep up with my son.

The ability to think and feel in multiple languages is an incredible achievement--what a gift to our children.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Give me an E! Give me a P!...E! P!...E! P!

Yesterday morning I was in a funk. Wallowing in apathy, as I am wont to do when things aren't progressing on pace with the imaginary timeline in my head. I was distressed that we hadn't heard news of YH's emigration permit being approved yet--we had hotel and pet care reservations lined up for mid-May and it looked like we would have to cancel them. The darkest corner of my brain was convinced there was another unexpected delay and we wouldn't be approved for months.

Adding to my despair: over the weekend our elderly tripod beagle developed sudden paralysis. He has since regained some use of his back right leg but his back left leg is useless. This is particularly challenging for him because he is missing his front left leg--so in essence he can only support himself with the legs on his right side. We've had to carry him up and down stairs and outside to relieve himself. He's not in pain, but the prospect of having to determine how this impacts his quality of life completely drained my emotional reserves and filled my stress cup to the brim.

I dragged myself through the morning preparations (packing lunches, putting socks on tired little feet, filling dog bowls with organic kibble, loading the dishwasher). I checked email 4000 times. I checked the facebookery 5000 times.

I decided to wash the windows.

Then a friend and former student came over for a perfect diversion. My friend is a finalist for a very prestigious fellowship and had an out-of-state interview later in the week. She had a new suit that needed a blouse; so I got to dress her up in my clothes, trying our best to transform her into Hillary 2.0

We finished our sartorial labor quickly and moved on to giggling over things on the internet (word to the wise: never try to freak out a college student with creepy videos on the interwebs; the college student will always one-up you).

And in the midst of our giggling my phone rang. It was my program specialist. I warned my friend I might cry and hastily grabbed the receiver.

J*** said, "Hi Nora. I have good news for you--YH's emigration permit is approved. You can expect your travel call within 1-3 weeks."

And I died a thousand deaths from happiness.

And then I spent the rest of the day in a fog. We went to our favorite Korean restaurant for dinner, to celebrate, and my daughter asked many insightful questions about what things will be different/same when we travel. Questions about food and drink, about bookstores, about building height, about public transportation--she's a traveler at heart, that one.

My son matter of factly said "I'm pretty sure I'll be the one who comforts YH when he's sad. Pretty sure he'll need me for that."

Final stretch. We're finally in the final stretch.