Friday, May 29, 2009

Airplane safety

I just finished reading "The Unthinkable" by Amanda Ripley, an excellent book about human behavior during disaster. It's not a disaster preparation guide, but it does discuss the good habit of people who survive.

Going to China involves air travel, of course, and we are all naturally concerned with safety issues. Therefore, I'm writing this post as a service to all of you as well as for myself.

First, remember that most airplane emergencies occur on the ground. It's scary to think of your plane plummeting from a great height and crashing to the ground in a massive explosion. However, that doesn't tend to happen - most problems come to light as the plane is preparing for takeoff, or develop gradually enough so that the pilot can bring the plane down for a safe emergency evacuation. Odds are good that you will have the opportunity to evacuate.

Read the safety card tucked into the magazine pocket at your seat. Studies have shown that reading the card increases survival rates significantly. Why? Because emergency evacuation procedures were fresh in those people's minds, and they didn't spend as much time fumbling about in panic and confusion. In fact, read it every time you get on a plane. It only takes a few minutes, and by your third connecting flight, you should have it memorized.

Confidence makes all the difference in an emergency. If you allow yourself to panic, you may freeze, scream, and/or make bad decisions. While the plane is preparing for takeoff, imagine yourself coolly and competently acting out an emergency evacuation. Run the scenario in your head a few times. Many people will say that dwelling on the worst will only make you more anxious. On the contrary, having a vague, intangible sense of emergency procedures is much scarier. People actually tend to calm down if they feel they have a good, solid understanding of what their actions should be.

Airplanes are designed to evacuate in 75 seconds or less. Even if the plane is on fire, you'll still have an average of 90 seconds of safe evacuation time. If you pay attention and don't panic, you should live.

Be aware of the types of things that can slow down an evacuation.

Don't jump over seats
to reach the exit sooner - you'll only create a bottleneck that will slow the process down, and you may injure yourself and require someone else to take the time to rescue you.

Leave your carry-on luggage. One sizable bag takes as much time to evacuate as one person. If you take your bag, it's filling up a slot that may be needed by a fellow passenger. Also, scrambling to gather your stuff wastes precious seconds. Leave it all and get in line already! (The Red Cross will give you toothpaste, okay?)

Grab the children, leave the flight seats. In some cases, being strapped into a flight seat may save a baby's life, but only if he's being tossed around; for instance, if the plane is tumbling. If the plane is not tumbling, fussing with the seat/carrier/bassinet will waste precious seconds. Grab the kids and go go go.

Tell your fellow passengers the rules. Don't be afraid to order them around if they're doing it wrong. Go ahead and say, as loudly as you can, "Leave your bags! Your carry-on takes just as long to evacuate as my baby, and I need to save my baby." Don't apologize or be overly polite, and don't worry that they'll argue you down. It's not just your baby at risk - remember, the rest of us will have babies too. (And we'll beat that arrogant SOB to a pulp if he even looks at you funny!)

When the flight attendant says "Jump," jump! No hesitating! That inflatable slide has undergone thousands of safety tests so that you won't even crick your neck on the way down. So clutch that baby and jump. Most inflatable slide injuries occur when someone hurls his carry-on bag down ahead of him and it hits the person who has just reached the bottom.

Which brings me back to that very important point - leave your luggage! Srsly. Just leave it in the plane and go.

Keeping all this in mind should help you chase away that vague, nagging notion that there's something to be afraid of, and help you relax and enjoy the flight. Or, rather, flights. All eight of them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

14 months!

Today Yun Gui is 14 months old.

We still haven't heard anything from China. Not even a whisper. No updated medical records, no pre-approval, nothing. On the other hand, we haven't sent them the photo book either. We haven't even made one yet. My husband keeps saying we should, but I don't think he's picturing the same thing I am. I think it's very important to get inside a toddler's head and create pictures that his young, developing brain can relate to, regardless of what we see when we look at photos. He just wants to collect a bunch of photos. We are therefore getting nothing done.

The builders are working hard. I've been scavenging some of their discarded materials so I can build a playset. I've made illustrations of it already. I should draw up plans and post them here.

A friend promised she'd give me her huge childhood collection of beanie babies and other stuffed animals. I'll probably keep a few for Yun Gui, and the rest will go to China with us to be donated to the orphanage. Beanie babies make good luggage padding! And what kid doesn't want a kitten-sized stuffed animal to love and hug?

I wonder if any studies have been done on the relationship between stuffed animals and attachment disorder. I know studies have been done on monkeys. They found that a baby monkey would choose a cuddly, soft 'mommy' that didn't provide food over a non-cuddly food dispenser 'mommy'. In other words, baby monkeys would willingly starve to death for a hug. That's a scary thought, but an important one.

This morning I wandered around in a cemetery, gazing reverently at all the gravestones marked 'captain'. Not all of them were military captains; in fact I'm sure most were civilian fishermen. And my cemetery foray wasn't planned; it just happened to be near the coffee shop, and I just happened to have some free time for a stroll after I bought my muffin. But I'd been wanting to do something reverent for Memorial Day, and that's what i ended up doing.

I also flew in a biplane yesterday, and exchanged WWI and WWII factoids with the pilot's buddy while we waited for the plane to get prepped. I guess that was related to Memorial Day. A lot of servicemen died in biplanes. They weren't the safest military vessels of their era, let's just say.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Half a world away

On days like today, I feel so far from my son.

I think about packing up and traveling to the other side of the world, a multi-step journey involving planes, trains, and hotels, but we aren't traveling yet. We're just thinking about it. We're getting new suitcases and baby seats. We're checking the weather in Nanjing and Guangzhou. We're learning "Ni hao!" and "Bu yao, xie xie!" I met with the pediatrician and discussed Yun Gui's special needs with her.

I really like her. She's going to be a great help - she's very forthcoming with information, which is SOOOO much better than all the people who wait until I ask just the right question and then say, "Oh, is THAT what you need to know!" Or all the many, many people who offer to help me with anything, anything at all - oh, but not that. And not that either - find somebody else to ask. And you're asking the wrong person about that too.

This pediatrician has the attitude that she's never the wrong person. If I ask a question that's out of her area of expertise, she'll at least discuss it with me, and lead me in the right direction so that I can find the right person to ask. She has two adopted children of her own; she's been through the process (not to say other people haven't been through the process) and she's sympathetic to the feeling of flailing helplessness that creeps up on a waiting parent every now and then.

I'm not one for support groups, so maybe I'm exceptionally prone to flailing helplessness. I go about my day, assured that everything is all right and I'm coping fine, right up until the moment that the helplessness envelops me and knocks me over. Then I get on the phone and choke down my urgency while trying to coax some sentiments of reassurance out of my poor agents. Maybe if I did the support group thing as a preventative measure before it got that far.... but until I desperately need reassurances, I really am fine! I swear! Nothing I can't handle alone! Alleviating insecurity doesn't seem very important while I'm feeling secure.

I'm not on the phone this time. I'm just writing in my blog. I suppose everything is all right. China will look at my file when they get to it. All things in good time.

On the other hand, I would like to get a pre-approval. Just a little note that says, "The CCAA is reading your files and they think they like you."

I know my son is safe and okay in the orphanage. He's not very old yet, and we were willing to accept a child older than him. His health is stable and his surgery isn't urgent. However, I can't see much reason, now that he's been matched with us, that he can't just go ahead and get united with his family now. I don't know why someone doesn't say, "This match looks good. Go turn on the green light for them." I don't know why they can't say, "He's ready for his surgery now, so why don't we send for his parents to come get him so they can bring him to the American surgeon."

We're going to spend the rest of our lives as family. Why not start right now? Why wait? What's with this limbo of great distance? What's the point of living 13 time zones apart when we can be in the same time zone? Why not send him to live in the nice house that's waiting for him, and allow some other new baby to sleep in his orphanage crib?

I'd at least like to know that we are a good match. I want China to tell us we're good enough. I think we're good enough, but I want to hear it from someone else.

Because, well, if they don't think we're good enough, I'll be shocked and devastated, and I'd rather go through that sooner rather than later. It's probably not likely, but just hearing that we're pre-approved will assure me that it's not going to happen, rather than leaving me with the vague belief that it's unlikely to happen.

Maybe if I go to Zen meditation again, I'll feel a little better. I'll feel closer to my son. I won't be closer to him, but if I'm careful, I can possibly convince myself that I feel closer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My first Zen meditation

I went to Tuesday Morning Zen Meditation. I'm glad I did - it put me in a relaxed mood, full of inner peace, that's defined my whole day so far. I still feel it. Of course, it also helps that nothing particularly stressful has happened since then. I finished the database for my boss, I ran errands, and then I did some physically strenuous but mentally lightweight landscaping. I got to ponder Zen some more while I laid bricks.

The meditation itself was pleasant and low-key. Five other people participated, all of them white and over 60. Yun Gui is going to wonder whether the practice is even Asian at all! We chanted, then did silent meditation, then walked a labyrinth in single file. There was another silent meditation, plus social hour, but I had to get home early because I knew my boss would call me. I wish Zen meditation were on Mondays or Wednesdays. Tuesday is the day my boss is most likely to call me with surprise tasks to do.

So, even though I missed the ending, Zen meditation achieved what I was aiming for. It relaxed me and put me in a good mood, and it made me feel closer to my son's culture. The latter goal is crucially important. In this period of waiting, I feel so remote from him, so distant from anything he's learned in life so far. I've never been to his city, country, or continent. I think very differently from how his caregivers think. The art, the scenery, the attitudes here are different. My language is very different. There's a huge cultural gap, and I want with all my heart to bridge it.

It's sad to think his religion, the religion of his ancestors, is now illegal in China. It's perfectly legal here, to whatever degree we Westerners bother to salvage and understand the bits and pieces that interest us. I know a bunch of old, affluent, white folk sitting around a circle thinking about how their day will go isn't really the genuine Asian tradition he would have grown up with, if only he'd been allowed to. Also, like I said before, he's probably from a Confucian tradition and not a Chen one. But, hey, I'm doing the best I can. And it's mostly for me, anyhow. I can't go to China right now, but I can't sit idle either.

Okay, okay, meditation is the very definition of sitting idle. Whatever! It's working, and that's what matters.

"Hurry up and wait," they say. So I will. But I'll do it in style.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cape Cod Zen Center

I found the Cape Cod Zen Center. (Thanks, Yahoo Yellow Pages!)

I think I'll try attending Tuesday morning meditation. For one, I could use the relaxation. Gardening is pretty zen for me, but adding some meditation with a real group of zen practitioners can't hurt.

For two, it'll give me a chance to get in touch with a little more of my son's culture. Sure, his region is predominantly Confucian. But I don't expect there's a Cape Cod Confucian Center.

Hey, when we bring Yun Gui to our Catholic church, will we get Mass Confucian? Hahaha! I know, I'm so funny.

I'm no stranger to the Eastern spiritual paths, but I've never been much into formal (or informal) practice. This'll be good for me. And I'm sure I'll fit right in - all the zen masters have names like Timothy and Barbara.

They do not appear to have a martial arts school attached. I was really looking for a martial arts school. Husband'o'mine took martial arts at a Buddhist temple when he was a kid, and we'd like to give Yun Gui the same opportunity. But the closest one I found was in Watertown. Hah hah. We're not trekking to Watertown once a week just so Yun Gui can practice his karate chop.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I'm getting stuff done

Today is a Day of Many Phone Calls.

It's such a dreary day that I'm hardly inclined to move. But move I must.

So far I've called Pam the agent and gotten some much-needed clarity and reassurances.

I've called the pediatrician recommended by my local agent, got through (yay!), and made an appointment. I'll need her to tell me how to care for Yun Gui while we're in China, and prescribe me whatever special medical supplies I'll need.

I called both of my co-workers and told them to finish their schedules for April. This isn't adoption-related.

I have two more names on my adoption-related call list and I can't remember who they are. Hmm. Okay, one's a nurse. I'm supposed to ask her for general advice. Like what? I don't even know. Maybe I should talk to the pediatrician first.

Who's the other one? Eep! I can't remember.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The dangers of self-esteem

I've been reading a lot about parenting lately. Nothing radical; just a few basic books and websites that try to give mostly practical information. (Okay, the chapter about how to work from home, assuming you had a full-time nanny at your disposal, was a little out-there. But most of it's been practical.)

One thing of interest keeps popping up: a warning that first-time older parents tend to try too hard to protect their child's self-esteem, and as a result, the child grows up to be a spoiled little monster with no coping skills.

Huh. We're first-time older parents, I think. But we'd never do that.

"Older parents fall into traps such as reasoning with the child instead of disciplining him."

Hey, reason is very educational at times! How else can a child grow up to think rationally? Besides, sometimes there are reasons for things. What should I do, not mention them?

"They philosophize that it's important to allow the child to express wants and needs, but then they may rely too much on negotiating with the child to keep the peace and avoid temper tantrums."

I dunno. I'm a big believer in expressing wants and needs. It's better than stifling them.

"They believe in allowing the child choices, but then go so far that the child's choices are actually controlling them."

Okay, no. Not gonna happen. The rebellious teenager inside me does not allow anyone else to control me.

"They get into the habit of speaking to the child as they would speak to an adult, and, over time, may begin to think of the child as a small adult, capable of the maturity and understanding of an adult. The child may add to this impression by picking up big words and sophisticated language."

I'm not going to stop using big words and sophisticated language just because there's a kid around. How could I do that? I talk how I talk, and he's going to pick it up, and that's how it will be.

"Eventually the child becomes so accustomed to high levels of respect and control that, when he finds himself in social situations where he lacks those things, he doesn't know how to act or what to do. If whining or shouting at home sends his parents scrambling to comfort him, he'll expect the same results elsewhere. If rudeness is rewarded at home, he'll learn to be rude."

Okay, got it. No rudeness.

"If Mommy and Daddy come running to protect him from every failure, no matter how small, then when he fails in the real world he'll lack any coping skills to deal with it."

Ouch. No coping skills. Bad.

Okay, maybe I should pay attention after all. I may not intend to over-coddle my son, but coddling happens. Jumping up and kissing every boo-boo happens. It's not like I have anything better to do than lavish attention on my child. I have a part-time job and I volunteer, and besides that... what? Housework? Ho hum. I can drop the laundry and hug my son without the world coming to an end. I have big plans for him, lessons to teach him, wonders to bestow upon him. I want to make him feel loved, and I'll have a million opportunities in which to do it.

Uh oh. Am I at high risk of becoming one of these older parents with an incorrigible brat?

I mean, of all the dangers I'm warned against, I was planning to do a whole bunch of them.



Here's a thought.

I rescue and rehabilitate feral (and otherwise emotionally damaged) cats.

"So?" you may ask. "What do cats have to do with kids? You're not one of those crazies who thinks, "Hey, I'll be a great parent! I love my kitty-witties to DEATH!" Are you?"

Noooo, don't worry. I'm not. I'm aware that cats don't equal kids. Cats lack the brain capacity in several important ways to measure up to kids. For one, disciplining them is pointless - they do not associate the punishment with the crime - ever - under almost any circumstances. You cannot train a cat so much as you can outwit it and manipulate it.

However, once you've learned to outwit and manipulate a cat, once you've learned to adjust your mind so that you can think like it, rather than expecting it to think like you, children are almost refreshing. With children, you have a chance, however remote, of getting through to him. Of teaching concepts like consequences and empathy, things that even the brainiest cat struggles with.

And... perhaps more importantly... I know from my work with cats that I am not a pushover. When a cat with food issues begs and begs and begs for HOOOOUUUURS over a nearly-empty food bowl, looking up at you with big sad eyes and mewling in distress, it's hard not to give in and fill that bowl. Even when the cat just ate. Even when that cat weighs 11 lbs - that's like 30% overweight for a small-boned female like mine.

It takes a pretty strong spine to say, "Hah, that cat's not starving," and wait until the next scheduled feeding. But I do it every day. And guess what - she still manages to not be starving. Over time, her food issues will fade, and she'll no longer panic at the sight of a nearly-empty bowl.

I can do this. I can avoid the traps, learn to say no, and raise a boy with coping skills. Coping skills AND healthy self-esteem.