Monday, June 29, 2009

How does one lose oneself?

I have a question. What do people mean when, in response to learning I'm about to become a mom, they warn me, "Don't lose yourself!"?

Or when, like I've read in certain books and blogs, women lament that motherhood has caused them to lose themselves?

I guess these people perceive the road to self-growth and personal success to be Identity Indicator #1, and that setting aside a career or a dream in order to take care of one's children is an enormous, irreplaceable sacrifice.

I dunno. I'm not a parent yet, so maybe I have no ground to stand on. But it seems to me that if someone feels they've lost their entire sense of identity by becoming parents... well, they're doing it wrong.

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They must be assuming that identity is a static thing. Or, worse, identity is how others perceive you, rather than how you perceive yourself. I suspect these people have not finished becoming comfortable with themselves before having children. They must feel they 'lose themselves' because they never finished the struggle to 'find themselves' in the first place.

I'm pretty sure that if you find yourself, and you realize that you're not static, and that that's okay, then 'losing yourself' becomes a moot point. You're still yourself! You've just shifted a bit. Your priorities have changed; your daily schedule has changed; the music you listen to involves clapping your hands and wheels on the bus; the books you read have pictures in them; you can now become exhausted without ever leaving the house.

But it's still you.

What's interesting is when childless friends give me this warning. Or, even worse, childless people who I barely know! I can see why my friends might be unnerved - they've grown to like the married, childless version of me over the years, and they're afraid that mommyhood will consume me like a vampire and turn me into somebody barely recognizable as my old self.

To that I say: so what? You know, I changed a lot when I got married, too. Most of my friends at that time moved on as soon as I got married, and that's fine. If they felt that we had less in common while I had a husband in tow, that's their decision to make. I kept the good friends and I made more.

I changed a lot when I graduated from college, too. I experienced a series of successes and failures that made me feel like a boat tossed about in an ocean storm. Although I took in some water, I eventually came out safely and closer to my destination, although I can't say I was quite the same person.

For that matter, I changed a lot from high school to college too.

Maybe I'm just exceptionally accustomed to change. Maybe I had to 'find myself' on a tighter schedule than most people. Or maybe I'm just one of the rare folks who made it into my late thirties without either a child or a high-powered career, and now I'm having a child without having to give up a high-powered career. Maybe the 'self' I have to 'lose' is less significant than these friends and acquaintances imagine.

And maybe it's none of their business... ya think?!.... and I'm perfectly capable of being a totally devoted mommy whose life revolves around her son because I knowingly and willingly make it so, and trust me, I'll have it all under control. (Well, as much as 'control' can be a factor in parenthood. I'm no dictator; I don't have the personality for it. But I'm also not in danger of whatever terrifying thing that 'losing oneself' supposedly leads to.)

So don't worry! I can't lose myself. I'm right here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Time flies

We sent off our LOSC along with the mounds of immigration forms and other assorted goodies last Wednesday. It's headed to Chicago, where the USCIS will flip through it, shuffle it, scratch their ears, lick their lips, and nod sagely at it. Or something.

It's been 420 days since we first signed up to adopt a child. 110 days since we said "Yes yes!" to Yun Gui and were given his profile. 88 days since our dossier was sent off to China.

At times, the wait has dragged on and on, and we felt helpless against time passing. At times, we got frustrated at redoing, renewing, and updating this document or that document. The house has seemed awfully quiet and empty, even when it was full of construction workers.

But the process has actually gone smoothly and quickly. Others have had faster adoption times than we have - especially those who have gone before, who completed their adoptions just before the Hague policies took effect. I'm careful not to compare my numbers to those. We knew that Hague would slow things down. We knew our agents would struggle to figure out the longer, more complicated forms.

We also noticed that during the Time of Faster Forms, many families had to switch programs or even switch countries in the middle of the adoption process. Just before my husband and I signed up for China, both Guatemala and Vietnam closed. That was scary, because those were two countries we were seriously considering. So, while some people had quick adoption processes, other people had to scramble to switch programs or, in some cases, start over.

The families who successfully adopted during this time (2006-2007) were really, really lucky.

We're really lucky, too, because by the time we signed up, there weren't many programs that were in danger of closing. They had already closed by mid-2008. We were told that China SN was a sure thing, but we were also told that if we wanted to adopt from a different country, we'd have to wait until that country opened up.

People keep asking me, "Why China?" It's because our options were, essentially, China or the US. And both systems came with pluses and minuses. In the end, we chose China because we liked the agent.

Our agent initially told us we'd adopt our child within six months to a year - faster if we would accept an older child or a boy, or we checked off a large number of special needs. At that time, she didn't know how the Hague protocols would affect the process. More paperwork would be involved, and more steps, but it was an adventure we went on together, with new surprises at every turn.

And, sure, it hasn't been the fastest adoption ever. I get a twinge of envy when I hear someone fret about how their adoption took "six whole long heart-rending months! It was terrible! All the waiting!"

But I shouldn't compare myself to the people who don't know how good they have it. Truth is, we were more likely to become one of those families who wait two or three or five years! We lucked out. We're grateful. Instead of resenting our agent for giving us an overly optimistic time frame that she couldn't stick to, we're grateful that she's worked so hard to navigate the Hague paperwork as quickly as it could get thrown at us.

Our son's not getting any younger during this last long stretch, but that's okay. We were willing to adopt a three or four year old in the beginning, and were pleasantly surprised with how young Noble Cloud was.

And really, it's hardly been any time at all. 420 days... meh. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I-800 frustration

I'm having trouble filling out the I-800 form. Most of it is a breeze, but I'm supposed to include my payment schedule, past and future. How thorough should I be? How bad will it be if I guess? Past is done - we kept records, of course - but I'm struggling with future payments. I've scoured our records for lists of what we'll owe in the future, and wrote down what I found. Now I need to ask the agent if I'm doing this right, and whether anything else needs to be listed.

I'm not entirely lost, but I need to confirm that it's correct and accurate enough, and find out the details of some money exchanges I'm only vaguely aware will occur soon.

All the agents seem to be very busy today, though. I've left bunches of messages. I feel bad. But they weren't angry or frantic messages. They were just... y'know... multiple messages.

Also, another form asks questions about my baby that I can't possibly know the answer to. Um... I'm just confused about that one.

Husband'o'mine was too distracted by an issue at work to help me much. But I hear that's been resolved, so maybe he'll pitch in when he gets home. I don't know what he can do to help, but we'll figure it out.

I don't feel like stressing out over this, especially while another family is currently under quarantine in China. I feel terrible for them and I'm pulling and praying for their ordeal to end happily, quickly, and for them to get their daughter. I'm not the kind of person who gets a boost from other people's misfortune, but on the other hand, it's hard to fret about the small things in my own life when you're aware of big things going on elsewhere.

We'll get the I-800 form sent out. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow (actually, I'm hoping it WILL be tomorrow), but soon... and for the rest of our lives.

I'm already thinking about baby #2. Not ready to make any decisions yet... just thinking... but that's just proof that this paperwork hasn't fazed me too much. When can we sign up to do it again?! Heehee!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Baby shower and filling out forms

My mother, sister, and two nephews are here to help throw the baby shower tomorrow. I got my appetite back just in time! I had that stomach bug all week and could hardly eat a thing.

(It's a sad commentary on society that "I could hardly eat a thing" is followed closely by "I wonder if I lost weight." I should not be having that train of thought! Bad, overly easily influenced me! Illness is not a viable weight loss technique!)

There will be a lot of good food, much of it Italian, none of it Chinese, and I can't bear to miss any of it. (Don't worry, lots of future family events will be Chinese/Italian instead of Chinese OR Italian.) My mother is very concerned about fitting everyone into our small house. It's an unfortunate fact that although there are many large houses on the Cape, we bought a small house. It's a great-sized house for a new family of three, and in fact we chose it over several larger houses. However, my mother is right - it's just a bit too small for hosting parties of 15 people or more.

We will do it anyway! Nothing will stop us. Not even rain.

Our LOSC forms arrived a bit late, but they did arrive. I was staring at the LOSC while my mother was asking me shower-related questions earlier. It's fascinating to look at. It's an approval letter that has two boxes at the bottom: one for "I accept this child" and one for "I do not accept this child (give reasons below)."

It's kind of weird to think that one of the steps to take on the long journey to my Noble Cloud is a checkbox.

It's really tiny - barely big enough for a flick of the pen.

It amazes me that something so important can be so tiny.

And under that letter of acceptance is a stack of government forms with many more fields to fill out - big, ponderous forms that feel more properly official in the manner to which we've become accustomed - inquiring after our dates of birth and other personal identifying information.
If you'll excuse me, I think I'll stop typing blog entries on the internet and start filling out those forms.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy but sick

The baby shower was wonderful! I was deeply touched. It amazes me that people will reach out to me and my family with such love, even when they don't know me very well. Thank you, Lori, and thanks to all the other wonderful, warm people who came - both those I knew ahead of time and those I didn't.

We now have baby items in the house - blocks, trains, a training potty, and many things Elmo. It's beginning to look as if this adoption process is more than just a flight of fancy and a constant topic of conversation. :)

(Now if only the construction on our house were done!)

And, of course, I'm happy to learn that China likes us and thinks we'd be cool beans as Noble Cloud's parents. We never got a pre-approval, but that's okay now.

Tomorrow our pile o' paperwork arrives in the mail. Eep! Rush rush!

On top of all that, however, I'm sick. I've been sick for a week. My digestive system gave me a break last night, just in time to eat all that yummy food at the baby shower. But now it's back to being miserable. My insides are probably unhappy that I stuffed them full of lo mein and chicken fingers and that awesome cake, but I don't care. It was worth it.

And I'm so flattered that my friends looked up Chinese recipes on the internet and cooked them for me. That's love. Truly.

I'm also feeling kind of melancholy.


I don't know why. I guess it's just an emotional rollercoaster, and my emotions actually prefer the bean bag toss. Or the cotton candy.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm heading off to a baby shower being thrown by our local friends (the family shower will be this Saturday).

But first I wanted to say....


We received our Letter of Seeking Confirmation.

This means... more paperwork!

And a possible travel date of September! (August might be possible, but is probably a little overoptimistic.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

We got packages!

Alas, no news from China came in the mail. We ordered some items online and they have arrived.

One was the carseat/flightseat/stroller. It's FAA approved and nice and solid. One of the speakers at the adoption convention highly recommended this model. The handle pulls up, the wheels come down, and you can turn it into a stroller instantly - without even removing the baby!

I pulled it out of the box and tried it out right away. One of the builders, Armando, helped me. Ironically, there were no instructions in Spanish. The ONE ITEM that doesn't come with Spanish instructions, and it arrives when the only helping hand I have barely speaks English!

(Armando and I speak Spanglish to each other. I learned Spanglish in Boston y Nuevo York. El habla only a few words in Ingles.)

We did it, though. Aaaand I think I need more practice. I definitely need to get my husband to practice. When we actually have a 20-lb baby strapped inside, that's not the time to learn where the wheel release switch is.

We also got our netbook. It's kid-friendly, shatterproof, and it uses Linux as its operating system. Very cool! I don't know if Microsoft is particularly vulnerable to Chinese censorship while Linux is not, but it's possible that Linux will navigate the censors more easily.

I'm primarily concerned with posting in this blog while in China. If I have the opportunity/energy to post at all, I want this blog to be Info Central for all my waiting family members. Recently, several families have been able to post in their blogs from China. However, the parties who traveled in 2008 reported that they had trouble getting access.

Soo... what's next on our list of things to get?

A few wise, experienced moms advised me not to go overboard with the purchases. I like that advice! I'm frugal by nature. This situation is tough for me, though. I don't want to be underprepared, either, and that's the bigger risk.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In defense of Madonna's adoption efforts

I read something interesting in National Geographic this month. The benevolent dictator of Malawi had been concerned about the starvation and poverty among his people. He asked World Bank for a loan so he could buy some supercrop seeds from Monsanto (the famed agricultural megacorporation that makes Roundup and also sells seeds genetically engineered to be immune to Roundup... and is currently in a major legal battle with France over France's banning of genetically modified crops).

But I digress. In any case, Benevolent Dictator wanted his farmers to enter the 20th century with some modern, super-producing cereal crops. After all, these crops saved millions of lives in India, right? World Bank turned him down, claiming that agriculture was an inappropriate way to build up a third world nation. In fact, they had a policy specifically prohibiting loans for agricultural purposes. I'm not kidding. Find a copy of NG and read it yourself.

So what did Benevolent Dictator do? He brought his case to rich celebrities: Bono, Bob Geldoff, Madonna, and the rest of the "Save Africa" crew. They lent him lots of money. He bought seeds and fertilizer from Monsanto and distributed them amongst his farmers. He had irrigation experts come in and build irrigation systems.

And all those struggling Malawian dust farmers began to grow some serious crops. Yup, it worked. As food production skyrocketed, they tinkered with the system, adding legumes to ease their reliance on yearly fertilizer applications, and balancing out their diets.

Rice and lentils provides a complete protein, which makes it possible to eat a healthy vegetarian diet. Same for pasta and fagiole. Having incomplete proteins in your diet is a significant cause of global malnutrition. If you're subsisting on cereal grains, add some beans too!

The NG journalist was interviewing his guide for the article, and the guide mentioned the Madonna Village. See, each of Malawi's patron celebrities had a village named after them. There is, in fact, a Madonna Village.

Madonna, it seems, has had a long-standing relationship with the government of Malawi. She's given them a lot of money. She's gotten to appreciate how much her assistance has helped them.

She didn't choose Malawi out of a hat, or because it was trendily obscure, or because she was too good for established adoption routes. She has personal connections to it. Yeah, it's a tiny country, and most Americans haven't heard much about it beyond Madonna's adoption attempt. Yeah, Madonna is still strutting around like she's a sex object in her 40's. Yeah, her larger-than-life, out-there public image has lost her a lot of credibility as a normal human being in the eyes of us ordinary human beings.

I've noticed that a lot of adoption bloggers and parenting bloggers love to tear her down. I've read 5 or so opinion pieces on how offended moms are by her actions. This is my own fault; I shouldn't read so many parenting/adoption opinion blogs.

But how do these bloggers know she doesn't genuinely want to be a parent to an adopted child? How is it that I can genuinely want this but she can't? Sure, Madonna seems anything but genuine. But does that really extend to her maternal urges too? Really?

So she tried to bribe officials into speeding up the process so she could bring her son home sooner. Wouldn't you? Seriously, who among us, if we found $1,000,000 lying around, wouldn't wave it in the faces of our agents and beg, "Pleeeeeze! Pleeeeze! Just let me bring her home now!"

Especially because Malawi's policy of requiring an adoptive family to spend 6 months in the country is particularly brutal. She has other kids. She has a house (or two or three) to maintain. She has a life. Which of us regular folks wouldn't blanch at the prospect of trekking off to Malawi for six months as part of the adoption process?

Especially because she's given them millions of dollars already. They even named a village after her. What's another million? They can use it to hire 50 more nurses at a rural hospital, Madonna gets her kid 6 months early, and everyone's happy.

And then... the father shows up. And people have even less sympathy for Madonna. Now it looks like she didn't choose an orphan - she chose a child with parents. Parents who want the child.

But wait a minute. That happens all the time. It's why some families feel they can't stomach a domestic adoption and go right to an international adoption. What if the father shows up suddenly? What if the court spontaneously grants the grandparents custody? What if the mother gets out of rehab and proves she's clean? What if you fall in love with a child, and halfway through the process, you lose her?

Those 'what ifs' are a huge initial obstacle to overcome. Some people steel their guts, and sign on with DSS, and adopt a wonderful child through the state with no regrets. Some people... just can't. They mean well... they give DSS some serious thought... but they just can't. They want to go to China or Guatemala or Malawi and come home with a child they cannot lose.

Except sometimes, they can still lose the child. Like Madonna did. Other adoptive families are terrified that'll happen to them. Some consider it a 'worst case scenario'. And yet people are happy to tear into Madonna when it happens to her.

We love to see the great fall, it's said. But, I'm sorry, Louise Ciccone isn't great. She's barely taller than me. Sure, I never published a coffee table book full of photos of myself in dirty poses... but I bet Madonna has never published sketches of an earwig and a house centipede. And neither one of us deserves to be torn limb from limb by the hyper-critical press. We just want to be parents.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Hanren

My son is most likely a member of the Han Chinese ethnic group. The Han Chinese comprise 92% of the people of mainland China, and most of the other ethnic groups live in the more remote provinces, such as Tibet and Xinjiang. As you can see from the map below, Jiangsu province is right in the middle of Han majority territory:

See where Shanghai is, on the eastern coast? Wuxi city, in Jiangsu province, is about 2 millimeters north of that.

"Hanren" means literally "People of Han." The Hanren believe they can trace their ancestry all the way back to the Yellow Emperor, Huang-di, who is said to have reigned from 2497 BCE to 2398 BCE. A lack of historical records makes this claim difficult to prove, but it's fairly likely, and of course being descended from the people of Huang-di (or the Yan Empire) doesn't preclude any given person from having other ethnicities in their ancestry as well.

The word "Han" refers to the Han River, the region that produced the members of the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty ruled for an impressive 400 years and conquered enough territory to be comparable to the Roman Empire in scope. After its fall, the Chinese people began to call themselves "Hanren" to distinguish themselves from the nomadic tribal peoples nearby.

There was quite a lot of ethnic assimilation in the ensuing centuries, but the term "Hanren" has dominated above other ethnic identities. The Chinese are quite proud of their ancestral connection to the Yellow Emperor and the other esteemed figures in their long and storied history.

The word "Han" can also mean "The Milky Way" or "Heavenly River."

Han is the single largest ethnic group in the world, currently comprising 19% of the world's population. To compare, the global population of people with sub-Saharan African ethnicity is around 14%. I couldn't find a reliable statistic for the group of ethnicities we know of as "white," but it seems to be somewhere around 12% of the world's population... maybe... give or take.

What does this mean? On a global scale, my kid is not a minority. He's definitely in the powerful majority in Asia, and his race isn't doing too shabbily in other parts of the world either. Practically all the Chinese immigrants to any other region of the world are Han.

Kinda puts a new spin on the idea of him facing racism, huh?

Oh, I'm sure he'll still encounter racism, but I'll tell him all about his heritage, and hopefully bolster up his sense of racial identity so that he doesn't start believing he's somehow racially inferior. Maybe he can educate his would-be detractors with a few global statistics, too.

If he does, he will totally, totally prove he's the child of his father and me. :D

Friday, June 5, 2009

Things I've learned about Zen Buddhism

1) Buddhism is not a religion by the Western definition of a religion. Prince Siddhartha invented it in Hindu India as an attempt to alleviate his subjects' suffering. The prince was a sensitive sort, raised on philosophy and given to long bouts of introspection, and he assumed the poor commonfolk were just like him. He thought that while they labored in the fields and struggled to find enough to eat, they'd find spiritual peace in navel-gazing. Somehow, it caught on.

2) As with any ancient tradition, there are many approaches. Zen is actually the Japanese version of Buddhism, imported through China. In China it's called 'Chen'.

3) In the United States, we think it's more romantic to go back to Buddhism's Indian roots and add some Sanskrit. Or even better, we add a sprinkle of Tibet. Yes, even if we're practicing a strain of Buddhism that came through China and Japan.

4) Some people try Buddhism after quitting their previous religion, which gives the impression that Buddhism is equivalent to Judaism or Christianity or whatever. However, you don't have to quit anything, just like you don't have to cancel your AAA membership to join a knitting club. Zen Buddhism offers additional spiritual services, but it doesn't replace any spiritual commitments you've already got.

5) Zen Buddhism is the strain of Buddhism that focuses on koans and nonsense. If you don't find nonsense enlightening, Zen is probably not for you. It has nothing to teach. Its purpose is to put you in a state of mind where you can realize the futility of pain and worry, and thusly be liberated from yourself.

6) This approach is heavily based in Hindu philosophy. Study up on Hinduism if you're totally lost.

7) Zen is not a replacement for talk therapy. If you expect other people to actively help you resolve your problems, Zen will be nothing short of infuriating. Zen is only useful if you plan to resolve your problems by yourself anyway, and you just need the right state of mind to do it. If you're studying under a Zen master, the Zen master doesn't actively guide you; he/she just gives you koans.

8) If you know what to do with koans, Zen is a lot of fun.

9) Zen Buddhists do have temples. Practicing Zen Buddhism in Buddhist temples is illegal in Communist China. However, maintaining the temples and their traditions for 'historical purposes' is sanctioned by the state.

10) Hey, it's not the kindest, gentlest government policy, but it used to be worse!

11) Not-religions are fairly common in China. Confucianism is another not-religion. It teaches loyalty to the family and offers a code of conduct for economy and trade, as well as diplomatic relationships between government bodies. Confucianism is essentially the study of one man's insight into traditional Chinese culture. A lot of the traditional values (pre-Communism) are reflected in Confucianism.

12) Maoist Communism offers many competing, contradicting philosophies. The Chinese people have had to get used to balancing all these philosophies. And the philosophies keep coming - nowadays there's something that could be called Post-Maoist Communist philosophy, which embraces capitalism (sort of). All these rapidly changing philosophies go a long way toward explaining the Chinese people's attitudes in life!

It's gotta be hard. You never know what to expect a day, a week, a year from now. Good thing they haven't completely forgotten their Zen. Prince Siddhartha would be sympathetic.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Adoption is hard, even when it's easy

I need a huge banner in my kitchen that reads, "WE HAVE NOT BEEN WAITING VERY LONG."

People keep asking, "Any news on the adoption?" They have glints of hope in their eyes. They're ready to cheer if I say something exciting. They want to meet the baby, coo over him, maybe even - if he doesn't mind - hold him.

"We're in that awful waiting period," I reply. "Waiting to hear from China." And my chest cramps a bit, like a pulled muscle that won't quite work itself out. That muscle has been under a small but constant strain lately. It's barely been more than two months since our dossier arrived in China, but my heart thinks it feels like two years.

The person then has a barrage of questions for me: "What will China say? When will they say it? Is this the last step? How long do you have to be in China? Will it be this summer?"

"Any minute!" I squeal. "We could get the call any minute! It could be tomorrow. Some other families got their good news last week. We could be next."

It's true. We could get our Letter Of Seeking Confirmation from China any minute. If we do, we'll be among the lucky families who didn't wait very long at all. Later, when our son is home and we're immersed in doing the parent thing, we'll say, "It seemed like eternity at the time! But now we barely remember it!" People say that when their wait is a year, two years long. Our wait has been two months so far. It might end up being three months or four months. Time to count the ol' blessings.

My husband's co-worker adopted a little boy from Nepal 2 years ago. He's 3 years old now. It was a difficult ordeal for her and her wife, but they had a good agent who played the system for them. While it's illegal to discriminate against gay families in adoption here in MA, the country of Nepal has quite the opposite philosophy. But they got their son, and just as they were bringing him home, Nepal closed to adoptions entirely.

They applied again for a second child, and their dossier waited at the top of the list as Nepal's resolved its internal issues and Hague compliance. It opened again, a few months ago. But the Ministry of Adoption and the state orphanage are till at odds with each other. Adoptive families had to choose whether to put their dossiers with the Ministry or the orphanage. Our friend's dossier ended up with the orphanage.

She soon learned that the Ministry's list was moving, but the orphanage was stalled. Families started transferring their dossiers in a hurry.

Now, our friend says, the waiting list at the Ministry is several hundred long, and if she transfers her dossier, she'll lose her prime spot at the top of he state orphanage list. The orphanage could start processing adoptions any day now. Aaaany day now. Or it might not.

That makes me feel lucky. But not necessarily happy - I ache for our friend who has to go through this ordeal. I ache for her son as he waits and waits for his sibling.

We'd like to get our sons together when Yun Gui comes home. Their son could be an instant slightly-older playmate and mentor for ours, and ours could be a friendly toddler for theirs to practice on while they wait for #2. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

And it will mean our son will know where he stands on the gay parenting issue. When he hears people rant about how "Johnny should NOT have two mommies!" he'll look at us and say, 'They're talking about my friend, aren't they?"

Yes, love, they are. And your friend might need you to stand up for him once in a while. Hopefully not too often, though. Luckily for us, we live in one of the most socially tolerant regions of the great liberal state of Massachusetts.