Friday, July 31, 2009

Our comic book houseguest

This week we have a houseguest. He's a comic book artist (indie, like me) who quit his job, ended the lease on his apartment, and is spending the year traveling cross-country, staying for a week at a time at the homes of volunteer hosts and creating zines about his experiences.

He started in Florida, headed west for the winter, and is now experiencing an extraordinarily rainy New England summer. He was in Maine last week and Vermont the week before. Now it's our turn to show him the local ecologist geek's view of Cape Cod.

Last night we had fish at one of the fried fish shacks. Later, we walked to the nearby pond and looked at a fabulous sky full of stars. The mugginess muffled our view a little, so it wasn't the billions'n'billions of stars that can wow you on a perfect night. But even on a bad night, our sky is impressive. It's because there's no light pollution on the ocean.

Today we're going to the Edward Gorey museum, and having a drawing session so Josh can catch up on his zine-making. On Sunday, Josh and Husband'o'mine will share a dealer table at a comic book show.

Josh has been interviewed about his project by several radio shows and newspapers. He has a following of >700 on Facebook. It's quite exciting! What struck me most, though, is that he's so shy and unassuming. He told us he's led a sheltered life and was always reluctant to do things outside of his comfort zone. He never even learned to have conversations with strangers. (I, on the other hand, love chatting up strangers. The first 5 minutes I spend with anyone are the best.) You might think someone who dares to crash at the homes of 52 strangers has a bold, vivacious personality. Well, I think he's on his way to developing one. He's experiencing a year full of uncommon kindness from random people such as ourselves.

I just wish we didn't still have construction workers in the house!

Hey Pixnlil, he's headed to your hometown in about a month.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Death by a thousand papercuts

It's a beautiful, sunny day. The builders are hard at work. I have bookkeeping to do. And our adoption is in one of the easiest waiting stages yet. We have more certainty now than in any of the previous stages. We know we've been approved, for real, and we know that AwesomeCloud is going to be our baby and he's waiting specifically for us. We know we're going to China in approximately a month.

We've passed all the tests, made all the tough decisions, and when this last block of waiting is over, we'll be a family of three.

So what's the problem?

I don't know! I'm bubbling over inside; at the end of my rope; rushing downstream in a canoe without a paddle. Zen isn't helping much! Or maybe it is. Maybe without the Zen stuff, I'd be a complete and total mess. Even if the benefits are purely social. I think the best thing about Zen is sitting around silently with a group of people who also have stresses and worries and are also trying to cope with them.

I don't know what their stresses are. I shared mine because it is happy news. One doesn't tend to think of such stresses and worries coming from happy news. In fact, I love how I can mention that I'm adopting in the most positive, joyous terms, and people will still understand that there are implied stresses and worries behind it. I don't have to explain the whole story.

I also like that Zen Teacher Jim has two adopted children of his own. He doesn't have to say, "Been there, done that, I completely understand." I know he does.

The other stuff, though... construction, to-do lists, Mandarin lessons, medical workshops, my job... it's death by a thousand paper cuts.

That must be it. I'm drowning in a sea of little things. I can't just chill out and go with the flow because having a mile-long to-do list requires an enormous amount of attention.

I have to learn the special ways in which to take care of my baby. I have to clean up after the builders every afternoon. I have some ongoing dental work that needs to be scheduled and paid for. I'm still writing thank-you cards for the baby showers. I'm supposed to finish a comic book and hate it so much, I'd rather have more dental work. I have to baby-proof the cupboards, repair and varnish the cat door, spray the new patches of poison ivy, take apart my work computer (in between data entry tasks) and reconfigure the components, sort through enormous stacks of loose papers and file or recycle them, find boxes for piles of assorted junk... ARGH!!

I wish we'd get the call to travel RIGHT NOW, so I can throw my hands up and say, "Oh well!" as I leave for China.

I hope we get the majority of this stuff done before we leave, so we won't have it hanging over our heads the whole time we're in China. It's bad enough I'm going to have to do billing prep until the day we leave and start the billing the day we get home. I don't need to have a thousand personal projects in limbo too.

So that must be the root of it. Nothing I wish for will solve my problems. I have to go solve my own problems. Even while those problems are overwhelming me.

Okay, then! What is next on The Almighty To-Do List? Cat door? I shall repair the cat door.

Woohoo! Gettin' things done. I am made of awesome.

Monday, July 27, 2009

6 hours of Zen

I went to the 6-hour Zen retreat. I'm glad I did. Meditating silently for 6 hours straight isn't exactly a marathon Zen session, no more than 6 miles is a marathon, but it's challenging enough for a novice like me. The end stretch was particularly hard, and I admit to sneaking glances at the clock, which was tricky because the clock was just a little travel alarm with its back to me, and I had to wait until I walked by it and crane my neck a little, and I probably wasn't as subtle as I hoped.

There was a teenage boy there who, apparently, also had difficulty with the home stretch, although he was graceful enough to admit it. The teenager's presence gave me hope. Everyone else is middle-aged or more. I have some notions of getting AwesomeCloud to try it when he's older, but if it's all old people, then I'll have a hard time arguing with him if he says, "Mommmmm! It's all OLD people!"

I mean, what do I say to that? It IS all old people. And, so far, one wonderfully welcome teenager.

I guess I could schlep him up to Boston for some Zen For Kids in Chinatown. Hey, Boston's not that far away. An hour on the highway and then another two hours to get inside. No problem!

(On the other hand, maybe he'll like old people. I liked old people when I was young. Some of my favorite people in the world were over 40.)

(Yes, I know, I'm almost over 40 right now. Shut up.)


Zen Teacher Jim and I had another nice discussion about the culture of Zen Buddhism and its place in modern Asia. We also tried our best to relate Zen to my life in general. I feel a little pretentious doing so. Maybe that feeling will pass. Aside from the cultural lessons, which are my primary motivation, the thing I like the very best about Zen meditation is sitting perfectly still and not talking. And not having to listen to someone yammer about spiritual philosophy. Zen philosophy is quite openly a bunch of nonsense - that's the point of it! The more nonsensical it is, the closer you are to getting it right. It's what's under the nonsense that counts.

I don't actually know what I'm talking about. Zen philosophy is hard, and from an American cultural perspective, mocking it may present undesirable connotations. Basically, I get some of it, I struggle with some of it, I'm not sure how far into it I'll end up going, and I'm determined to learn and have fun in the meantime.

At the end we had gazpacho soup, which was delicious, and the old people gave the teenager college advice. I had no college advice, although I was happy to help fill in some gaps in knowledge - such as, people who get art degrees often go on to get desk jobs and landscaping jobs, comic books are cool but I'd rather be an ornithological illustrator, and I got to define ethnobotany for them.

I think ethnobotany would make a great career for someone well-versed in Asian culture. There's so much traditional Eastern medicine that's worth exploring.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Leaky roof crisis

It's 4:00 AM and I'm up maintaining the buckets on our unfinished second floor. We're getting the remnants of a tropical storm. Normally I enjoy storms, but that's when my family and I are safe and dry inside our house. That is not the case tonight. Husband'o'mine just finished his shift, and the rest of the night is mine.

There are no full gushes, but the drips are so widespread, I'm still having to mop it up every half hour. Last weekend a leak penetrated the floor and the kitchen ceiling, and dripped all over the kitchen.

We don't have a roof yet, you see. The rubber roof was to be installed in June, but June had barely 3 nonrainy days the whole month, and certainly not 3 in a row. The builders need a guaranteed 3 days in a row with no rain, none of them Sundays, and it ain't happening.

The relentless rain and humidity is causing us water damage before the addition is even finished. It's really infuriating and there's no end in sight.

There's nothing I can do except stay up and mop up the puddles between the buckets and tubs every half hour. I called the builder; he offered to come and mind it with me, but he can't actually fix it in the middle of the night with the rain pouring down. He tried yesterday to patch every weak spot on the tarp and tape every seam, and it wasn't good enough to prevent this epic amount of leakage.

I told him to get some sleep. We'd handle it, and he could do damage control in the morning.

Mmm, I could totally fall asleep in this computer chair.... but the storm keeps jolting me awake. Gotta go mop again.

EDIT: Good morning! Ah yes, sleep dep delirium; I know it well. I can function despite the swimmy vision and the mental cloudiness. I've done it before. The builders are arriving so I shall hand the mess over to them and get some data entry done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Home office, with/without baby

I'm in the middle of a mind-blowingly tedious bookkeeping task. The house is quiet (except for the drill and the electric screwdriver) and I'm able to work blissfully uninterrupted. I'm glad I'm getting this task done before the baby comes.

I've been told that working from home with a baby - and no nanny - is extremely difficult. The social worker thought it was excellent, and I'm sure it's excellent for the child in many, many ways. I'm not sorry I'm doing it, for his sake. But for my sake... we'll see. If I must, I can do my work after he goes to bed.

I'm not sure what else people would expect me to do. It amazes me when people talk about job and parenting options. This option is better than that option... staying at home is better than working full-time... working in an office is better than working at home.

Who are these people who have options?

I suppose I could hunt for another job if i want to. But I like my job, I like my company, and all of my coworkers telecommute. As long as I get it all done, I can do it anytime, day or night. If data entry is made more difficult by a fussing, clingy child, well... data entry is made more difficult by the construction workers blowing out the power once per hour, too, and I work through that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kill my television!!

I try not to be a TV snob. Many people seem suspicious that I'm a snob when they find out I don't watch TV. Actually, I do watch TV! I just don't watch it in my own home.

I watched TV on Saturday. We were in Baltimore for Otakon and to see some museums. Otakon holds little interest for me at this time, so I decided to skip it and go to the art festival instead. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the art festival. So I spent most of Saturday chillin' in the hotel room with some books, a laptop, and a TV while Husband'o'mine had fun at Otakon.

I watched Hawthorne, an ER-style drama with a focus on the nurses. The nurses are the protagonists, and the antagonists range from the doctors and the patients to Social Services employees. In one subplot, a young boy was orphaned, and the nurses endeavored to rescue him from the evil foster care system. Yay for irresponsibly representing a necessary social service that is already widely misunderstood and viewed with suspicion! I especially loved the line, "We can't let him go into foster care! We get foster children in the ER all the time and you know how messed up they are."

Yeah, it's the foster care system taking in these perfectly healthy, well-adjusted children and messing them up.

Then I saw an adoption program on MTV in which they followed a private domestic adoption tep by step, interviewing the teen mom and dad and then the adoptive family. There was lot of crying. It actually wasn't too bad. If it educates other teen moms and makes them feel better about opting for a private adoption, then it's performing a pretty decent public service.

Then I watched Mission Impossible... okay, whatever. Bleah. Way too much gratuitous suspense and violence. Action shows try too hard these days. Dial it down a few notches and try to tell a good story, guys.

I also caught snippets of shows on other channels. I'd heard that Fox News had a new commentator who was just awful - Glenn Beck or something. I saw 30 seconds of him. He combined 'shock jock' with 'big dumb jock'... and the result was predictably unwatchable.

Then I caught the very beginning of SNL, with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. She was hilarious! Now I know what all the hype was about. The skit immediately following hers was crude and pointless, though, as I remember SNL being back in the '90's. That was the end for me.

Prohibiting television is part of the caricature of the overprotective, overly doting helicopter parent that has arisen in the past 20 years. Obsessed mommies posting, "I would never let my children watch Sesame Street!", outdoing the parents who buy every episode of Baby Einstein for their 1-year-olds. I don't know what I'm talking about, however... if there is a culture of super-parents, I've mostly only heard of it through other, saner, more sensible parents critiquing it.

(In fact I just read a book called It Takes a Parent by blogger Betsy Hart. Its sole purpose was to critique the so-called parenting culture. That book contains almost everything I now know about super-parents.)

Personally, I'm very cynical about television. I was a TV junkie into my adolescence, but i grew up (and TV didn't). And my baby is not going to watch a lot of television.

Someday he'll watch it at his friends' houses. I won't forbid it entirely. But he won't be watching it at home. Am I overprotective? Or am I a snob? Is my decision more about his well-being, or mine?

Mine, actually. I freely admit it. But please note that it fits in well with the culture here. Many houses on Cape Cod don't have TVs. People retreat to their summer homes here to leave the noise and the TV behind. Sure, we're full-timers instead of summer residents. But, still, we are not exactly freaks.

As for the kiddo, he'll get to see the occasional DVD and maybe catch a glimpse of TV elsewhere. He'll be all right. Some parents swear by the Blue Babyitter, and that's all right too. Some parents may warn me that I'll find it hard to avoid a routine of plunking him down in front of a cartoon every day and getting some rest myself.

But, see, what this issue really boils down to is that we don't have cable, satellite, or even a pair of rabbit ears. The boob tube in our living room gets no reception. None. Nada. And inertia is going to keep it that way. We haven't gotten off our duffs and bought TV reception in 5 years, and there's too much other stuff going on to do it now.

We're certainly not bored without it. Noble Cloud won't be, either. Not if he doesn't know what he's missing.

When he's old enough to figure out what he's missing, we'll revisit the issue. But I see enough snatches of TV outside my home to remember why I prefer life without it.

(Also, I get a kick out of answering someone's insistent, "Did you see that program? Didja see it? Wasn't it great?" with a slightly airy, "Oh... we don't have a TV." Hee!)

Sidenote: Otakon had one wonderful thing going for it - fantastic ethnic diversity. When we start taking the Cloud to cons, Otakon's going on the list. We want him to see that geeks come in all shapes, sizes, costumes, and ethnicities - especially ethnicities.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The official USCIS approval

USCIS has officially approved us. Our agent is filling out our DS-230 and sending it off to China. China will check everything and then, in 3-4 weeks, give us our travel date. The travel date is 2-4 weeks from the date we hear from them.

We could travel as early as August 24 and hopefully no later than September.

And I continue to be worried about the renovations. I know my builder is recovering from some business-related misfortunes, and he's replaced the guy who was good at framing with another decent guy, but I feel he could be better and more efficient with our project. I know he couldn't put my roof on in the rain, and it rained every day for the entire month of June, but I'd really like a roof someday.

Mostly, I'd like to devote my headspace to preparing for the trip, and not have to divide it between adoption and construction. I'm not really getting the 'countdown to China' atmosphere I was imagining. It keeps getting interrupted by busted electrical circuits and guys using the bathroom.

But! There's plenty of prep to do, and I shall do it. We made a to-do list, even. It's loooong.

I don't panic under pressure. What I usually do is neglect responsibilities. And I've got some serious neglecting going on right now! Anything that's not adoption, construction, or job is subject to neglect. I haven't been cooking much, and I've hardly touched the comic book. My husband is worried that we won't publish it before the baby is home. I'm considerably less worried about that.

I am worried about the poison ivy in the yard. I know poison ivy is prolific, but it's discouraging to spray and spray and see it come back as lush as ever in a month.

The poison ivy is the object of my deferred worry. Deferring worry is a common coping mechanism. When a real worry threatens to be too overwhelming, you defer some of that worry to an unrelated object to ease its intensity. When I need to burn some worry, I think about the poison ivy. It's passive, it won't interfere with my trip to China, and it's believable enough so that people will sympathize with me rather than scold me. That last criterion is important. The more you obsess about your object of deferred worry, the more likely you are to want to mention it to other people. And other people may try to talk sense into you. They can't help it; they have a driving need to make sure you're sane and rational, and they'll tell you you worry too much every change they get. (Sometimes proactively. Yay, I love getting scolded before I do anything that makes people uncomfortable!)

So it's important to defer your worry to something that other people would worry about too. Poison ivy is perfect. Everyone dreads it.

(I know one guy who boasts he's immune to it every time he hears it mentioned.... ohh, I have a feeling that someday he'll eat his words. Poison ivy immunity is a fleeting thing.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

USCIS likes us... kinda...

Today we got a provisional approval for our I-800 form from USCIS. This is good. It means things are moving and people are looking at our paperwork. It's a whole lot better than not getting our provisional approval.

But I'm relieved more than excited. This is news while waiting, which is nice, but it doesn't mean there's an end to the waiting.

Dum de dum. Still waiting. Lalala.

What I'm mostly concerned with is the construction. It's still moving ahead very slowly. The adoption process is occurring much more quickly. I've already told the foreman that if we head over to China before he's done, he'll have 2 weeks to hurry up and finish and get his stuff out of my house, because I would prefer it if I could bring my baby home to a quiet, complete house. (And I will not tolerate otherwise.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Privacy in adoption blogging

I'm not generally a paranoid person. Many things that people commonly fear - spiders, heights, sharks, plane crashes, criticism on the internet - are not actually significant dangers. Global warming is, but I've already eschewed the A/C and the TV and I reuse and reduce long before I have to recycle, and I volunteer to rescue whales/turtles/frogs/horseshoe crabs. (Yup, I save whales. Husband and I are joining the Stranding Network.)

However, I do like my privacy. I like that my presence on the internet is divided into three distinct entities, and it's difficult to find me on Website B if you only know me from Website A. My husband has a presence in additional venues, some of which contain information about me. I try to rein him in when he posts too many pictures or gets too personal, and as an additional safety measure, I don't mention him by name here.

Also, I'm very conservative with the posting of pictures.


First, because internet content stays on the internet for a long, long time. A little personal tidbit here and a closeup photograph there don't seem like such a big deal when they're posted, but these things accumulate. That's what search engine like Google are for - collecting groups of data that have accumulated in various places. It's always a good idea to Google your name once in a while and check 1) how much information about you has accumulated, 2) what kinds of information it is, and 3) whether it can all be located under a single set of search terms.

If somebody knows you by your username, will your username lead them to your legal name? Will your legal name bring up your address? (That's an almost guaranteed 'yes'.) Will a complete stranger, after having researched you, be able to recognize your child on the street and make a convincing case that he's a loving uncle?

I'm not saying it's all about child predators. There are also prospective future bosses, and the occasional harmless (but still creepy) prying eye. (I've had several people, all men, Google me and then proudly boast that they found my fiction or my photo and have an opinion on it. None of these men have done anything to be directly, but it was an unnerving thing to learn.)

Second, anonymous posting mkes us bold. We bloggers are freer with the stark reality and blunt honesty if we think no one knows who we are in real life. But if you've posted your legal name once, three years ago, in a throwaway post with some artsy photos you once took... Google will find you. Or, worse, a personal friend will address you innocently by name in a comment, leaving you wide open to Googlers.

This is why Facebook being a big privacy breach is such a big issue to some people. Even if you guard your content religiously, your friend or your cousin or, hey, your own mother can tag a photo of you for al the world - including your old college boyfriend - to see.

Third, your kids are only going to get older. Babies don't object to having their super-cute pictures plastered all over the internet. But those pictures will still be there in 15 years, unless technology moves forward in a way that leaves old data behind. (It's possible, but less likely than it used to be.) Accompanying all thoe old pictures will be all the brutally honest thoughts you needed to vent. You're creating a time capule, and it's not just strangers who will view it a couple decades from now.

I enjoy being brutally honest. It's my specialty. Harsh reality is my paintbrush. But I need to remember that Noble Cloud, and his future friends, may read this someday. More immediately, those creepy guys who took an inordinate interest in me a few years ago may read it today.

I want this blog to be read and enjoyed. I want my family and friends to understand me better when they read it. I even, in a perfect world, would like my son's birth family to stumble upon it from China and recognize him, and be reassured that he's all right.

On the other hand, a little paranoia, or perhaps caution, can't hurt.

That's my philosophy. Sometimes I follow it, sometimes I forget. I don't expect other bloggers' philosophies to match mine, and in fact I'm pleased when they're more open and forthcoming than I. I'm not much for posting photographs, and I never will be. But I hope I can get away with continuing to fill this blog with informative, entertaining, and perhaps, at times, irreverent content without compromising my privacy.

We'll see what Google has to say about the matter in another few years.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rude questions and how to answer them politely (pre-adoptive edition) Part I

When you enter the adoptive community, one topic that keeps coming up is the rude questions people ask. Some people turn into Obnoxious Experts when they see a parent and child in public - it's a fact of life. Internationally adoptive families are prone to it to... with a twist. The Obnoxious Expert realizes that there's something exotic going on here. Proudly armed with a small amount of misinformation, the Expert boldly jumps into the next step: personal questions.

I'm being a little sarcastic here. Most rude people don't mean to be rude - they are merely curious. They ache to be educated, to test their knowledge of international adoption against the real thing.

(Truly rude people are easy to identify - they're the ones who yell, "Chinka chinka ahhh so!" and pull at their eyes with their fingers as you walk by. If you never meet one of those, thank modern society for allowing racism to fall out of fashion.)

And you don't need the actual child to invite the rude questions. You just have to mention you're adopting. Some waiting parents keep quiet about their adoptions until they're done and the child is home safely. Not us. We tell everyone - coworkers, the doctor's receptionist, the other volunteers at Cape Wildlife Center, the girls at the gym... everyone.

I figure I want to get my practice in now. I want to give people a chance to ask their questions, both curious and rude, so I can educate them ahead of time... and so I can know what to expect. So I can think up some polite answers instead of storming off in a huff. Here are a few I've heard already:

Q: "You're getting a boy? I thought only girls are available from China."

A: "No, more girls than boys get adopted by families in the US, but there are some boys too. My boy isn't the first, and he certainly won't be the last."

Q: "But I thought they didn't value their girls over there, and they abandoned them in hopes of getting a boy."

A: "It's a lot more complicated than that. See, traditionally, it's the son's family who takes care of the aging parents when they can't take care of themselves. But Chinese culture is changing rapidly, and that's not so true anymore. In fact, almost no abandoned children are firstborns - almost all have older siblings, and are probably illegal according to the One-Child Policy. If a family has too many children, they find themselves in a bind - they'll be punished for having the second child, and punished for giving it up for adoption. They're forced to abandon it anonymously. It's a heartbreaking thing to do, but they do their best to assure that the child is taken care of.

"Also, only about 20% of the orphaned children in China are adopted internationally. That leaves 80% who are adopted in-country, or who are raised either by the state or by relatives. This whole thing about Chinese adoptees being girls is only a small part of what's going on, and at this point it's driven as much by American culture as by Chinese culture."

And here's a shorter answer:

A: "That's not exactly true. It's based on a lot of misconceptions. Things change fast in China, and it's hard for American media to keep up. But just wait - I'm sure the changes will become common knowledge in a while!"

Commentary: The longest conversation I've had about gender views in China lasted 5 or 6 questions. That particular woman had a hard time letting go of her preconceptions. She then told me several times that she knew someone personally who had two Chinese girls, but she didn't know anyone who had boys. Well, I'm having a boy. I'm sorry if it hurts her head; I'm still having a boy.

It has occurred to me that explaining my child has special needs would do the job as well, but I don't want to go that route. My child' special needs are no one's business. There's no reason anyone has to know he has any.

This line of questioning is extremely annoying in any situation, but if anyone tries it when my son is around, I may have to use a great deal of self-restraint. That would be the utter height of rudeness!

Q: " Do you have to go to China to get him?"

A: "Yes! Yes we do! And we're all excited, although I don't know how many touristy things we'll get to do. We'll be busy, you know."

Commentary: This question only sounds rude because it implies that going to China is undesirable. Some people may have heard that Korea has caregivers escort the child to the US, and you meet them in the airport. And maybe they think that method is better. I don't. I'm happy to go.

Q: "Will he speak English? You'll teach him English, right?"

A: "Yes, I'm sure he'll pick up English in no time."

Q: "Why would you want to learn Chinese? You won't need it. He doesn't even speak yet."

A: "I'm just learning a few words. Don't worry, they'll come in useful! Besides, learning other languages is fun."

Commentary: Geez Louise! What is so terrifying about the idea of somebody else learning Chinese? This appears to be a big huge issue with many people. The very topic distresses them. If it were just one or two people, I'd think it was an odd personality quirk, but this overreaction is very common!

It's okay, folks. If I learn some phrases in Chinese, I will only grow from the experience. And don't you worry about my relationship with my son in terms of language. There's nothing you can do to help, not even scrunching your face up in concern like that.