Saturday, February 27, 2010

Explicit discussions about racism

Our Little Tongginator has a post about her daughter's experience with racism in kindergarten. Grown In My Heart is having an Adoption Carnival called "The Racism Rainbow." This post is for that carnival.

There's a book called Nutureshock that came out recently and has become a topic of conversation in parenting blogs and adoption blogs. I've never read the book, but apparently the book discusses a study that disproves the popular idea that if parents avoid the topic of race with their children, the children will not learn to be racist. This tack apparently does not work. It's not even enough to expose the child to bland primary school multicultural lessons or passing positive remarks about people of other races on TV - without explicit dialogue, children will become racist.

A shocking idea, especially because the colorblind avoidance approach was so appealing, and made so much sense.

That image the parents were imagining when they decided not to expose their children to racial issues, though... that was me.

I've often tried to give my parents credit for my fascination with multiculturalism and multiracism, but it wasn't their doing really. It's in my nature or something. I get a deer in the headlights look whenever race comes up in a racial tensions context. I reveled in being a racial minority in Jersey City - and I'd do it again in an instant. I may be a little guilty of glamorizing the idea of nonwhite existence, but I feel the pain too. Civil War history books make me cry. Actually, many history books make me cry, yet I devour them.

I even remember the moment I realized that I was out of sync and didn't get it. I was 21 and it was outside a hotel in Maryland. Over a decade later, it occurred to me that I should have retorted, "Not racist - SEXIST! AND PROUD!" (it wasn't sexism either; it was a newly fierce independent streak. But that would've been a snappy comeback.)

I'm sorry. I never can seem to go along with social realities. I'm white, and I'll always be white, and I'll never get away with pretending I'm anything but white. However, in my own way I've also been on the fringes of society, and that's the part of racism that totally sings to me.

I love the fringes. They hurt to belong to, but they're home. In the fringes, you can't spend your time looking for people who are just like you, because there aren't any. So you learn to love people whose primary similarity to you is that they are also in the fringes.

I plan to speak to my son explicitly about race and racism. I'm not saying that my failure to follow Nurtureshock's social experiment means I think the idea is invalid. It's quite valid. Kids negotiate power relationships with each other by nature, and race is an easy format for that. Of course they're going to draw lines by race sometimes.

But I also plan to speak to my son explicitly about every topic relevant to life in the modern world. He will be well-versed in history, philosophy, environmentalism, diversity of thought, Euclidean geometry, cat fostering, grammar and sentence structure, politics, household physics, the importance of rescuing butterflies, personal budgeting, practicing moderation, format-specific storytelling, subsistence gardening, cause and effect, and game theory.

I plan to tell him that he can be not only a recipient but also a giver of racism, and how to recognize and understand the thought processes behind such urges. I can explain to him that the world is much bigger than his classroom, and teach him to think big. I can teach him that the nicest person in the room wins, not the loudest or the meanest, and that tolerance brings a lasting type of social power that bullying can never achieve. Don't just turn the other cheek, but overwhelm your would-be bullies with your total consuming awesomeness.

I can't give him healthy self-esteem, but I can do numerous things to encourage his self-esteem to grow, and I think he'll be quite able to do the rest himself. Because he is awesome, and he knows it deep inside, and if I provide an environment where he's not being crushed all the time, he'll take advantage of his opportunities to thrive.

I've already started explaining the complex ways of the world to him. I continue to learn them myself, and as I learn, so shall he. Now I just need him to become fluent in English so I sound like I'm saying something other than, "Yabba yabba yabba."

Am I afraid I'll do an inadequate job? You betcha. I'm sure I'll miss important lessons left and right, and I'll want to apologize to him every day for it. But it can't be helped. The best I can do is keep talking, keep resisting the urge to censor his world or pretty it up, keep trusting that he's listening and that he'll sort it all out.

There's a song by Voltaire called "Goodnight Demonslayer"... here's a link to the Youtube's about a father telling his son to stand up to the imaginary monsters beneath his bed. I'm just going to post the last verse of the lyrics, because I think it's relevant.

Goodnight demon slayer, goodnight

Now its time to close your tired eyes

There are devils to slay and dragons to ride

If they see you coming, hell they better hide

I won't tell you, there's nothing 'neath your bed

I won't tell you, that it's all in your head

This world of ours is not as it seems

The monsters are real but they're not in your dreams

Learn what you can from the beasts you defeat,

you'll need it for some of the people you'll meet.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to choose the second child

Adoption is weird like that - you get to choose. You even get to choose how much about the child you want to choose - open your parameters wide or keep them narrow and specific. If adoption were easy, we could all have families that matched our personal images of ideal.

But it's not. Before we can ask, "What child do I want?" we have to ask, "What children are available?" Options are getting tighter as the years go by. You have to choose options you can afford, you can handle emotionally, and that have risks acceptable to you. And when you get to the end of the labyrinthine process, you find you're not in a labyrinth anymore - you're in a family. The paperchase evaporates and suddenly you are the parents of a child.

We were childless when we started the adoption process. We came in with the notion that most adoptive families were like us - turning to adoption because the birth children simply hadn't come. We were introduced to fertility options (which weren't for us, but we appreciate the opportunity being there) and we were warned about fertility grief (which I didn't get too badly, thankfully). Our local adoption organization, ACONE, holds classes for prospective first-time parents. But our impressions were dashed when we signed up for China Special Needs and discovered that nearly all the other families had children already.

(I find the term "bio children" amusingly distasteful, but that's a complaint for another day. And I'm not offended by it or anything.)

So then we were unusual - first-time parents with no parenting experience in a group of people who were adding to their already significantly-sized families. Those other people worked their adoption parameters around the stats of their existing children. Three boys? Sign up for a girl! Is birth order important? Then adopt a child younger than two.

We were more like, "Uh... um... we just want to be parents. Whatever's good."

We did form some preferences, and added those preferences to our paperwork, although we may as well not have because then we adopted a child who was perfect for us but who didn't match the preferences. So I hope you'll forgive me if I rewrite history a bit to say we were wide open to whatever. In a way, it was true. We told the agent, "We want such-and-such a child with such-and-such, this, and/or that." And she said, "How about him? He's nothing like you described but his special need is pretty good." And we said, "Okay!"

Now we're out of the adoption system and into parenting. The topic of adoption comes up in conversation, but we're not living the maze of paperwork and tough decisions anymore.


...I'm sorta-kinda thinking a great deal every day about our next child. I'm already starting to peruse the options and make the decisions all over again. The plan is to wait a bit before jumping into a second adoption - for one, we need some time to recover financially. And for two, AwesomeCloud is still pretty new and pretty young.

However, this time we'll have something we lacked last time - previous children.

We get to make our decisions based on the fact that we have a 2-year-old Chinese-American son with a special need repairable with surgery. (Almost done with that repair job, too.)

Ooh. So, how should we choose?

China Special Needs is still available. That's our first priority. We would love it if our children shared a heritage, so we don't end up with heritages all over the place and have to struggle to keep up. We have second gen Italian, third gen Irish, and Chinese, and all else in our sense of culture is pretty standard American. If China remains an adoption option, we won't have to scramble to form a new list of options to choose from - we'll go with the same as last time.

AwesomeCloud is a boy, so maybe the next child should be a girl. I really like a sister/brother pair, because that's how I grew up. I have a little sister, but my brother and I were very close in age and in friendship. So one of each gender is my ideal. (When you get to the third child, randomness becomes appealing again.) However, boys are more available than girls. So if availability becomes a top priority, we may adopt another boy. And that's great.

Age? I'm into maintaining birth order. We want a child who is younger than AwesomeCloud. Right now that would be a problem, because AwesomeCloud is very young. Waiting awhile should open the age range up sufficiently.

Special need... well, to be honest, I've have quite enough of surgery. Boston Children's Hospital is a lovely place, but the outpatient visits are infinitely easier than the inpatient stays. I may change my mind about that later, but I may not. We'll see.

Some special needs will stay off our list - hearing disabilities, contagious diseases such as Hep B, and mental retardation. Now we may subtract conditions that require a lot of surgery from our list as well. We just think we're not the ideal family for some needs, and other needs are challenges we could rise to, but are afraid to try. That's okay. I won't feel guilty because our collective comfort zone doesn't have room for every special need. Besides, there are still a lot of options left on the list. We'll find someone who would thrive here, without straining ourselves past our own limits in the process.

It's possible that in a year or two this post will be completely irrelevant, and I'll have to write a new one with all new parameters. It's possible that China may close its international adoption access completely. Maybe we'll wait longer than we plan, or maybe we'll wake up a month from now and decide it's time to sign up. We can change our minds if we want. And maybe we'll look back and laugh about how our parameters evolved over time.

With adoption, there are no accidents, but there can certainly be surprises. Our first kid was a surprise. Maybe the second kid will be, too. Maybe we'll submit our carefully scripted list, get matched with an altogether different child all over again, throw the list out and live happily ever after with our 'choice'.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Evil schemes, updated

1) There's still snow on the ground, so no planting has started. However, the ground itself, being mostly sand, is soft and muddy under the snow. Loose, sandy soil is good for lettuce. The stuff grew like weeds last November and we stuffed our sandwiches with it before Thanksgiving. So now I just have to wait for the ground to expose itself and we can start the great yard-lettuce experiment.

2) No progress. Well, small progress. My sewing machine finally made it to the repair shop. I'll get it back next week. Sometime after that, GIANT SQUID!!!

3) I made Ban Lu food. It was simple - husband bought me two family-packs of chicken, I boiled one, boned it, and shoved it in the blender, and soon I had jars and jars of delicious pureed chicken. Yesterday I tried to finish the job, but Cloud flipped out when I turned on the blender, so I pureed the rest this evening while the guys took a sunset walk on the beach. Now I have pureed chicken in the fridge and freezer and Ban Lu can eat good food for much more cheaply than before.

(See, his problem is that he can't hold down any regular cat food but the most expensive, prescription cat food. However, he can eat pure chicken, and chicken baby food, with no problem. He smells a lot better, too. Sadly, his improved health won't preclude the possibility that he'll die of cancer.)

4) No change. There will be no cake on AwesomeCloud's birthday. I continue to be sad. That's the way it is.

Today we all went to Rhode Island to visit Great-Aunt Evelyn. We had a great visit! AwesomeCloud was active, running around her tiny house without stopping, but he didn't break a thing! In fact he hardly even touched a thing. He clutched his jingle ball in one hand and some coasters in the other hand and ran cutely up and down the hall, giggling and babbling, charming Evelyn and her neighbor Irene.

AwesomeCloud liked Evelyn's cat better than the cat liked AwesomeCloud. But, again, he didn't mistreat her or terrorize her and was accepting of the cat's reticence.

I hope he keeps his gentle respect toward animals. I'm sure there will be ncidents in the future - he'll try pulling a cat's tail or chase a cat too much - but I'll try to encourage him to keep his gentle ways.

Later, I shared my plate of ziti and meatballs with him at a great little restaurant. He hardly made a mess at all, only turning a couple of meatball chunks into toys. The waitresses fawned over him.

I have the best kid. He really is. Now if only he'd get over his irrational fear of blenders...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Evil, scheming Mama

Every now and then, I start thinking and thinking, and I come up with schemes. This is one of those times. Here are a few of my schemes:

1) In the dug-up area of the back yard, instead of spreading grass seed, I want to plant... lettuce! Lots and lots of lettuce. It's a win-win-win situation. We'll have tons of home-grown lettuce right at our back door; we won't have to mow; in a few years the grass will reclaim the yard itself, for free.

2) GIANT SQUID!!!!! (More later)

3) The chicken baby food I feed Ban Lu is only chicken, water, and corn starch. Could I make my own Ban Lu food? I have three blenders; surely one of them can finely puree boiled chicken.

4) I thought of a great birthday cake design for AwesomeCloud's second birthday.

Number 1 frustrates me because I want the snow to melt RIGHT NOW and start planting. Number 4 saddens me, because AwesomeCloud won't be able to eat cake on his birthday. He won't be able to eat anything. He'll be getting food through a tube. And I bet no one will even show up that day, because it's a weekday.

Number 2 might never come to fruition, because I'm stressed out in small ways about the upcoming surgery and my ambition doesn't exactly spring to life when I'm distracted by stressful things.

I can still do number 3.

Monday, February 15, 2010

AwesomeCloud's got the boogie-oogie-oogie

We're about to leave to go mallwalking - even though it's February vacation, and I could take advantage of Daddy being home all day to, oh, sleep late (ha ha, that'll never happen), but instead we're sticking to our routine!

I'll post about Chinese New Year later, when I find the camera so I can retrieve the pictures.

First, I want to tell you about my attention-loving son at the charity concert. We had no idea how he'd fare, but he pleasantly surprised us. We took him out into the hallway as each high school band set up on stage. The teenagers squeed and shrieked as he ran by them, arms flailing and grin grinning. Then I'd bring him back inside and sit us down to listen to the music, which he loved.

He even sat attentively through a slam poet. Daddy and I thought she was very talented, but alas for AwesomeCloud, she didn't have music.

The best act came right after intermission. A girl performed a jumpin' thumpin' leapin' dance to a pop song, and all of a sudden, AwesomeCloud leapt into dance himself! He had moves! And they took him all over the place!

Unfortunately for me, he was standing on my lap at the time, so I had to hold on for dear life for 4 minutes straight. Good thing my arms have gotten strong from all the thumpin' and jumpin' we do at home.

The couple sitting next to us were in hysterics, dying of cute as they watched him. I briefly considered informing them why AwesomeCloud was so inspired by the dancer, but they couldn't have heard me well over the music and the happy toddler-shrieks.

But, yeah. This is what we do at home.

Okay, off for some mallwalking now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Good timing, bad timing

On Tuesday, I meant to call BCH and postpone our appointment with the surgeon. The forecast said storms and I'd been planning to drive in alone this time.

Wednesday morning came, and as soon as I got up I remembered that I'd forgotten to call. And the forecast sounded doom-and-gloomier than ever. But outside there was not a single snowflake. I figured I'd call the surgeon after I dropped my husband off at work and find out if it was too late to cancel.

We got to the school and the parking lot was empty. Apparently the school had felt the forecast was pretty severe, too.

But there was still not a flake in sight. And now I had my husband around to accompany me. We decided to go for it.

We're glad we did. While other areas got hammered, the Boston-to-Cape area got much less than it could've. And most of the snow we got came late Wednesday night. The appointment itself went well and the drive was smooth.

We got our surgery appointment, too. It is... the day before AwesomeCloud's birthday.

On his first birthday, I was making the decision not to allow the orphanage to perform his surgery in China. On his second birthday, we'll be in post-op.

It's his last surgery, though. After this one, we'll be done done done. (Aside from followup.) And that means on his third birthday, we get to paaaaaaaar-TAY! With, like, cake and streamers and stuff. Yay.

Only another year. I can't wait! Maybe we'll rent a pony.

(I'm kidding about the pony.)

(I'll go all out and rent an Arabian stallion.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hard lessons

Dear AwesomeCloud,

If you cram both sets of fingers into your mouth while you are walking, and you walk into the raised hearth without looking where you're going, you're going to fall on your face. It's inevitable. It has to do with laws of physics or something.

By the way, nice catch, but next time you might not be so lucky.

Love, Mama.

Today we went to the mall for two hours - from 8:00 AM to the time the stores all opened at 10:00 AM. I don't worry that mallwalking will turn into a shopping spree. For one thing, Cloud doesn't have any patience for Mama trying on clothes. And for another thing, when the stores open, we leave.

He walked quite a bit in those two hours, although he had frequent moments of uncooperativeness and/or going in the wrong direction, so he ended up in the stroller frequently. I'm all right with a little dawdling, but when I'm done dawdling, so is he. Period. Maybe I'm too harsh, but I think I'm awfully permissive.

Today is beautiful and sunny and just lovely all over. (No snow on the Cape! Wahoo!) I went outside to gather kindling during naptime, and it was so beautiful that I decided that when Cloud woke up, I'd take him outside too.

Well, I didn't have long to wait. Apparently somebody wasn't in the mood for naptime, and when I returned to the house, he was wailing like a bainsidhe. He looked like he planned to be in for a serious long-term temper tantrum. But I... I was sunshine happy. So I plunked him on the rug and petted Riley while I waited.

Cloud watched Mama and Cat having a cuddle session without him and began to reconsider. I think he has a jealous streak. It took great effort, but he ended his temper tantrum way early.

So I put his jacket on him and we went outside, walking up and down and up and down the driveway. Then Cloud ventured onto the lawn, which was hilarious. In his Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man jacket and his big double-cloth diaper, when he fell over, he was stuck. Each time, he'd reach his arms up and stare at me, perfectly still, and wait silently for me to rescue him. I thought he would cry again, but he didn't. He just seemed to think, I can't move, so I won't even try. And then trust me to rescue him. Which I did.

Funny how he didn't retreat back to the pavement after the first tumble, though. I guess it's okay to need to trust me.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Do cats have honeymoons?

A common phrase in adoption circles is the "honeymoon period." You bring your child home and there's a period of relative calm and pleasantness before the child's issues begin to show. I suppose any situation that goes well for a while and then gets difficult can be said to have a honeymoon period. So the term is not limited to the adoption lexicon.

You may remember that we adopted (different kind of adoption) Riley in December and Ban Lu in January. Riley went on a hunger strike for her first 24 hours. It was less worrying than AwesomeCloud's hunger strike, because Riley is a cat and we knew to expect it. Hunger strikes are typical cat behavior. If they are typical child behavior, we weren't warned; additionally, we were in a hotel in Nanjing and had never been parents of anybody before.

For almost a month following, Riley was fairly mellow about food. She liked food all right, and she purred when she received it, but she didn't go nuts over it.

Then... she developed food aggression. She began to circle around me and snap at the other cats if they entered the kitchen.

Ban Lu followed the same pattern. 48 hours of little to no eating was followed by a few weeks of enjoying his food well enough. And then he began to beg. All the time. Every moment. He'd start begging the moment his plate was clean.

Both cats had changes in medication and/or diet at the time their food neuroses appeared. I can't rule out that Riley's aggression is a withdrawal symptom from her drugs being decreased. Or that Ban Lu simply isn't satisfied by "chicken with chicken gravy" baby food, no matter how much he eats.

(Yes, Ban Lu eats baby food. He hasn't lost his lunch once since he started. Except when he ate Melody's dry food, and except when he ate the plant covered with cayenne pepper, which is SUPPOSED to be a cat deterrent.)

So I don't know if the diet/drug changes were solely responsible for their changes in behavior, or if there really was a honeymoon period.

It got me thinking, also, about honeymoon periods for children. AwesomeCloud is a happy, giggly, responsive baby almost all the time. He hates to cry for long and will make an effort to giggle again as soon as possible. He plays happily when he's in pain or uncomfortable. He makes eye contact and reacts positively to his parents. He clings but is not necessarily clingy. He is easily and readily entertained, and he'll even accept attention from strangers (as long as they are nonthreatening).

Everything is going so well. Really, really well.


When other parents talk about honeymoon periods, some say theirs lasted as long as six months - eight months - even a year. AwesomeCloud has been our son for five whole months.

Are we not out of the woods yet? Is the kiddo's dark side ready to pop open at an unexpected moment? Is all this attachment deceptively easy, and will we have to start over someday? Am I speaking too soon when I say, "He's a total delight! Awesome in every way!"?

(I don't think so, entirely. I think AwesomeCloud is legitimately awesome, a natural-born optimist, and he'll laugh and smile for the rest of his life, with maybe a low period during adolescence.)

There's a reason I'm still reading the adoption blogs and books, studying, taking mental notes, noting trends. There's a reason I still seek out other adoptive families' experiences, and it's not to gloat.

So far, however, the only worsening behavior belongs to the cats. And they've really just turned normal. Most cats have food neuroses.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Independence day

AwesomeCloud decided to learn to walk last night. Maybe Nona tricked him into it a little. She wouldn't let him grab onto her, but held him under the arms and quietly let go while he was walking.

Three days ago I convinced him to stand up by himself. If he stands up, he gets to fall on his bum and shout, "Boom!" If I'm falling down and shouting "Boom!" too, I'm not available to pull him upright every time, so he has to stand up by himself.

So maybe his new standing-up skill primed him to walk by himself. The exercise of tossing the kid back and forth between us while sitting on the floor wasn't working. Early Intervention Lady and I tried to get him to walk between us. Also, Auntie DeeDee and Uncle Tim tried it, with lots of fun and giggling but not much actual walking success.

Today we tricked him into walking by himself a few more times, but he's not completely aware he has the skill yet. He still grabs for my hand when he wants to walk. He still needs a little trickery. But hey, I'll take it!

Maybe someday he'll need a toy on the other side of the room, and he'll need it sooo badly, and my hands are just too busy for him to grab, and so he'll pick himself up and walk to his toy himself.

Maybe tomorrow. Or next week.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the end of "my kid was a late walker too" stories. I have mixed feelings about those stories. On the one hand, it's reassuring to know AwsomeCloud has plenty of late-walking company. On the other hand, it's a little like commiserating with other owners of cats with cerebellar hypoplasia. There's a sense of camaraderie, but that camaraderie is based on a flaw in someone we love.

(Yes, we got the cat with CH on purpose, and I love her exactly how she is, and I'd get another cat with CH in a minute if/when the house has the extra room a CH cat requires (i.e. when Melody moves on to Kitty Heaven), but that doesn't mean I'm unaware of or unsympathetic to her disability.)