Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Adoption representative in everyday life

There comes a point in every adoptive parent's life when she has to decide just how open she will be toward curious strangers. In fact, there are often several such points, as things change - our children get older, we have more children, we get tired of old approaches or find them ineffective. I decided early on that I would be quite open and friendly, unless I had a reason not to. I would be an educator when people needed to be educated, and a pleasant conversationalist when they were just trying to chat.

It's worked out pretty well so far. I was worried, at first, that I'd have to work hard to rein myself in as AwesomeCloud got older and understood more, but as it turns out, fewer people grill me when he's around. The vast majority of people act as if they barely notice that Cloud and I are different races. Or they ask if he's adopted, or if we're related at all, and stop there.

We live in a good area for this. In general, people in our region are wise to interracial adoption, domestic or international, and often they know someone who has adopted. Or, at least, they know enough about adoption in general to be satisfied with my vaguest answers.

I haven't run into anyone who has wanted to discuss the politics of Tibet and/or the One-Child Policy in a long time.

Today at kung fu, one of the other mothers showed a particular interest in the fact that AwesomeCloud was adopted. She soon revealed that she was considering adopting a child herself, and wanted to discuss the possibility with her husband, but wasn't sure exactly what to say about it. Someone she knew was trying to adopt a little boy through DSS, and had run into some systematic difficulties, as well as having certain difficulties with the child himself. The woman knew that one adoption story wasn't nearly enough information to go on, so she wanted to hear my story too. She was heartened by seeing Cloud laughing and thriving. The kid can really brighten a room, I'm telling ya!

I described the stunningly positive experience we had with the China Special Needs program, and gave her the usual warnings about never quite knowing what your child will be like. She seemed undeterred by that - it was, apparently, the only thing about adoption she really knew ahead of time - but was very thorough about asking questions and considering my answers. I have faith that she'll be talking to some other people, too, which is important. It's not a great idea to make a decision about adoption after only talking to me.

I don't wish to be an advocate for adoption - it's not my place to go around telling people that they should adopt, because as far as I know, maybe they shouldn't. I can't use my son's wonderfulness as evidence that adoption is always great - Cloud is Cloud, and whoever a family adopts may also be a wonderful kid, but it won't be Cloud. Also, as my sister-in-law said, the parameters that we jumped so eagerly at would scare off a lot of prospective parents. Cloud's age, his special need... maybe we were just too stupid and naive to think of him as a risk. But we risked, and we won.

Actually, I think what we did is we came to the conclusion that our risk assessment skills were inadequate to reliably navigate the murky waters of adoption. So we went with choosing a child that was adoptable with no ethical obstacles, who was not in very high demand by other waiting families, and left the other factors to chance.

And we won.

I think our story is worth telling. I don't mind allowing myself to be used as a representative of one possible outcome of adoption. There are still tragic stories out there, and stories involving a lot more struggle before the success comes. Stories in which success has to be redefined before it will come. Those are important too. Every adoption story involves loss and trauma, including ours.

But... well... here I am. Here we all are. So we may as well talk.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kung fooooooo!

AwesomeCloud had his free trial kung fu lesson yesterday. It was hilarious. The class consisted of him, in all his three years and two days old glory, plus two very blonde three-year-old girls whose moms were there with coupons, plus five or six four-to-six-year-olds wearing their gis.

Cloud followed every instruction, including ones not meant for him. For example:

Instructor: "Cloud, you stand right here. Very good. Now Julie, you stand here-- no, no, Cloud, this is Julie's spot. Cloud, stand right here. Very good!"

Cloud: "Yaaaay!"

Instructor: "Okay, now Julie... you stand here. No, Cloud-- okay, fine, Cloud, stand here, and Julie, stand over... here. Good. Cloud, no. Go back over there. I'm trying to get you all in a line. Stand right here, like this. Now Alex, stand... No, Cloud, stand over there. Over there. Okay, fine, Alex, you stand over there."

He was so cute, though, that nobody seemed to mind much. All us parents were looking through the window and laughing our heads off.

The sifu, owner of the dojo, talked us into two sessions a week for eight weeks. Kung fu will end up being, well, not exactly the cheapest activity ever, but probably very good for him. It'll improve his coordination and listening skills. We've already started practicing the exercises at home - if we can get him to remain on his belly during push-ups, and sticking his arms in the air for jumping jacks, he will be able to pass off some semblance of cooperating and following directions.

And... someday... he'll be able to say, "I've been taking kung fu since two days after my third birthday."

Is that worth the money? I'll have to ask him someday.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

In regards to the nuclear power plant crisis in Japan

I have deep concern for the citizens of Japan who are suffering from the toxic fallout of the damaged power plants. I feel for the self-sacrificing heroes who are trying to control the problem, and for their families who have to sit by helplessly and take care of themselves.

I've never been a big proponent of nuclear power. I understand the argument that we need more power, that nuclear is more sustainable than fossil fuels, yada yada. That the consequences of a fossil fuel related catastrophe can be bad, too. (for instance, the BP oil spill.)

However, I prefer the austerity approach. I believe in using less energy for the sake of using less energy. I believe in turning off lights and turning down heat. I believe in small houses and fuel-efficient cars - as few as a family can stand to live with. I believe in subsistence gardening and natural landscaping. I believe in staycations (or at least crashing with friends when traveling, when we can). I believe in yard sales and thrift shops.

"Demand" is such an unpleasant word. I believe we should ask nicely for our power, and use it like we cherish it.

Speaking of austerity, I think we're going to be practicing some extra austerity in this household. It's beginning to dawn on us that kung fu for three-year-olds is such a novel concept because the people who send their three-year-olds to kung fu are... how shall I say this... a tiny bit more affluent than us.

I have some ideas, though. Easy, low-effort, non-disruptive ideas - the best kind.

I only have two of them, though.


I've always wanted a three-year-old.

Now I have one.

Happy birthday, AwesomeCloud. (Only a day late! Oh well, he got his gifts on time.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I'm back from SPACE, and boy is my autograph-signing hand tired!

No, really, it is. I'm not actually joking. So this entry is going to be another short one. I also still don't have my voice back, in spite of it being Wednesday already.

However, I do have my AwesomeCloud minicomic completed and I can show it off to you. Here's the cover:

It sold well enough, although not as well as I'd hoped at a memoir-friendly show like SPACE.

Oh well. Now I have plenty of copies left over to sell at this Sunday's show. It's a local comic show and we're bringing Cloud. Sunday is the day after his birthday. I have some posts in mind, mostly about him turning 3 but also some about adoption in general, but I continue to not feel much like typing.

Hope you're all well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My trip into SPACE

I'm going to Ohio. I'm leaving tomorrow. I'm headed for the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo, or SPACE.

There I will debut my new minicomic, "AwesomeCloud and the Butterfly Garden."

I'd post the cover, but I haven't finished it yet. I'm finishing it right now.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rapid changes, slow blogging

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately. AwesomeCloud has been making great strides in all areas, especially speech. And in boundary-testing. He's still not a little toddler terror, but he is keeping me on my toes and defying various house rules to varying degrees at various times.

His infectious laugh forces everyone to forgive him, though... most of the time.

I have a few momentous blog posts in mind, and one or two have already been started. Whether they'll ever see the light of day is anyone's guess. I compose them in my mind while I'm doing other things, but by naptime, I no longer feel like typing them in.

Cloud is turning three, which marks a bunch of developmental milestones, plus some adoption timeline milestones too. By 3/26, he will have been a member of our family for as long as he wasn't. 18 months in a Chinese orphanage; 18 months in a Cape Cod family. Pretty exciting.

I feel guilty for not blogging this chapter of our life better. I feel like I owe it to my son to record this time in his life for posterity. I can't give him a moment of his first 18 months of life, but the second 18 months have been unfolding with me present to witness it, every moment, every day, and I want to save it all for him.

But I hate making videos, and I can only blog so much, and I'm going to have to trust that I'm already saving enough memories for him.

There are so many things in life that I will never be able to give him.

I will never be able to answer his questions about his original family. I'll never know why they let go of him. I can't reassure him that their reasons were sound, because I don't know what their reasons were.

I can never give him the ability to blend anonymously into the crowd - not while we live in White Person Central, and not if we move to Chinese-filled China. When it comes to race, our family is conspicuously mixed. Mostly, that's okay. We don't have to blend in every moment. But when you never blend in at any moment, the whole act of blending in takes on a greater meaning. I'm used to blending in; I did it all my life until recently. I can't give my son that kind of foundation. Race will be relevant to him right from the start.

I can't teach him about his heritage. We'll have to learn about Chinese culture together, as a family, as outsiders.

I can't teach him witty ripostes to schoolyard bullying and badgering, because I don't know how to do that stuff myself. The best I can do is teach him geek pride, and hope it sticks.

I can't provide every mentor he'll ever need. His dad and I can guide him through many of the important lessons in life, but when it comes time for him to see what an Asian-American can do, I can only hope there will be some Asian-Americans around for him to look up to. I'm working on that.

I can't offer him any birth stories, genetic history, or genealogy.

I can't protect him from the deeply disturbing and brutal history of his anonymous ancestors, and I'm not going to try. I doubt anything really terrible ever happened to my bloodline, not since the Samnites held off the encroaching Holy Roman Empire in the rough terrain of the Abruzzi mountains. It's very unlikely that my son's bloodline had nearly as much comfort and security as mine.

I shouldn't dwell on the things I lack. Life is tough. Nobody has everything they want. The good thing about being born into an imperfect situation is that you can always strive to make it better.

But it's a mother's instinct to provide a perfect life for her child. No one wants to see her child struggle. But all humans struggle. I struggle. Don't you?

I worry because someone I know has a daughter who struggles with adoption and race issues. Because in the age of blogging, I can read dozens of people's innermost thoughts about their struggles. I can learn all about adoption identity issues without ever having been adopted, without needing to lose my parents for even a second. I can read and ponder and empathize, and then I can anticipate my son experiencing the same struggles.

I knew this would happen. I wouldn't have adopted blindly. This is all well within expectations. Adoption involves a lot of personal loss and trauma. I just have to find the right balance between learning about it and coping with it.

I should blog more. Or at least, I should blog well. I'm trying.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan earthquake/tsunami

An 8.9 point earthquake! How exciting! And not in a good way.

This morning, the mallwalkers asked me whether Cloud's home was affected. I didn't know, so I looked it up. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that China has pledged to give aid to Japan. I'll talk about my thoughts on China as a world power some other time; for now, i'll say their generosity makes me happy.

Their tsunami warnings have been downgraded; apparently the east coast of China is only expecting waves a foot and a half high.

Meanwhile, there was a separate earthquake in Yunnan province, unrelated to the Japan earthquake (the two regions are on different tectonic plates), in which 25 people died. Yunnan is part of that vast region of China that does not have disaster-resistant architecture. The mallwalkers and i were talking about that, too. The lack of disaster-resistant architecture continues to be a problem in most of China.

When I told them I wasn't worried about Shanghai, because their buildings were designed to withstand whatever tremors they got from the distant earthquake, the mallwalkers said, 'Of course."

Actually, no, not 'of course.'

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Everybody is kung fu fighting

I'm all excited. I was mulling over introducing my son to martial arts, and now I've decided I'm really going to do it.

I'm inordinately excited. Excited beyond reason. Why? Am I living vicariously? Do I wish my parents had signed me up for kung fu as a child? (Actually, yes I do, after the fact. As a child I can't imagine what I would have thought of the concept. Fewer girls were doing it, and there were no cultural references to girls taking martial arts lessons when I was little. But now, I would have loved to have.)

I'd like to say that my son's own sudden interest was the deciding factor. He is interested. A tae kwon do demonstration gave him thrills last month. "Kung Fu Panda" fascinated him - he started jumping around, howling and kicking. (He only watched half, which was quite enough for someone his age.)

But I think it was actually a foregone conclusion.

We found a kung fu studio in the next town that looks promising. It has the two most important factors:

1) They teach a class for 3-year-olds.
2) Kung fu is culturally Chinese.

They are apparently not into laying on the Chinese culture, which is too bad. Their website casually mentions Shaolin, but their style and method is largely American.

Still, it seems like a good starting point. It's nearby, it'll take kids his age, and the sifu seems really nice from what little I've heard. If AwesomeCloud develops a passion for kung fu, we can always explore additional options later.

Like, I dunno, going to China and sending him to study on a mountaintop.

Just kidding. I've been reading National Geographic too much. (The February issue had a great article about Shaolin monks who live on mountaintops. The photography was breathtaking. And maybe a little dream-inspiring.)

Now I just have to make contact with the sifu, sit in on a class for free, and find out precisely how much maturity the kiddo will need in order to get started. Should we plan to start him this summer? Wait until he can talk in complete sentences? Is it worthwhile to pay for classes before he's old enough to grasp what martial arts are for?

They're for exercise, by the way. I'm being realistic. I don't expect him to be able to take on a gang of street thugs single-handedly, nor do I ever want him to.

They're for exercise, balance, self-discipline, following directions, and occasionally competition if he ever wants to enter tournaments.

They're also for clout. I admit it. When his curious classmates ask him dumb questions about his Chinese heritage, they will inevitably ask him, "Do you know karate?" I want him to be able to answer, "The Chinese martial art is called kung fu, and yes, I know it."

I'm shallow like that.

I'll sign him up for Chinese brush-painting classes, too, if any come our way. Why not? He's got a body and lots of energy, so why not kung fu? He has hands and the house is full of art supplies, so why not brush painting?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mangled English is so cute!

Today my son and I were driving to the library. It was hot in the car, so I cracked open the front passenger window, and then I cracked open his window in the back. He loves it when I open his window, even just the tiniest crack.

"Window," he said.

"Two windows," I replied.

"One-dow, two-dow," he said.

So cute!!!!

Well, I thought it was cute.

He also did a bunch of things today, and in the past couple of weeks, that I think were so cute and wonderful, but would probably bore you all to death. I'm in the middle of that awkward toddler-mom phase, where the kid is doing amazing new things he's never done before several times a day, but they're the same amazing things every toddler does.

The fact that he still has significant speech delays changes the tenor of my joy. Every time his speech improves, I think it's ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL, in a way that a parent whose child does not have speech delays probably doesn't experience. It was the same thing with physical achievements, when AwesomeCloud had physical delays. For instance, when Cloud finally learned to walk, I was overcome with relief. A huge burden had been lifted.

That's life for a parent of a child with delays. You know it's likely that your child will do this and that and the other thing, eventually, but you're never completely 100% sure until it happens.

It's not the kind of worry I would choose to have, except... well, I did. We chose this. On purpose. And we're pretty happy about it.

I've been attending Zen meditation again. Zen Teacher Jim is off gallivanting in Europe (just kidding) and Zen Teacher Tim is running the show at home. Although I don't have the same rapport with Tim as I do with Jim, Tim says some things now and then that really sink in. American Zen is starting to gel with me. It's not precisely Chinese culture, per se, but it's a Western-style window into Eastern thinking. We Westerners treat the Asian worldview as mysterious and opaque, and so it becomes. But it doesn't have to be so unapproachable. I can approach it if I try hard enough. If I listen intently enough.

Plus, some of this Zen stuff is just plain brilliant, and worth knowing just for its own sake. I hope Cloud develops some cultural pride. He has a lot to be culturally proud of.