china adoption blog

We’ve thought about adopting!

Sunday, September 26th, 2010 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

This is a common complaint among adoptive parents–we hear that phrase all the time. Oh, we’ve thought about doing that! I usually take it as being a way of identifying with our family, and a nice thing–a sort of way of saying, hey, we get you and we don’t think you’re weird and crazy. (Which is of course wrong, but we like to hear it just the same.)

But sometimes it’s frustrating. Because you could, you know. I suck at this. I am a loopy, flaky, snappish mother who changes moods in an instant, I’m often scary and I struggle nearly daily with how I got myself into this mess (by which I mean the whole lot of them, and why didn’t I just get an MFA and live out a peaceful life at various writers colonies?).

But we did it. There were lots of reasons not to, but we did it just the same. Granted, we’re crazy, but still. Granted, I’ll never pretend it was easy, but still. It’s done, and it’s finally good. And I keep thinking, hey, why don’t more people do this? I’m thinking it rather hard today because our adoption agency just posted a whole group of kids needing homes. And because I was researching this foster children available for adoption in the US. And because my fellow blogger Shirlee, at And Then There Were Seven, is advocating for several kids in her blog. I’m not an individual advocate like that, at least not yet. I’m more of a conversation starter. But when I see the kids on the various blogs and posts, I do look around at an awful lot of comfortable friends who have said that to me and think, huh. If they saw this stuff as often as I do, maybe they’d make a move.

Of course, I’ve been accused of making the whole thing sound somewhat less than appealing. Fair enough. But isn’t one really long year a small price to pay? I still think ours was a risk worth taking. And I still think (but I’m repeating myself, because I said this a post or two ago) that if you knew that was what you were in for, you could cope.

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When Things Refuse to Stay the Same

Sunday, September 19th, 2010 | Connecting the Dots | 2 Comments

Last week, Rory’s beloved babysitter, who is pregnant with her third, was put on bed rest. From Rory’s point of view, she disappeared with no warning–I was traveling, and it was all we could do to get all the kids and their needs covered, let alone get Rory over to see her Heather. We explained, of course we did, but Rory was bit suspicious and very clearly thrown off course. She liked all the activities that filled in for Heather, like a trip to the indoor pool and dinner out with Daddy–but it was not what she expected.

And Rory still does not deal well with that which is not what she expected. Rory likes things to stay the same. The result was a kid off balance, extra whining, extra needs, extra picking at her brother and sister. And a LOT of questions.

Which we dealt with as best we could. On Saturday, I promised, I would take Rory to see Heather, and on Saturday we got ready: made cookies, gathered some things a person stuck in bed for weeks might need, picked her some tomatoes and made a little veggie dip. At the last minute we were a little delayed by the need to pick Lily up at a playdate, and then we were off to the hospital.

We knew what room she was in, and we headed blithely there. We were literally at the door when someone stopped us. She’d had the baby, only a few minutes ago.

It was very early. That part of things is Heather’s story and not mine to tell, although I will say that the baby (Ollie) is doing really well. But at that moment they knew very little, the baby was in the NICU, Heather hadn’t even seen him…and she still insisted I bring Rory in. She knew how thrown off Rory was. She knew how hard it would be for Rory not to see her. And she insisted.

We went in, we gave love, we left. But that meant so much…Rory feels a million times better. And Heather knew she would.

You know that bringing a preschooler into our world wasn’t easy, and you know that being torn from her own world was anything but easy on Rory. Heather has been solidly there for every minute. She never made things complicated, never worried about attachment or trauma or anything. She just showed up, took care of Rory, learned to love her, and loved her in this totally ordinary way, and that has meant more to Rory than Heather probably knows. When Rory and I were struggling, Heather was the same. When Rory was battling to see if I really meant anything I said, there was Heather. When I was wrestling with what it meant to “love” someone I’d known a matter of months, and how to handle it when that someone bit my baby, Heather was there. Without her, I would surely be either institutionalized or bar tending in Kokomo by now.

And now, she put Rory ahead of her own needs at a really, really tough moment. And made things better for her, just like she’s been doing all along. A number of people have asked me this past week how I would manage without Heather. They meant, immediately–how would I meet deadlines, how would I stay sane. I didn’t have any plans to do anything other than wait for Heather to come back, because Heather is irreplaceable. I might fill in with an after school activity here and there, or see if one of the students who does occasional evenings has any afternoons, but we aren’t going to work anyone else into our complicated lives. It’s not just about me working, but about the delicate and loving balance we’ve got going in our lives right now. I can slow down a little for a few weeks or months; Rob can do some more driving and shuttling, we can teeter and totter on until Heather comes back a little at a time, with plenty of time for whatever she and the baby need.

Heather was always coming back, and we always knew something like this could happen, pregnancy being the unpredictable thing that it is. If things had gone as planned, I might have brought in a kid with a car and filled in for a few weeks while she was off. But when you have kids that have seen a lot of upheaval, I think it makes sense to minimize its result. People she loves have been suddenly replaced in Rory’s world, and even for the other three, things that appeared to be permanent have proven to be more in flux than they expected. We love Heather, and her family, and when things happen to them, we rally and gather and come closer. We don’t rush off to try to keep the superficialities of life exactly the same. We take time to figure out how it feels when things are different, and we go from there.

As a blogging friend, Shirlee, said when her daughter met her grandparents for the first time, family in China was family, but it was permeable. “Aunts” and “Uncles” came and went. This family our girls have now is permanent, and people we love can’t be popped in and out of the picture like so many puzzle pieces. Heather was gone, and Heather will come back, and in the meantime we won’t pretend to be anything but lost without her. Because Heather’s love is forever, too.

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Truly Friends Forever

Friday, September 17th, 2010 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment

Most of us had friends as kids that we promised, with mixed results, to love forever—but what must a friend from your orphanage, from your foster home, from your past mean to a kid? We adopted Rory at nearly four, and from the first, she’s been asking for “Bethany.” As often as she cried for her foster mother and father, and maybe even more often, she cries over Bethany. She wants to see her. She lingers over the pictures we have of them together, talks about they way they played, tells us stories about the birthdays they spent together. As recently as last week, Rory told me (after being scolded for a fight with Wyatt) that she wanted to go “back China.” I asked her why (it’s still not an unusual thing to say, and I try not to put a whole ton of weight on it) and she said, sadly, that Mama Deena (her foster mother) “never send me my room if I hit.” I was a little surprised by that–Mama Deena being a known, and excellent, keeper of order who I imagine was even more vigilant than I am about hitting, and said “Mama Deena didn’t get mad if you hit someone?”

“No,” she said indignantly, “I not hit! I not hit in China! I not need hit Bethany!”

I was relieved that it wasn’t that Mama Deena was vastly preferable mommy than me (although that’s often true), but that Rory herself felt herself to have been a nicer person in China (who wouldn’t have been, before her whole world got yanked out from under her) and that Bethany, of course, was much nicer than Wyatt.

We’re in touch with Rory’s foster family, an American couple who runs a foster home in China, and so—very occasionally—we’ve seen Bethany on Skype, or had some news of her. Up until last night, I thought Bethany was going to stay in China, and it worried me. Any American’s position in China is always precarious, and I feared that Bethany might get caught up, somehow, in crazy bureaucracy. I feared for a lot of things, and I wanted this kid that Rory loves so much to have the kind of future Rory will have, here in the U.S., instead of fighting her way into some adult life in China.

Last night, I found out that Bethany will be adopted by a family in Ohio.

I haven’t told Rory yet, but I’m overjoyed—and a tiny bit worried. I don’t know a thing about what her new family knows about Bethany (and I won’t use her Chinese name here, or offer any identifying details or use a picture). I don’t know if they know her foster family yet, or that she will speak English. I don’t know if they have other kids, if they’ve adopted before, or where they’re coming from—and most importantly, I don’t know if they’ll want to help Bethany keep a place for Rory in her life.

It would mean so much to Rory to see Bethany again. I’m already imagining this wonderful future for them together, of visits and letters and cards (the number of cards and pictures Rory’s drawn for Bethany over the past year, and that I’ve saved, would fill a USPS priority mail box) and Skype without a 12 hour time difference. I imagine, for me, too, another parent of an older adopted girl with my own girl’s slightly weird past, her almost-English, her half-family, half-foster status, and the connection we feel with the adoptive family and the home in China, still staffed by Americans, where we hope to visit, help and work someday.

But what if they don’t want any of that? What if China, as it always wants to, manages to keep Bethany’s foster family information from her adoptive family? Or what if they don’t want her to keep her links with her past? Or what if they just don’t like us—if I’m too outspoken, if our faiths and convictions, which lack the organized affiliations of so many of our fellow adoptive parents, aren’t enough for them? I see this as a future for Bethany, but at the same time, I’m afraid that she’ll somehow disappear entirely from Rory’s life. And as much as Rory has lost, I have a sense that to lose Bethany—who has never abandoned her, or given her to another family, or turned her attention away, or, even to hear Rory tell it, snatched away a toy or hit her or called her “poopyhead,” would be huge.

I guess the silver lining would be that Bethany, if she’s never again a physical part of Rory’s life, might hold onto her iconic status even better than the real Bethany will. Maybe my dream of somehow giving Rory back this little piece of her past is would actually mess with Rory’s dream. Maybe the real Bethany, a year older, a year changed, won’t be Rory’s Bethany at all.

It’s out of my hands, of course. But if anyone knows a couple in Ohio about to adopt a 5-year-old girl from Fuzhou, Fujian, please: send them our way.

Cross-posted at No Hands But Ours.

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It’s the First Day of School for the Adopted Kid!

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 | Connecting the Dots | 3 Comments




First Day of School #2!

Today was Rory’s second “First Day of School.”

There’s a new head teacher in Rory’s classroom this year; one who appears to have certain fairly defined expectations for how things will go. Last week, she invited each student to come in to meet her, bringing something to show her—a book, she suggested, or something important—and to see the changes in the classroom. We adopted 4-year-old Rory last summer, and she brought, as she will always bring if asked for “something important” her “pictures.” This is a photo album she brought with her from her foster home in China, and it includes pictures of her foster parents and the other children fostered there in a large group home as well as pictures of her family here, and she loves to share it.

But the new teacher did not want Rory to share it, or at least not right away. She wanted Rory to walk quietly around the classroom, and Rory, in some confusion, complied, touring the room, listening, and participating in a demonstration of one of the activities. Eventually the teacher did allow Rory to show her a few pages, in which she showed a politely distant interest.

Which was fine. Rory was adopted, and it is a fact of her life, but just one fact of her life. Maybe her new teacher didn’t want to make too much of it. Maybe she was nervous about being shown a picture of Rory’s foster mother while Rory’s real mother looked on; what seems ordinary to us could reasonably have seemed more than a little weird to her. We don’t think anyone should make too much of Rory’s adoption, or cut her too much slack on the grounds of the kind of vague, psychobabble theories people who know a little, but not too much about adoption and transition are likely to hold, like allowing her to cling to a teacher on the ground that she must perforce be less secure about her place in the world than other children, or forgiving her tendency to push other children aside because she may have once needed to be aggressive to get what she needed. Some of that’s valid, but enough of it isn’t that so far, we think it’s better for the teachers not to consider Rory in need of special treatment.

But.

This teacher seemed to have such very clear expectations about how the children would behave. She seemed tense. Why didn’t she look at the book? Why wasn’t she more comfortable with Rory? I worried. Should I write her a note explaining the ways in which Rory’s story is a little different from her peers? Should I describe how Rory’s natural desire to be the focus of an adult’s attention leads her to interrupt, and to seek out another teacher if the first doesn’t immediately respond to her, even when told to wait? And while I was at it, should I brief her on the ways Rory likes to talk about China, and the way we like to handle it? Maybe the laissez-faire approach was a mistake, this time around. Maybe I should jump in.

In the days after the first meeting with the teacher, I started to write that letter many times. I considered how to phrase it, so that it didn’t seem like I was either flagging some bad behavior, and marking Rory as the difficult kid, or hovering over to ensure some ideal classroom experience. I told myself I would just put a little something in at the end of a note, just a few tips on Rory, and really I would write the note just so her teachers would know the names of the people Rory talks about, which can sometimes be hard to understand. I told myself it would just be what any parent would do.

I was right, in one sense. This month’s Adoptive Families magazine has an entire section on ways to “ensure that adoption is treated accurately and sensitively at school.” Most of it is an off-putting litany that I can’t imagine doing–going to the school, making a presentation to the children about how Rory’s birth parents brought her into the world, but couldn’t do the other things that parents do, so we are Rory’s parents now, or read the entire class an adoption story. I wouldn’t do those things, not because we don’t talk about China and adoption regularly, but because the other children’s parents don’t come in to explain, say, why Timmy’s mommy and daddy don’t live together. Because those are home things, not school things. Because being adopted is different, but not defining. Because every child has a different family, one way or another.

But it’s clear that the urge to alert the teacher to your child’s particular needs is a universal one, at least for adoptive parents (in fact, “write a letter to the teacher” is number one on that list). It may be common among all parents–but not in our case. Because for my 4-year-old son, returning to the classroom across from Rory’s, I had no such urge. Of course, he didn’t have a new teacher, but my 6-year-old daughter has both a new teacher and a new school this year, and I never once thought about starting a letter to put in her backpack.

Rory was adopted into our family. We went through a lot to get to where we are today. But we are here, over a year later, hitting all the annual milestones for a second time, going, in the most matter-of-fact way, back to school. We still have our struggles. But I look around at Rory’s classmates, and I see that they have struggles, too. Some of them do things a teacher may not appreciate. Some of them have behavioral patterns that, shall we say, don’t work well in the classroom. Maybe their parents went in and explained. Maybe they didn’t. It’s none of my business.

But the things I might tell Rory’s teacher about Rory might be about adoption. Or they might be about Rory. And they might not even show up in the classroom. But if they do, they do, and it won’t really matter where they come from. I’ve just finished Scott Simon’s Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other (In Praise of Adoption) and in it, he has a line about a friend’s daughter who was adopted from the Philippines in the 1980′s. There was, he says “nothing to distract [her] from fitting into her family’s life with a minimum of analysis and evaluation.” That’s it, I realized. I may want to protect Rory–to make this school year turn out perfectly for her–but I don’t want to distract her from fitting into her school life with a minimum of analysis and evaluation. There may come a time when we need more, when Rory herself needs her teachers to know more about where she’s coming from in every possible way. That’s not where we are. Right now, we’re just another preschooler, heading back to school.

Originally uploaded by kjda

KJ Dell’Antonia

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One Year

Saturday, September 4th, 2010 | Connecting the Dots | 4 Comments

One year.

Actually, one year and 2 months.

I didn’t think a year meant that much, once we hit that year. I’m just not feeling the milestone, I said. This is still hard, it still doesn’t feel worthy of some sort of “this-is-how-we-were-meant-to-be” record. I suspect that maybe isn’t my style, anyway…that this is how we are will always be what’s important to me… But thatsnnot my point. We’ve hit our stride, I feel–as I said a few days ago, everything feels more established and more settled now than ever before. And I realized, yesterday at Rory’s annual physical, that “one year” is a big part of why.

“One year” isn’t really just some arbitrary anniversary. It’s how we, culturally, seasonally, naturally, divvy up our own lives. Every year the snow will fall, every year the days will get longer, every year the raspberries will ripen and the apples will fill the trees and the pumpkins will be ready to pick. School will start, doctor’s visits will happen, birthdays, annual festivals…we structure a million and one things around an annual calendar, and for Rory and the rest of us together, all of those things will now have happened before. Wemhave entered the great and wonderful stage where nearly everything is “just like last time.”

I don’t think you can underestimate the value of that for someone who, once, when things took a turn for the seriously different from everything that had ever before happened, found herself with a new life, family, hiiom, language and nearly every thing you can think of. Rory is a lesson who naturally leaps into new adventures, and for her to have been so overwhelmed by one really took a toll on her personality. Now, new adventures are easier to welcome because they come in the context of things that have happened before. New people may come visit, but then they will leave, and next weekend we will go to the same party we went to for Labor Day last year. There may be a new teacher, but the classroom and most of the kids and the routine will be the same. She can wear new shoes with an old pair of shorts.

That seems to make everything much better, and suddenly, really truly suddenly, everything isn’t just striding, it’s going rather smoothly. You fight less with your siblings when you have that year base to fall back on. You’re more able to come up with simpler ways to deal with moments when you can see that you will not possibly get your way. Sure, your friend has to leave, but instead of crying or getting yourself into a temper tantrum worth of trouble over it, maybe you could just insist on holding the dog so she doesn’t chase your friend’s car.

From my point of view, we’ve left the realm of “what will she do next.” At last year’s physical, our pediatrician tactfully told me a story about an adoptive parent she knew who felt like she was too hard on her child. “she really had to be, sometimes,” the doctor said, “because if a child she’d known all its life gave another child a push inbfrustration, she knew how far the kid would go next, but with the newer child, she just didn’t know, so she had to be much more responsive and careful abo ut everything.”

That turned out to be very true, and very comforting. But now, for the most part, I do know. Which in many cases doesn’t mean I can be less vigilant, but in many cases it does. I do know Rory, now. I know where she’s going and what she’s likely to do next and whether I need to head her off at the pass. It’s a good, and much easier, feeling.

Without wishing our lives away, I can see the next milestone–the moment when she’s lived longer with us than anywhere else–coming, and again, I can see why it’s not just some arbitrary marker, but a moment with real and deep resonance. These anniversaries mean something more that cakes and candles. They speak to something deeper inside us, the movement of time and seasons that binds us together.

So, in short, one year: now I get it.

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