Monday, April 29, 2013

Another one?

As busy has life has been, the thought of a second child has been floating around in my head for several weeks.  I first had the thought the day after we got Sofie... but it was too soon.  As we adjusted to one another, the thought remained, but I put it off.  We weren't ready for another child.  I went back to work, and I couldn't imagine the thought of handling two at a time.  I got sick and had a lot of time at home, and I imagined what the second one would be like.

We started looking into it again with China, and it will be exactly the same process.  It is likely it will take another 2-3 years, and if we plan to do that, we should have started yesterday.  Also, we would have to do special needs again (not that there is anything wrong with special needs... Any newly adopted child has special needs compared to a child that has been with you since the beginning).  The cost is frightening (again).

We also have the option to adopt locally, but there is always the uncertainty that the birth parents will change their mind.  It also could take quite a while.  And most of the children up for adoption in our region (per the adoption agency we spoke with) are a result of not pleasant circumstances most of the time.  Of course there are exceptions.  In some ways, it is a relief not to know where Sofie came from.

We got an email this week from Children of All Nations, and Haiti has opened up.  They also posted a video about international adoptions ( that made me want to do it even more.  There are so many children out there who we could help.  The politics make it hard, but for me it is all about love and opening your heart.   So, a little boy or girl from Haiti is on my mind tonight.  It would be wonderful to have a brother or sister for Sofie.  I think our family would be an amazing spot for at least 1 more child.  I don't know how we would handle work, play, etc. with another kid; things are already hectic and harried.  Everyone else seems to be able to do it, so why not?

On the other hand, part of me want to do a career change, and having another child would definitely put me on the back burner. I would also like to relocate to a less polluted more outdoorsy-friendly place.  It is hard to prioritize when you want so many things. :) I am blessed to have so many options.  I also don't know which way is up.  Hopefully the path will become more clear in coming weeks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Adventure, Ho! Passport to the world

Today started off like any other day, except I had an teleconference at 6:30 in the morning.    I woke up that 45 minutes early and was out the door on time.  I made it to the office 30 minutes later, on time. (Yay!).  The conference had some technical challenges, and my part was ok once I got going.  I wonder how many people really watched it and how effective it was... There were supposed to be like 400 people on the line... I am getting off subject.  It was a day like any other day.  There were a couple teleconferences after that, and then we had a special team meeting to discuss some upcoming workflow changes.

We have had it on our list to get Sofie a passport for a year and a half.  Push finally came to shove a few weeks ago when we bought tickets to travel the world.  Suddenly the need was a reality, and we had to get moving.  Her Dad got the paperwork done, and we set an appointment time with the post office.  For small children, both parents have to be there with passports, copies of passports, passport pictures, marriage licenses, social security cards, a partridge and a pair tree.  Oh, and the child had to accompany us too.  Fun times!

Her dad and I coordinated times with the precision of military generals.  We both arrived from opposite sides of town within 10 seconds of one another - an amazing feat.  Sofie looked adorable as always in her jeans, pink belt, pink cupcake t-shirt, red socks, and electric blue shiny patent leather shoes.  She had her hair in an (unintentional) side pony tale.  We were 15 minutes early for our appointment!

I asked the hubby if everything was ready.  He said yes; they have a passport picture machine at the post office we should use & a copy machine for the paperwork.  We grabbed Sofie's hand and walked inside the post office.  It was deserted!  I felt like I had fallen into a magic world with a helpful, efficient post office people.  We asked about the passport appointment and the customer service rep had taken a step out for a moment.  We waited 20 minutes in a little tape drawn box on the floor.  Eventually the passport lady came, and my hubby asked about the passport photo machine & copies of the passports.  DENIED!  Both machines were broken.  They gave us [faulty] instructions to the nearest library, and we also hit the CVS down the street.  The library was open (yay!) and the copies were done.  CHECK.  At CVS, they pulled down the white screen, gave her a whirl on a stool, and took a lovely picture.  They said to check back in within the next 10 minutes for the picture.  I did a quick run around with Sofie and found some toiletries I was missing and a water colors paint set I thought she would enjoy.  We got in line ... The 3 people ahead of us checked out.  That is when things started going downhill. The photo printing machine was broken.  Could we came back tomorrow? they asked. Umm. No.  Was there another place close to here?  No.

So, by this time, it is 11:40.  I have now been absent from work for 70 minutes, and there is no end in site. We head back to the post office to see if they could cut us some slack (ID me, compare my passport picture with my face, and then let me go back to work and let the hubby take care of the passport picture somewhere else).  After conferring with the boss, the rep says they can't help us.  They need all documents to be together.  Once we have assembled everything, we can go to the front of the line.

Now, we get in the car (again) and I check my phone to see where Walgreens is.  I call Walgreens to see if their machine is working (because it seems like passport machines are always broken).  Walgreens tells me it is broken and then they change their mind and say it is working.  They tell me to come now, so we drive a mile and a half away.  We go in.  No one is at the photo counter.  A lady that is familiar with the checkers shouts down that they need someone in photos.  Then she comes over and takes the 1 machine that is working and starts scanning a pile of 100 pictures for making copies in her album. They take the picture of us, and 25 minutes later our passport picture prints out.  Ridiculous. 

We drive back to the post office (again).  It is now 12:15, and there is a huge line. Not out the door long, but 10 people long.  The hubby moves to the little passport box on the floor, and I get in the line.  15 minutes later, it is our turn in the long line.  We are denied by a different passport lady.  She grunts "get inside the box.  I will do passports when the line goes down."  Umm, the stream of people coming in is non-stop.  30 minutes later, we are still hanging out in the box.  Meanwhile, another lady joins our line for the passport.  We start talking after awhile, and I tell her the situation.  I have accepted (kind of) where we are.  You can't change the process most of the time.  It isn't a fight worth fighting for me.  Meanwhile, Sofie has fallen asleep on her dad's shoulder.  The other lady gets more and more frustrated and cuts in the normal post office line to see why we aren't getting processed.

Te passport lady repeats what she said to me.  Without making eye contact. Without stopping what she was doing. Finally around 1:00, business tapers off and we are finally processed in 5 minutes.


The passport process started.  She made us make out a check to the postmaster general for 25 bucks, and I hope that didn't go in her pocket.  I didn't make an issue out of it because I wanted to get the darn passport.

I finally got back to work 2 hours later than I expected ... and there was a train blocking my path to the office anyway... and by the time I returned, everyone was missing.  And the canteen was closed for lunch. 

What is the moral of my story?
- Expect the unexpected when dealing with the post office and global teleconferences
- Don't argue with the post master
- Get everything done before you go to the post office.  The photo taking machine is always broken.
- Apply for passports at least 6 weeks before you travel
- Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all

Sunday, April 7, 2013

If I knew then what I knew now...

I had an idea for a post a few months back, and I hadn't had time to think about it.  I have a few moments today, so I am going to go for it.

One question that people ask is... If I knew how it would be after we adopted Sofie with the transition now, how would we change things?

To bring you up to speed...

  • Sofie is adopted from China
  • She came from a foster home living situation (had same foster parents her whole life)
  • She was 2.5 when she was adopted
  • She is a Special Needs child (cleft lip/palate)
  • She is from the 3rd most polluted city in China
  • 4 million people on the planet speak her first language (which is Mandarin-like, but not Mandarin)
  • We had friends that spoke Mandarin
  • We are an international family already.  

I am an engineer in education, and you would think that I would have done infinite research about foreign adoptions, special needs, how to teach a child a foreign language, how to have your child cope with adoption, etc., etc., etc.

Instead, my husband and I went in mostly blind.  We did the required Hague education that was required.  We did some basic research about cleft palate recovery, reading some amazing horror stories.  You wouldn't believe the kind of terrible information out there - talking about how many children have autism, sub par IQ, horrendous surgery experience, a life long speech impediments after 20+ surgeries. It made me want to stop the process all together, so I stopped reading.

I did read a Chinese culture book to prepare for the trip to China.  We did look up the sights we were going to see in Beijing.  Besides this and the materials, that was it.

We did fine in Beijing, skipping the western restaurants and walking into the most packed restaurants we could find full of locals.  

In Taiyuan, the pollution was BAD.  I couldn't walk outside for more than 10 minutes without having severe breathing issues and chest pain. The chemical smell was pretty terrible from the moment the plane started descending until we left the city a week later.  I hadn't realized it was so polluted and that Sofie would come home with so many heavy metals in her.  

We were told that she would be prepared for the adoption.  Looking back, I see that there is no way you could prepare a little person for such a life altering event.  Her foster parents loved her with all their hearts and did their best.  I am not convinced they had her best intentions at heart by including all kinds of mementos in secret spots in her backpack and around her neck and in CDs and stuff.  These items cause her to break out in hysteria even a year later.  I hadn't realized they would do this.

The language barrier was huge.  We learned a few phrases like "I love you, bathroom, yes, no, etc." in Chinese before we left.  This was all we needed.  We had the backup plan about using our Mandarin speaking friend, but they had big communication problems too since the dialect was so different.  Google Translate (Mandarin basic) worked the best.

Eventually, Sofie started learning English, but those first few months were very hard.  Very hard.    The little reading I did indicated she would be fluent in 3-6 months.  It was more like 9 months for full fluency, and it has been such a blessing now that she does speak English properly.  When we went to the park, I would see how other 3 year olds communicated with their moms and she was definitely behind in that respect.  She is about equal a year and a half later, though she really does like to say as little as possible most of the time.  She isn't into reading books with us most of the time, although she knows her ABCs both singing and written.  She likes to hear stories now which is definitely exciting too.

Sending her to preschool was definitely a good way to ensure she learned English.  She had to do it to communicate with the teachers and other children, and her progress made huge leaps and bounds once she was in school.  I would do it again.

Her fluency journey coincided with an early cleft palate surgery.  The timing was quick because she was accepted into a program, a spot came available sooner than expected, and her overall language development was going to be severely impaired by the current situation (and create really bad habits that would be hard to recover from in the long run).  She really didn't know what was happening.  It was a tough time in recovery. She thought we had done surgery on both arms (instead of her mouth) because there were physical restraints on her to keep her hands out of her mouth. It would have been nice to be able to explain some of that to her.

Regarding her specific cleft palate case, it will likely be 3 surgeries total.  Her first surgery in the US was very successful and the speech pathologist is ecstatic about her progress.  She is a very smart little girl with no autism or learning disabilities.  She did have heavy metals in her body, but they are being leeched out slowly by being in a different environment.  The high lead readings have not caused any serious damage.

From a bonding perspective, I had read some stories about how un-affectionate children from China could be.  Sofie was very much into being held (maybe more than I imagined) and cuddled from the get go.  We taught her how to give kisses.  We have developed a very strong bond.  For me it was immediate.  For my husband, it took longer.  It was worth it.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't change anything except to toss the materials that I read beforehand (except for the Chinese culture book).  It wasn't worth the worry to research cleft palate ahead of time except to find the best local resources for once she got here.  It wasn't worth it to worry about her intelligence.  The bonding happened on its own.  Learning English took time.  We kept our language clear and concise and basic for awhile.

If I could have changed anything, it would be:
- Worry less about how she would be beforehand. Things work out for the best.
- Delay the surgery a few months.  
- Make sure I had dedicated "me time."  I lost myself a bit when I went back to work, and it took illness to find myself again.
- Engage with other children earlier. We waited 6 months.

I would definitely adopt her again and again.

Tough Love

I like to sleep with my own personal space.

Things work differently in China.  Boy is that ever a loaded statement.  I was going to say, "They speak Chinese for one…"  … What does this have to do with sleep?

In Sofie's foster care situation, I believe the family slept together on mattresses placed out on the floor together.  She would snuggle up to her foster grandma every night, and she slept peacefully.  Her grandma slept peacefully too.  We met her foster grandma the first day after the exchange, and she was a wreck.  She hadn't slept a second without her Sofie.

In the US, we typically move kids to their own rooms at an early age and use baby monitors to hear what is happening.  If they move around, then we hear it on the monitor and act.

When Sofie moved to the US, we were put in a special situation. What do we do?  We have a child who has been taken from everything she knows, all by herself, and thrust into this new environment.  She wasn't even allowed to bring her favorite toy or sweater.  It was made easy in China because the baby beds provided were smaller than Sofie was.  Oh, and they only provided twin beds in the hotels.  She slept with me.  When we came home, it became a trickier situation.

We worked on it hard for the first few months, and we got her to the point where she would eventually fall asleep in her room.  On most nights, she would make it through the night in her room.  On bad nights, she would wake up in night terrors, and she would come back to our room.  Then I went back to work, and her world was shattered again.  We kept working on it.  We got to a stable point around the same time she went to school for the first time.  Soon after that, I started traveling for work, and then we had frequent, long staying visitors.  There was always change underfoot, and it seemed to be a crutch that allowed her to move back into our room.  

When my last 2 work trips occurred last year (3.5 weeks away in total over 6 weeks), she was allowed to come back into the bedroom full time.  Then I got sick.  Really sick.  I slept in the spare bedroom. She was glad I was home, but since I had been away & was so different when I came back, things were uncertain for her.  Then my husband got a cold, and she moved in with me.  Eventually, we all moved back to the master bedroom.  This is where we are now.

We had a perfect opportunity to move her back with the "whistle" situation.  I hadn't done much more research by this point, and it seemed like having a good motivator would allow her to make the goal.  She wanted one so bad that she tried sleeping in her room by herself that night. It lasted all of 60 minutes before she cried herself to hysteria and moved back to our room.  Eventually, she took a nap in her room a week later, and this qualified as a step forward so she got her whistle.

After this, I looked at what the recommended process is.  The research says we are going to have to do tough love.  They say start by having one of us (probably me) sleep on the floor by her bed for a week.  When she wakes up at night, one of us will be there.  Then we slowly move step by step out of the room until she is doing it by herself.  I don't know if there is ever going to be a good time for this to really start.  We are just going to have to do it.

I haven't resolved myself yet to making it happen.  We will one of these days, and I will relearn how to sleep without little feet in my stomach.  Then we will visit Norway, and it will all start over again.  These circles happen in our lives over and over again, and we just need to get through them.  I hope I am strong enough to be strong for her too.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My pet weasel

A funny happened today that I had to share.

"Mommy, I want a weasel" says Sofie as we are finishing up dinner. Her dad and I look at eat other blankly.

"A weasel?" I ask, perplexed.

"Yes, a weasel." My mind is racing as I try to think of how to handle the situation. What do I know about weasels besides that they bite?  And the song, "Pop goes the Weasel"

"You want a weasel," I acknowledge, still trying to figure out what to say. A book I read said I should repeat what 3 year olds say so they know I am listening.  "Cats and weasels don't always get along.  Weasels don't make great pets because they bite.  Are you sure you know what a weasel is?"

"yes mommy." she answers in all seriousness.

"let's go look at pictures of weasels" I say, inspired. I figure if we can look at their teeth and show that all the pictures take place outside, she might drop this.

We get the iPad out and go to google images. I search for weasels. She snuggles up next to me and looks at nature pictures for a minute.  I see they look more like chipmunks or squirrels than killer biting machines.  They are cute. I worry a bit more about how this will end.

Then she says, "mommy, those aren't weasels".

I ask, "what's a weasel?"

She makes a blowing gesture with her hand and mouth, and we realize she is talking about whistles.   Phew! Whistles are way more manageable and don't bite!