Saturday, 24 August 2013

The life and times of adopting internationally

J had a playdate with a friend from her Summer Chinese School.  On the last day of Summer School, I had sent letters through J, to the parents of 2 of her classmates, who she played with all the time.  We’ll call them, Sally and Jodie.  In the note, I told both that J had such a great time with their daughters and that I’d like to plan some playdates.  In included my email address, telephone number, Canadian name and Chinese name (as I always do when dealing with Chinese people-why have the name if I can’t use it?).  Both sets of parents replied, and so I organized something for today.  Sally was able to make it, Jodie was not.

Sally and her Father arrived before we did.  Given we were a couple of minutes late, my husband dropped J and I off and went to park.  When we arrived, I looked around and did not see Sally.  J said she could see Sally’s Father, so I asked where, and we approached him.  I introduced myself (which, in hindsight, I probably should have done in Mandarin, but chickened out as I usually do).   I asked if he was planning on staying or going, as we didn’t mind supervising the girls for a couple of hours.  He seemed confused, so I reiterated to him that we had our laptops and planned to stay, so if he had things to do, we were fine with staying.  Then my husband arrived.  There was brief small talk, and then he indicated he would leave but seemed a bit reluctant (understandably so, as he really did not know us) and confused.  Then he said: “I just had never met you before.  I thought you were Chinese.” 


He followed it up with: “You have a Chinese name.”  So I explained that I have been taking Mandarin lessons for a few years and one of my teachers had named me.  He chuckled a bit and said: “Oh, you take lessons.”

He left to do some shopping, and Hubby and I watched in wonder as Sally and J played, laughed, had fun and enjoyed each other’s company.

When dad returned, he was not overly friendly.  I tried to make conversation.  I told him his daughter said they went to New York for her birthday and saw the Lion King.  He said there were a lot of people in New York, compared to our city.   So (speaking of lots of people), I talked about our trip to China last November. He seemed surprised that we went to China.  So we talked about the fact that we went to Julia’s birth city.  He asked, in amazement: “She had a family in China???” I explained that she was adopted when she was 1 year old, and we only knew what city she was from.  A few times, while we chatted, he would let out this weird, laugh, that I felt was really condescending.  I can’t even explain it.  I'm skipping many details, because I don't even know how to describe them.

All that matters is that it wasn’t until later, when I post-mortemed the interaction and tried to figure out why it felt so awkward and uncomfortable.

That’s when it occurred to me. 

I interact with Chinese people.  A lot.  It is no secret that I am in love with China and its people.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I jump in there and chat with them, sometimes in Mandarin, sometimes in English or French.  And when the conversation manages to work itself around family and children, they are always excited to hear that I have this beautiful, smart, endearing, loving daughter from China.  We talk about where she is from, and how old she was when she came to us and more often than not, they say that she is a lucky girl to have parents like us, to which my standard response is: “no-we are the lucky ones to have this amazing child”.  I hate being hailed as a hero.  I am not.  This was a selfish act, not a rescue mission.

The problem is that I have been keeping a close eye on the reports of child trafficking scandals in China.  Everytime I read about yet another one being uncovered, I freak out a little and hope that this is not what happened to bring my daughter into the adoption process.  This is a personal emotional struggle I have never talked about until today.  Not even with my husband.

But today was the first time that I felt there was any inkling of those thoughts about my child by someone else.  Could I be wrong about this?  Could it be that this was nowhere near Sally’s dad’s mind in his interactions with me (especially his vehement question about J’s family before we adopted her)?  Yes.  I may be over analyzing.   But it has made me think.  And it made me want to write about this very touchy subject.

When we received our referral for J’s adoption, we were told that she was found less than 24 hours after her birth, in a vacant rental space near a school.  We are not oblivious to the fact that this may or may not be her real story.  Frankly, it seems a few children (at least J and 2 others) have this same story (and exact same generally described location).  It is possible that it is just a popular place to leave a child, in the hopes that she (or he) will be found quickly.  The fact that when we were in our daughter’s birth city in November, our guide questioned the locals and found out that a child had been found nearby about a year ago lends credence to the fact that it may, in fact, just be a good spot. 

Even at 6, J understands that we don’t know if this is the truth or not.  For now, we have made a conscious decision to accept this story as our truth.  We’ve also been clear with J that we will be taking her lead on this.  If she chooses to believe it, so will we.  And if she decides it doesn’t feel right and that it is not her story, we will support her as well.  The same goes for the “finding clothes” we were provided, allegedly coming from J’s file at the orphanage.  Well, kinda.  In that case, we’ve decided, led by J’s feeling, that they are probably not authentic.  We’ve taught her to always follow her gut.  And we have made it clear that whatever she believes as her story, is what we will believe as well.

I have to come to terms with the fact that the story we’ve been given may be a cover up for something more sinister.  And if I ever find out that this is the case, I’m not sure how I will stomach it.  The thought of this amazing child being taken away from her birth family illegally, by force, by intimidation or by trickery freaks me out.  I guess I’ve convinced myself that in a situation where deeply entrenched societal values force you to look upon a female birth as a curse and where only a male child is acceptable, abandoning an infant child in a society where girls have a chance at a real life in China or elsewhere, I feel abandonment would have been the lesser of the evils (the more evil being leaving her to die or ending her life).  So when people say: “Isn’t it a shame how they just abandon their girls?” I usually respond with: “At least, their daughters have a chance at a life where they will be loved and cherished.  It is better than being left to die.”   Regrettably, not all of them find a loving home.  I wish they did.  But they have a better chance at it than if they were to die.

Would these children be better to be raised in their birth family?  I’m going out on a limb, here, in a very controversial area.  Here’s how I see it: If they would not be loved and, rather, would be resented for not allowing the family to have a boy (as a result of the one child policy), then no.  They would not necessarily be better off. The fact is this: this is not about whether or not the child would be better with a birth family or an adoptive family (because, let’s face it, there are way too many children who do not get adopted and age out in orphanages of varying quality).  This is about the impact that the one child policy has on a society where a preference for boys has persisted and grown from thousands of years.  It is about forcing families to choose between raising their children at an unreasonably huge financial cost (fines are usually about a year’s worth of wages) or teaching women that a child is not a child until it is born a boy (i.e. don’t get attached to a foetus, as you don’t know if you’ll get to keep it).

There is another aspect to this.  Let’s say Sally’s Dad did have this on his mind.  Why?  What if he has a family member who went through the loss of a child by illegal means?  What if he and his wife did?  How would they feel upon meeting us?  After all, adoptive families are often seen, rightly or wrongly, as being the ones to blame for creating this market for child trafficking.  If this was the case for him or someone close to him, and you were in his shoes, how would you react?

So there are so many issues here.  And if you’ve adopted internationally or are planning to, you must be prepared for the comments, insinuations, difficult conversations, and emotional confusion and pain all of this will cause in your life and your child’s life.  I chose to do this, knowing the risks (well, partially-it’s always so much clearer once you’re living it).  But my child didn’t choose this.  What about when she’s old enough for people to choose to discuss these things with her?  How much does this risk hurting her?  She didn’t choose this…  But the social protective bubble I bought doesn’t fit.  That means that I’ll have to protect her the old-fashioned way: with age-appropriate education, frank discussion and unrelenting and unconditional support.  Here I go….

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


What is a good friend?  Where do we make friends?  How do we keep them?

I've discovered lately that I have very few reliable friends.  I have many friends who often want to get together (lunch, movie, or even a phone call) but after plans are made, they always fall through.  Some are so notorious at it that when I make plans (such as my lunch plans yesterday), I always have a back up (thank goodness I brought lunch-I knew he would cancel at the last minute).

Is reliability important in a friendship?  Does it make a difference if the friend always has a "good" excuse?  What is a "good" excuse anyway?  What is sufficient?

Is unreliability a good enough reason to disconnect and abandon a friendship?  I suppose it depends on what the positives are.  It depends on the balance in the Emotional Bank Account (EBA).  What?  I haven't yet talked about EBA's?  Well, here is a good summary of Stephen Covey's EBA's, and a slightly more fleshed out version .  I believe every single relationship in our lives has an EBA.

So the truth is that every time someone proves themselves to be unreliable, they are making withdrawals to their EBA.  As long as their EBA balance is in the positive, you continue to accept them in your life.  But they must double up on the deposits to make up for the withdrawals (to cover the fees and interest...).

So why do we keep friends?  What is it that makes a friendship more solid than another?

Unfortunately, I've come to the realization that I have a lot of selfish friends.  I'm not sure why.  I think I tend to be very supportive and complimentary, and selfish people like that.  I also have friends who are totally there when you really, really need them, but when you just need them (i.e. not REALLY, REALLY need them), they are more concerned about themselves.  I guess I've let them do that.  If they cancel on me, I pretend it doesn't bother me.  If they can't carve time out of their busy schedule, I tell them I understand.  I make sure they don't feel bad.  That's the "People-pleaser" in me.  Like a Scorpio (which I am not), I let things fester, bottled up inside, and then when I've had enough, I explode.  And then my friends are confused because they didn't see it coming.

I think a lot of it revolves around my trusting nature.  I tend to trust people until they prove me otherwise, instead of distrusting until a person has proven themselves to be trustworthy. So if someone gives me an excuse for not being able to spend time with me, I believe that what they are telling me is true.  And because they are telling me the truth, I feel I have to be understanding.  I don't think about my feelings, I only think about theirs.  Which is probably why people who are selfish and have no other friends, love me so much...

I have a friend who is from a small community and has recently been away for a long time (several years).  When she returned home, she was upset that the people around her had moved on.  Many of her friends had left the community, and the ones who were still there were in very different places in their lives.  She felt so alone.    But the fact is that when she went away, she changed too.  She made new friends, was busy with her new life all the time, and her friends were the ones who felt very lonely at the time.  So they moved on, made new friends, moved away, got married, had kids, etc.  They didn't resent her for moving away and for enjoying her new life.  But they couldn't possibly be expected to stew and brood at home waiting for her either.  Again, this is an EBA issue.  She made no (or minimal) deposits to those friends' EBA, yet she expected them to keep her credit line open, in case she needed it.  My challenge in all of this is that I can't tell her this because it would hurt her.  And I can't do that.  Because it flies in the face of a People-pleaser personality (and I love her with all my heart and couldn't bear to be the reason for her hurting).   Incidentally, during one of her rants about how everyone had abandoned her, I offered to clear my schedule to call her.  We planned a call half an hour later.  It didn't happen.  So I waited.  A further half hour later, she said she was tired and wanted to go to bed instead.  That was several days ago and I haven't heard from her since.

In fairness, though, I haven't always been the best friend to her, and she has forgiven me.  She's been there for me at times when I really needed her.  But that was when we lived in the same community, and deposits to each other's EBA's were frequent and plentiful.  The withdrawals never brought our relationship into a negative balance because there were so many deposits.  Like a regular bank account, if you stop making deposits, you are still charged a monthly fee.  So eventually, you'll be overdrawn, and the small deposits won't cut it anymore.  Eventually, the bank will just close your account.  A friend will end the friendship.

Thankfully, I, as others, have moved on.  I have one "new" friend in particular, who is always there for me, as I am for her.  Our friendship is golden to both of us.  We meet at least once a week.  There have been weeks when we've had to cancel, but we usually try to reschedule, or make sure we chat enough during the off days, so that we know exactly how important we are to each other.  She does live in the same city as me though, and local friendships are a lot easier to maintain than long distance ones.  But local friendships can also be distant (God knows, I have a lot of those), so it's nice to have at least one friend who treats you like you're the greatest thing that ever happened to them.  Regularly.  And it is reciprocal.

This doesn't mean that I've closed my EBA with my other long-time friend.  It just means that I am keeping an eye on the balance.  If monthly fees keep being taken out without a couple of good sized deposits, the account will likely close before long.  Alternatively, the account may just stay dormant, in the hopes that someday, a sizeable deposit will be made to rectify the balance.

Friends are a funny thing.  They come, and they go. Some of them stick around through the good and the bad. One thing is for certain, though.  You can't let your self-worth be defined by the people who chose to be or not to be in your life.  Nevertheless, everyone has an obligation to look inside themselves to see whether they really are the person they wish to be.  If you're not, only one person can change that.  You.

Be a good friend.

UPDATE: After having lunch with my former career counsellor (who is the most amazing thing that ever happened to me) I have been enlightened further.  Apparently, in Japanese culture, people are seen as falling into 2 different categories: Givers and Takers.  I am, it would seem, a Giver.  I think my new friend referenced above is a Giver too.  A lot of people in my life are Takers.  This does not make them bad people-it just explains why they are drawn to me (Why wouldn't a Taker be drawn to a Giver?).  I feel this explains a lot...

Friday, 19 July 2013

Attachment and bonding in adoption

Here is a little something I sent to a friend asking about attachment and bonding and the differences between our experience as adoptive parents and a "typical" (if there even is such a thing) bio-parent. This followed a discussion about adoption disruptions and the challenges of integrating a second adopted child into the family, especially an older child.

When you adopt, you don't usually have the same attachment and bonding options as when you give birth to a child.  The things you, as a bio-mum, did in the first few months with your child (including breastfeeding-if you did- and things like holding your child, smiling at him, picking him up and soothing him when he cries, holding him close to you when he sleeps, etc) all create a feeling of safety for a child.  As adoptive parents to J, we were lucky that she was from a good orphanage and a great foster family, who helped her feel secure and loved.  It was very difficult for us when we received her, as she grieved her Foster family for a long time, but we used modified "attachment parenting" methods, with her and we were successful in securing a good, healthy bond (which is the parental feeling towards the child) and attachment (child’s feeling towards the parent).  

In many situations, especially in second (or subsequent)  adoptions, a child will not “fit in” with the family, which is often a sign of an absence of bonding or attachment.  The older the child, the more likely that is to happen.  When we did the adoption course (in another province), they had an amazing exercise where they told the story of a child (I seem to remember they called her Sally).  As they went along and told her story, they tied a string to Sally's wrist connecting her to all of the people to whom she had formed attachments in her life (bio parents, siblings, grandparents, foster parents 1, foster parents 2, foster parents 3, etc, foster siblings, parents new significant others, etc).  Every time she experienced a return to a situation (i.e. return to mother’s care) a sting was also tied to her wrist. And every time she had to leave these people, the string connecting her to each one was cut.  At the end of the story, Sally had upwards of 250 (the number 277 sticks in my head) strings around her wrists.  Those were the number of attachments that she had created with the 30 or so people who came and went in and out of her life, and which had been broken.  The question at the end of it was: if you had this many broken attachments, would you trust anyone who comes into your life? Would you trust that people adopting you were going to be there for you no matter what and stay in your life? Would you take the emotional risk of attaching to them?

On the other hand, bonding can be challenging in itself.  Some bio-parents feel it difficult to bond at first, but it tends to resolve itself quicker than for adoptive parents.  I remember my “Ah-ha!” bonding moment, and it was about 6 months after we came home from China.  J had attached and adjusted very well,  so we decided to finally let her cry herself to sleep (this was contrary to main stream opinions which advise not to let an adoptive child cry themselves to sleep).  This is always a tough decision, but we felt she was ready.  As I left her bedroom that night, she cried hysterically.  I left the room calmly, but broke down like a blubbering elephant outside her door (as most parents do).  Then I had my ah-ha moment.  The reason I was so upset was not because her crying drove me nuts (as it had for the previous several months).  It was because she needed me and I couldn’t be there for her.  My heart bled, and it took everything I had not to go back in there.  All worked out well, and it was the best thing we ever did, but I still remember that day, for so much more than just the fact that we have no sleep issues even today.

Attachment and bonding can be so scary.  I'm glad things went (extremely) well with J, but nothing says that if we adopt again, we would be as lucky.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

15 signs you should start eating more "grown up" cereal

I did up this list a few years ago on Facebook, but every so often, I like to take it out, dust it off, and post it somewhere. Enjoy!

15 signs it's time to start eating more "grown up" cereal...

1. You start spelling Fruit with two o's.

2. Corn Pops are the least sugary cereal in your cupboard.

3. You're always disappointed when the milk makes your Frosted Flakes mushy, but you've discovered you can avoid that by eating them really, really fast.

4. You've convinced yourself that a bowl of Froot Loops or Fruity Pebbles counts as one Fruit according to the Canadian Food Guide.

5. You don't like Honey Nut Cheerios because they don't have enough sugar.

6. You get really excited at the Club Pack of mini cereal boxes (6 each of Rice Krispies, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes) at Costco because there aren't any of the crappy kinds (surely, you can use the Rice Krispies in a recipe of some sort).

7. You're disappointed about buying the Club Pack of mini cereal boxes because they've changed the inside packaging and you can't use them as their own bowls anymore.

8. The leftover milk from the Froot Loops bowl is a delicacy (and you've even found an alcoholic beverage that replicates it). hahaha

9.You consider milkless Corn Pops to be a perfectly good evening snack.

10. You find there are never enough marshmellows in Lucky Charms.

11. You can still spend countless moments trying to spell your name with Alphabits, but are always disappointed at their lack of sweetness. And you now insist on spelling your first AND last names.

12. You consider Raisin Bran to be a "sugarless" option.

13. You think the "Life" cereal commercials are a sham and no kid in their right mind would ever choose those or Shreddies if given a proper range of options.

14. You're disappointed if you get to the bottom of the cereal box and there's no toy.

15. You are not fooled by the talking Mini-Wheat. You know it still tastes like cardboard.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


I'm 38 years old.

By the time my mom was my age, she used a scooter regularly, and had very limited mobility.  She dreaded having to take medication for her arthritis because she knew there were risky side effects.  Eventually, she broke down and started on meds.  Within 5 years, she was gone.  Pulmonary Fibrosis, induced by the medication she took for her arthritis.

Mom's arthritis started when she was 29. So did mine.

I have always been very thankful that mine hadn't developed into anything more than the occasional 1 day flare up every few months.  That is, until about 3 months ago.

I woke up one morning and my tailbone hurt so much I could barely walk.  It hurt for three days, and then subsided.  About a week later, my knees started really hurting.  And it never stopped.

I have new pains every few days, but he old ones don't subside.  First it was the knees, then the ring finger on my left hand.  Then the wrists.  Then the toes.  Then the ring finger on the right hand.  Then the right shoulder.  Then the left thumb.

My daughter is afraid to touch me.  And when I hold her hand, and she squeezes it even ever so slightly, it hurts.  She tries to climb on me, and hurts my knees,  she tries to put something funny on my feet and they hurt.  She lies in my bed, and I can't snuggle because my shoulder hurts too much.

I drink a lot of water, but I can only drink it cold (I know, I know, room temperature water is better for you-but I won't get the benefit if it's not cold because I won't drink any at all!).  A few days ago, I hurt my hands twisting an ice cube tray.  Today, the button to my pants made my hands feel like they're on fire, and I couldn't do up my daughter's lunchbox zipper either.

The only way to make it all feel better is to move.  Walking helps my knees, playing with a stress ball helps my hands.  But if I do too much, I feel it twice as much the next day, and can't make it feel better (same thing happens if I didn't do enough the day before).  So I am learning where the balance lies.

This is all happening so fast.  I never imagined I would go from "zip, zip, zoom" one day (I've always been very active) to "Holy moly, how slow can I go?" in such a short time.

But I'm trying to keep an upbeat attitude.  I am strong, I am a good mother, and I am a wonderful wife.  My mom may not have had the ability to carry very much in her arms, but her shoulders were the widest I've ever seen.  Maybe God knew that I needed my physical strength for my daughter's first few years, so He delayed this as long as He could.  A good mom doesn't necessarily need to play tennis and volleyball with her children.  That's not what they'll remember.  They'll remember that their mom was there for them when they needed her.  They'll remember that she gave good advice, established appropriate boundaries, and allowed them (and motivated them) to be the best they could be.  Mine sure did. :-)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Japan and China in a nutshell...

Ok, So we get to Japan and China last November, and all my hopes of documenting our trip went out the window.

Let me just say this:  It was incredible. Seven months later and we are still talking about it regularly.  I was surprised at how much J was able to appreciate despite her tender age of 5.  Many times during our planning stages, I wondered if I was doing the right thing in taking this trip now.  I have no regrets whatsoever.  Mind you, J is very mature for her age and dealt with all challenges way better than I would have at her age.

J did experience jetlag in the form of a tantrum each day around supper time (both in China and back home). However, as long as I was able to get her to have a nap in the afternoon, she was ok. We did this by bringing the Kangaroo wrap everywhere we went (yes... my 5 year old still fit in a Kangaroo wrap, much to the excitement of the Chinese ladies who would stop and watch from the moment I took it out of the bag right up to the moment when my daughter was properly snuggled in).  This meant that J missed about 1 1/2 to 3 hours of every day's sightseeing.  Thankfully, I took pictures of EVERYTHING!  (Albeit, with my phone's camera, because J dropped my good camera on a marble bench on day 1 in Guangzhou, and it was beyond repair.)

We first traveled to J's birthplace (Guigang, in the Guangxi Independent Region, China) by train, and spent 2 wonderful days there.  Although we were not able to meet with the orphanage staff nor meet the foster family,(much to J's chagrin) we did end up seeing the outside and meeting one employee to whom we gave gifts for the staff and for the foster family.  We have no idea whether or not it ever got to them.

Interestingly, this trip has given J a whole new interest in learning Mandarin.  She has been attending Chinese School on Saturday mornings for 3 years, but now, she recognizes the importance of it, and she has decided she wishes to become fluent so that she may speak to her foster mummy when she meets her someday, and her tummy-mummy if we ever find out who she is (She understands that this is very unlikely, but also that it has happened for some adoptees in the past).

After we left Guigang, we returned to Guangzhou by train.  My BFF was teaching at Clifford School so she took us to school one day, for her students to meet us.  J seemed to really enjoy this and still refers to this as one of the highlights of the trip.  We spent most of our time in Guangzhou just mixing in with the locals.  We set off every morning by bus and subway, and roamed the city.  We ate street food, we haggled on every purchase, and bought and cooked foods that were foreign to us.  Apart from the fact that we stayed in a very nice condo-style apartment in a gated community, we felt we truly experienced what it would be like to live there.  Some aspects that we found disgusting on our last trip (i.e. kids using the sidewalks as bathrooms) actually made sense to us this time around (it was less gross that the squatter toilets you could smell from a mile away).  I never used a squatter toilet the first time we traveled. This time, I used plenty of them, with my first one being on the train (thankfully-it had a grab bar to hold on to).

We ate amazing food including things we had never tasted (lotus root soup and boiled frog) and J enjoyed her BBQ'd sardines on a stick :-)

We have managed to find a few favourites since we've been back (including an orange drink that I really liked and some Milk Tea like we had in Japan), but we continue to seek some other things (like the delicious egg tarts made in a puffed pastry shell, and steamed pork dumplings with sweet corn).

So all in all, the trip was an amazing success.  I reiterate that Japan Airlines is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!  Their staff was the most wonderful staff I have ever met.  Prior to the flight, they all gathered around the attendant's desk, welcoming passengers on board with a collective bow prior to them boarding the aircraft and starting our boarding.  I was over my carry-on allowance, but instead of telling me I had to check some of it, THEY HELPED ME CARRY AND STORE IT!  They were so attentive.  During the entire flights (even the 12 hour one), we were never more than 5 minutes without seeing an attendant as there was always one pacing in the aisles.  They refilled my water bottle with ice water too many times for me to count.   And on our flight back, when I was looking for something new for J to play with in the middle of the night with my bag near the emergency exit, one of the approached me (I thought she would tell me to move away from there, and in a way she did, but so delightfully) and she asked if I would like to come to the kitchen area where there was more light.  She closed the curtain so as not to disturb anyone with the light and then entertained J until I found what I was looking for.   Finally, they gave J a gift on every flight (a metal plane that she could assemble herself, sticker games, etc).  Oh wait-there's more!  The Food!  OMG, the food was incredible.  Smartly, I had ordered children's meals for J, so that we had more variety to choose from if there was something we didn't like.  Instead we liked EVERYTHING!  Especially the delicious Haagen-Dazs ice cream they provided on every flight!!!

So the trip was an incredible success.  I am ridiculously thankful to the benefactor who paid for this trip for us, without whom it never would have been able to happen.  We would go back in an instant, but can't afford it just yet.  Our next one is already in the planning stages, though, and should, hopefully, occur sometime between November 2015 and March 2016 (don't get excited, we're not adopting again).  Oh, happy day!