Thursday, January 4, 2018

Adoption T-shirt Fundraiser

To help offset some of the early hefty fees of adoption, we're hosting a t-shirt fundraiser.
These, long sleeve, and youth shirts are available.

To order, go here.
Thanks for your interest!

We're adopting again!

I was trying  to think of a creative way to announce it. And then, when I picked up my son today, I was greeted with this.

His way is much better.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why does adoption cost so much?

Good question.

Here is a breakdown of our adoption costs:
Homestudy agency here in Michigan (We saved $50-$1750 by going with this agency again.)
Application fee for our child-placing agency,  which covers the review of the application package and entry into agency systems.
Child-Placing Agency Fees, which covers:  
-Case management & salaries for agency personnel 40%(Case Managers, International Specialists, Supervising Social Workers, administration and agency staff).  
-Operational costs 53% (supplies, office rent, state licensing, COA accreditation costs & fees, bank & processing fees, conferences, training, utilities, shipping & postage, copiers, insurance, maintenance, publications, professional fees, websites, databases & computer programs, contractors, etc.) 
-Program development 7%  
China Program Fee covers:
-CCCWA/BLAS FEES: Dossier registration, translation, Post Adoption Report translation and wire fees.
-CHINA IN COUNTRY LIAISON FEE: staff in China, courier services, document processing, communication with CCCWA, family assistance with appointments, etc.
Child’s U.S. Visa, courier and wiring fees. This must be wired to China.
Post-adoption/Post-placement Report (Must be paid prior to adoption finalization.)
Adoption Education Courses 
Citizenship and Immigration Services Filing Fee 
Fingerprinting Charges: 2 @ $85 each 
Chinese Visas
Document authentication/certification (cost varies and includes shipping estimates). 
Miscellaneous legal expense (e.g. Michigan birth certificate)
Round trip airfare 
Estimate for child’s one-way airfare 
Estimate of transportation and adoption coordination fees
Estimate of lodging, meals, and touring of child’s foster home (if possible), etc.
Possible legal fees that vary by province in China
Medical for child’s visa
Tips for Guides & Drivers estimated $20-$25 per day
International and specialist medical file review ($50 of this is paid.)
$24,005 to $28,705
Total Need (Please note that a domestic infant adoption is around $25,000 without travel fees.)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"I found another me!" ...or Why We Moved

“I found another me!”
I had just picked my son up from school and was trying, like every mother everywhere, to drag out any detail I could about his day. That’s when my son told me that he met a boy who looks just like him. “His hair is the same and he is the same. He’s just like me!” he said.
Friends, this is why we moved.
Everything I read about international adoption, especially where the child will be viewed as a minority, says to get your child to a place where they don’t feel like the “token (in this case, Asian) kid.” This is especially important to do at a young age, if possible, so that when adolescence and search-for-self comes, they’re not feeling even more alienated than they already are by being adopted. Yes, adoption is a beautiful thing, but it comes from a place of tragedy and that doesn’t go away once adoption papers are signed. There will always be, to varying degrees (and no matter how great their relationship with their adopted family), questions of why and feelings of rejection and abandonment. This new life comes with questions and heartbreak and…well, staring. Our family looks different. If there is any way of alleviating this feeling of difference where the child spends most of their time—namely, school—the experts say, do it. We're so glad we did.
First day of kindergarten at new school.
Last year, in his preschool, my son was the only Asian child and one of very few minorities in his school. In addition to being “the only one” at school, my son’s parents and most of his extended family are now white. We hadn’t discussed our difference in race at this point, as he was so new to the English language, but our little guy noticed. He noticed the race of the parents of the one other minority child in his preschool the year before, and now, he really noticed when he finally found another boy from China. In preschool, he happily made a best friend (who was white) who I’ll call Andrew. My son is doing amazing with English but isn’t great with names. When my son refers to his new best friend from China, he says, “You know, Andrew…but he looks like me.”
Even in the midst of the insane racial upheaval going on in our country right now, some would try to claim that kids don’t see color. I’m calling BS on that nonsense. Kids see color; they just don’t carry any bias about it. This is what has to be, or rather, doesn’t have to be learned.
When some learned of our impending move and reasons, they made it pretty clear that they thought we were being silly. Move for more diversity? Does that really matter? The simple answer is: yes. Yes, it really does matter. I'm hardly the example for this, but I can distinctly remember each of the few times I have been the minority, including on the amazing trip to get our son in China. It is something that can be felt. While this was not unpleasant for me, I am secure in my identity and it is also not a constant experience in my everyday life.
I’m so glad that my son has friends of any ethnicity, but I also want him to have friends and teachers and community members from all walks of life who make him feel like part of the mix instead of the “odd kid out.” And, just like I want him to see both men and women excelling in all areas of life (because, already we have had the talk that women can be a “protecter” too), I want him to grow up seeing business owners and professionals and athletes who look like him, so that he can literally see himself in whatever role he can imagine. For us, moving is helping with this. Living closer to a university with a large Asian population and in a more diverse school and community and neighborhood is part of making that happen for him.
We don’t deny it, moving into the city is unique. Where I work in the downtown area, white flight happens right at 5 o’clock. And, honestly, we have less space than we did before. But as we are building new relationships and having new experiences and increasing all of our exposure to those like and not like us, we keep reminding ourselves why it’s worth it. Hearing my son say that he “found another me” is making that ring truer than ever.

Friday, May 19, 2017

On My Son's Unknown Birthday

I started writing this about a month ago and almost didn’t post it due to potential loss of timeliness. Upon considering the irony of that, here it is:

First of two birthday parties with family.

“I five now? I five?” This is how my son woke up and woke me up every morning for the past several months.

“Not yet,” I’d say back to him then and multiple times throughout the day when he asked.

My husband was more specific: “Nope, not for 44 more days.”

It has been this asking, my husband’s response, and the realities behind abandonment that have had me reflecting and grieving a bit these past few months.

.  .  .  .  .

One year and a couple months ago I ordered a birthday care package to be sent to my would-be son at his orphanage. (Adoptive parents generally can’t send things directly to the orphanage, so a couple small in-country businesses have stepped in to fill that gap. They also translate messages.) I ordered a toy plane to help his mind begin to wrap around his impending trip, wrote a letter, sent money for a cake to be purchased, and ordered a healthy snack that could also be shared. This was a last-minute decision made while planning to go to China ourselves to get him. We had hoped to make it there in time to celebrate with him. For almost a year, that date was a hopeful target, but we missed it by about 2 ½ weeks.

When I sent the care package for his birthday, I worried it wouldn’t make it to him in time. In reality, it didn’t make it at all. When we met him, he had nothing with him from either care package (we’d sent another one several months prior.) When asked about it…after showing their surprise that we would want him to have those things, we were assured that they would give him what was in the first package later that week when we visited the orphanage. They had not, however, received the birthday package. When we arrived at the orphanage on the designated day, the birthday package was put in our hands. It had arrived in the preceding two days.

We were in Tennessee for the first party
I look back at all this birthdate focus and realize how silly it was. Of course, no mother is silly for wanting to get to her child more quickly, but this date that I now write on all his official paperwork and forms was really just another day on the calendar.

When children are abandoned, it is a rarity for anything to accompany them, let alone a handwritten note containing personal data. Generally, once a child is found and a guesstimate of their age is surmised, the day they are found is used to count back from. Let’s say a child is found on December 10 and a doctor thinks he or she is two years old. His/her birthday would become Dec. 9th or 10th two years prior. This haunting day of abandonment becomes indelibly tied to their birth.

Our son’s assigned birthday is an anomaly by this pattern. With guessed gap of six months, where December 19th would become June 10th, five months and fifteen days were subtracted. We’ll likely never know the reason for this. The positive spin that we can put on it is that, for whatever reason his date was chosen, it ended up being my grandmother’s birthday as well. She wasn’t able to meet him but they’ll always share that.

Many of you may wonder, “What if the doctor was wrong?” Exactly! Of course the doctor is wrong. Who do you know, pediatrician or otherwise, who can guess exactly how old a child is to the day? And what are the odds this would match up with the day they’re abandoned? Not likely.

Second party with other side of the family
The loss of a known birthdate is a small thing in comparison to the greater losses that come with it, but that’s just the thing. Not knowing, not being able to ever know the actual day my son is born is a near-constant reminder of his great losses: the loss of his family, history, and--of course--now culture and language.

As my son turns five, whenever he actually turns five, I worry that his current excitement leading up to the day will end up being grief as he gets older. A sad reminder of everything we’ll never know. This may explain why I have recently been binging, splurging, scavenging—whatever word makes most sense for my new obsession with buying everything I can find online that is connected with my son’s home city. Ebay is a treasure trove for this stuff. Who knew?

It started out innocently enough with my trying to purchase Chinese vases for honoring my son’s other mothers on Mother’s Day. This turned into learning of various arts my son’s province and city are known for and trying to hunt that kind down. That led to my finding antique coins minted in his city, historical photos and stereographs of images taken in his city, antique maps of his province and city, books about his city, stamps from his city…some seriously cool historical stuff from his city.

In my grieving his loss of history, I may have purchased a LOT of whatever history I could find for him. Mind you, these gifts will be given to him throughout his life and last his lifetime…but I may want to be aware of these feelings I have leading up to his birthday—and disconnect my PayPal account for a while.

Because, all of this, I think about each morning and throughout the day when asked if he is finally five.
Unbirthday Party last August
It helps that we celebrated with him three times this year (not counting the “unbirthday” party we hosted for him a few months after he came home with us last year.) Hey, if you don’t know when you’re birthday really is, celebrating it more often spreads out your chances. Am I right?

One of those celebrations was an “early” party with cousins where he got a card that says, “You’re 5 today!”

“I am? I five?” he asked as I read it to him.

“Sure,” was the best I could muster.

Friday, May 12, 2017

To My Son’s Former Foster Mom on Mother’s Day

My son was adopted at four years old and was blessed to have a foster family for two and a half of those years. We, my husband and I, believe that these foster parents are the primary reason our son is doing so amazingly well with us today. Contrary to the tragic image of the American foster parent, who only “does it for the money” and likely beats and neglects the child as much or more so than the birth parent the foster child lost, Chinese foster parents are known for spoiling the children in their care. I have heard on more than one occasion that Chinese foster parents rarely say “no.” Being that they are generally the age of grandparents, and based on some observed behavior of my son, this is very possible and even probable. And I am glad, so glad that he had these doting people in his life, especially since his other months prior to us were spent in an orphanage. In the first images I saw of my would-be son, in fact the videos from which we chose him, he was on a playground with his foster mother. Her voice is in the background. The first video is of him about to sit on a seesaw; the foster mom is handing him a wipe to use on a seat that doesn’t look dirty. The second video is of him going down a slide, all the while holding onto a television remote that he could only have gotten from the home of his foster family. They had our son from about age one to three-and-a-half and; in a file we received with information about him, under favorite hobby, “television” is listed. He was one at the time this document was created. Yes, I highly suspect that our son got some royal treatment…and rightly so, in my opinion.
Just before Mother’s Day last year (the day I met my son), I vowed to always honor the other mothers in his life. This letter that I am not able to send to his foster mom is part of my attempt to do so:

To My Son’s Foster Mother:

I’ve thought about you a great deal over the past two years:
as I waited to go get my son,
when I learned that he was no longer with you,
when we went to get him and hoped to meet you,
when I wasn’t able to meet you and have tried learning more about you--and failed,
when our son saw your picture for the first time after coming home with us and has talked about you ever since,
and as he has made amazing strides over the past year with us.
I know that he’ll always be part yours, that you will always be a part of him. That’s why, in this letter and future letters, I’ll refer to “my” son as “ours”.

There are so many things that I want you to know, that I wish I knew about you. Since this can only be a one-way communication, I guess I’ll start.

I have photos of you with our son in his photo book from his first referral. I’m so glad that you were captured in those images of him. This will be such a gift for him to have the rest of his life. It has been a gift for me to see the woman who cared for our son during the most formative years of his life. He came to my husband and me knowing what a loving family was and wanting one again, knowing what a loving mother is and claiming me as his new one while not forgetting you.

These photos with his foster mom are
from his first referral with our agency.
I know that you loved him well. I can see it in the photos I have with you in them, but I also can see it in our son. He is quick to love and he loves well. I know that he got that from being loved so well by you.
We talk about China a lot and I think that when he’s thinking about China, in the broad sense, he’s thinking about you and your husband.

I was a foster mom.
Like you were for our son, I was a foster mom for over two years to one child.
I know what it’s like to love a child you know you will lose and I know what it’s like after the loss. “Thank you” will never cover the gift you gave our child, but thank you for what you did for him—for what you do.
I admire you for having done this with so many kids. I know of at least two children other than our son that you’ve parented and have heard lovely things about you on this side of the world from agency workers who have observed you with one of these children. Your actions are truly changing the world.

Please know that I tried to meet you when I came to get our son. I asked as many questions about you as they would allow and I asked to meet you, too. The orphanage director couldn’t understand why I was so persistent in learning about you. When I finally explained that I, too, have been a foster mom, then she understood. She smiled at me and it was obvious that she knows how important you are.

Our son talks about you all the time. He doesn’t fully understand what the word “foster” means yet, but he knows that you were his foster mom. When he gets mad at me, he tells me he misses you. But he misses you other times as well. The other night, he told me that I don’t know you and have never met you but that we are just alike. I’m so glad to hear that.

He’s starting to figure out how his new extended family connects and he was asking everyone around the table who their mom is. I asked him who his mom is and he stopped for a moment to think. He was thinking about you. Then he asked, “My foster mom?” He knows, every second, that he has more than one mom.

Hmmm...I wonder why he thinks our hair looks the same?
He’s doing amazingly well. Every teacher, doctor, social worker…everyone he encounters are shocked at the bravery and tenacity and intelligence and adaptability and sense of humor he has. I am complimented in restaurants on his manners. I know you will not be surprised to know that he has been a blessing to everyone in his new life…especially me.

I’ll always be open to talking about you with our son and, when he wants to try to find you—and I’m certain he will someday—I will help him to the best of my ability. I’ve actually tried to find you already…with no such luck as of yet.

And so, on this Mother’s Day and all those to follow, we will buy you flowers. I bought a Chinese vase in your honor and we will use it to honor you every year.

Maybe someday he—and I—will be able to give them to you in person.

I include your photos here because, while I won’t hold my breath, I have learned that the internet is indeed powerful and, if this somehow finds its way to you because of these pictures, I would be beyond grateful.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hope and Hair: A Year as a Family

In the days just prior to my husband and I getting on a plane to go get our son, I wished something. I sat on the very bed that I wrote about in this post and said these words:

“I hope that he’s a mama’s boy.”

We’ll come back to this.

Our son’s city was very hot and humid the day we met him. The time set for our meeting him was 3 PM and we were out and about prior to this, so we needed to shower again before finally seeing his adorable face. When we were out in the heat of the day, I wore my hair up. But, as we made our final preparations before heading up to the conference room that would host our fateful meeting, I looked in the mirror and decided, somewhat vainly, that I would leave my hair down.

I thought, “Maybe he’ll see my hair and think that he has a pretty mom.”

In ruminating on this first year, I could tell you about his bravery, how smart he is, his shocking language acquisition, his sense of humor, how amazingly adaptable he has been… I could share so so many things, but I will share about my hope for a mama's boy and…my hair.

The around-the-back hair hold.
When we first met our little guy (as I wrote about here) he was initially afraid to even look at us. However, within twenty minutes, he was laughing and playing. Right before we were left by the officials to go to our hotel room as a family, I was playing peek-a-boo with him at the door. Our translator told him we had lots of toys for him in our room (which wasn’t all that true as we couldn’t pack that much…but let’s just say that this child has been pretty spoiled since then.) Upon hearing that, our little guy willingly let me pick him up and off we went into the world of our hotel (which he thought was our home) with our new son who made us a new family.

If you look at this very first photo that my husband took of us just before we entered our hotel room together, you can see a glimpse of what happened with my hope and my hair. I don’t know if it was in this particular moment, but very quickly (and maybe simultaneously) our little guy claimed me as his mama and became infatuated with my hair.

In his eyes, I can do no wrong. It’s nice, of course, but I actually feel a little guilty about it since my husband is such an amazing dad. I know that our son knows this intuitively but, verbally, this guy is all about me.
When I say that he is all about me, he is ALL about me to the extent that I’ve wondered if I should go back and re-wish that my son would be a 75% mama’s boy, because it's no exaggeration to  say our little guy is a mama’s boy 110% of the time. If it weren’t for the fact that I could not physically carry him everywhere we went in China (he was four when we met him), he would have happily been attached to me the entire time. We had to learn the Chinese word for “tired” so that he would reconsider riding on his dad’s back. We used this explanation a great deal in those first weeks.

I often wonder what it is I did or what it is about me that has made this little guy fall so head over heels in love. A few weeks ago, we went for an evening walk with him in a large jogging stroller so that he could hopefully fall asleep in the fresh air. He was supposed to be drowsing off in the warm spring air, but instead he was considering both his former foster mom and me.
“You’re just like her,” he said into the night sky.
I’ve seen a photo of his foster mother, so I asked, “She has long hair and loves you?”
“Yes!” he said.
Crop of extended family photo
And, really, I think that’s pretty darn close to the simple truth. This little man was very loved by his foster mom. It’s so obvious by how amazingly easily he has attached to us. He knew what a family was and he wanted that again. I heard a story of his foster father recently when I happened upon a photo of him too, and it sounds like he is a pretty special guy, but our son was a mama’s boy with his foster family as well.
Now I realize that I didn't really have to do anything to make this son of mine love me so hard and so well. He already had a picture of what a mother looked like and what he felt about her. She loved him hard and well and he transferred that to me.
That leads me to my hair.
The hidden hair hold
We decided prior to going to get our son that we would co-sleep with him (if he wanted to) in order to help him feel safe and to build attachment after missing years with him. The first night, it took our hyped-up little guy about five hours to fall asleep, but when he did it was with me in our bed. That has become the rule. He then added this to it: in order to fall asleep, he must be holding my hair.
I say “holding my hair,” but that’s a bit misleading. It’s more like wrestling my head and hair with his fingers--and his fingers usually win. The rat’s nest bouffant styles I have ended up with as a result of literal HOURS each night of his “hair holding” have been historic. He crawls on me, rolls on me, lays on me, curls around my head, straddles his arm across my face to reach my hair…whatever it takes to get “comfy, cozy” (his words) and then finally falls asleep.

A better picture of hair wrestling can be found here.
There has been the occasional night that this process has gotten the best of me. I’ve had to "cry uncle" a few select times when I was losing so much sleep to this ritual that I was beginning to also lose my mind. When I had to say, “Mayo toufa” (in Mandarin) or “No hair” (in English), my mama’s boy son will promptly begin to full-out lungs-out cry.

Early on, I began joking that he would have to take a lock of my hair with him to sleepovers someday. When his preschool teachers visited our home before the beginning of the school year and said that he could bring a comfort object for rest time, I kidded that it would need to be my hair. Then my mother-in-law made a brown yarn pony tail for him. (That’s slightly less creepy than actual hair, right?) And so, on my son’s first day of preschool, safely packed into his backpack was a facsimile of my hair. ...Well, that was the second day. I attended the first day with him, and he used my actual hair as I leaned over him from a chair. Call me an enabler.

Holding his prize
“Holding” my hair has become the way we know without a doubt that Little Man is tired.
When we go on family trips, even short ones to Grandma’s house, I am asked to sit “next right” to my son in the back seat. As he gets tired, the whining ensues because, despite my sitting next to him, he can’t reach my hair. (I tried making this happen for him once. It was painful.)
While horseback riding in Tennessee, even though he insisted he could have ridden all by himself, the tail end of the trip (pun intended) included my son holding tight to my braid. 

We’ve shared innumerable “I love you”s in the past year, but there have also been a number of these:
To celebrate our family’s year together and our son’s birthday, we took Little Man to an indoor water park. There were about 200 families there who had adopted, so it was an especially neat event. On his last ride down the big slide, Little Man and Daddy went together and I stayed at the bottom to take their picture. When they had climbed to the top and were waiting in line, they could look over the side and see me all the way down at the bottom. After much waving, we saw each other and I gave them the sign for “I love you.” My son yelled down, “I love your hair!” When his dad told him that I wouldn’t be able to hear him, he yelled it all the louder.

I'm pretty enamored with him too.
Blessed with this crazy, loud, hair-holding mama's boy