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Archive: September 2010

Adventures In Adoption, Or Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Fortune Cookie

Everything about China adoption involves milestones (and acronyms. Lots and lots of acronyms). PAPs celebrate DTC, LID, LOI, I(800)A, the PA of the I(800), even the IH3*, and time is measured by how long it takes to achieve these things. These are the constants, and they are some of the only “sure” things about the process. We take comfort in our ability to control them, especially since everything else is WAY outside of our control. We take even more comfort, however, in marking the passage of time.

Since we first saw our son’s picture back in April, time has ticked away in an endless loop of two-week cycles. Seriously. EVERYTHING has taken two weeks: Two weeks to schedule the homestudy, two weeks to have it finalized, two weeks to get child abuse clearances, two weeks to file the I(800)A, two weeks for it to be approved, two weeks to get the Article 5, two weeks for TA, two weeks until travel, two weeks in country……But here’s the thing: After waiting four and a half years, it’s incredibly refreshing to be able to measure time in small blocks. It means goals are actually being accomplished and the nebulous “wait” is drawing to a close.

We’ve also tried to make the most of the last few months. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about China (I don’t think this comes as a shock to anybody who has read my rambling discourse on Chinese toilets or heard me profess my deep and freakish desire to patronize a Chinese Wal Mart). We’ve thrown ourselves into learning as much as possible about local culture. This, of course, includes cuisine (and here’s where we run into our first little hitch).

I have a painful admission to make: I don’t like Chinese food. I used to, way back when I was a kid. I couldn’t get enough of garlic chicken or Moo Goo Gai Pan. I never met an eggroll I didn’t like. And then, one fateful evening, I got food poisoning. Right before I boarded a flight to Winter Park, Colorado for a ski trip. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that it was a number of years before I could even *look* at a Chinese food menu again, and I’m pretty sure I still get evil looks when I go near a bathroom at DFW International Airport. When I finally decided the coast was clear to once again venture into the land of Chinese food, I got food poisoning AGAIN, this time from suspect shrimp toast. Another 5 years passed before I revisited my food nemesis, but, alas, I’ve never quite regained my early passion for the PuPu Platter. I’ll happily eat a dumpling now and again, but if given a dining option, I’ll head straight to the Mexican food restaurant every time.

I am fully aware that American Chinese food and Chinese Chinese food are two totally different animals. I know full well that authentic Chinese food does not consist of gloppy, overly sweet sauces, nor do genuine dumplings resemble what you can order from your local delivery place. With that in mind, Kevin and I set out to find an actual Chinese restaurant here in the greater Jacksonville area. We took to our local FCC forums (Families With Children From China), we researched every corner of the internet, and we finally discovered that there is, indeed, an authentic Chinese restaurant about 45 minutes away. And on one rainy Saturday in July, we piled into the F-150 and headed down.

As soon as we walked in, we knew we had hit the jackpot. We were handed two different menus; one was packed standard Americanized Chinese food options, but the other…..Oh, the other. It was a heavy tome, filled mostly with pictures. Sure, there was congee (and Kevin was particularly interested in trying his very first congee, as we know it’s a staple on the hotel buffets in China), and there was a dizzying variety of dumplings. As we leafed through, we discovered duck feet (boneless!), bird’s nest soup, squid, chicken feet (not boneless), eel, and octopus. Grasshoppers were offered in at least three different preparations, and the homemade chili oil on the table was so potent that it stuck with me for the next two weeks (come to think of it, let’s add Mr. Chan’s Chili Oil into the two week cycle).

We ordered vegetable dumplings, beef congee (with a cilantro garnish. I got to give Kevin a little culinary lesson on how cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley. If you know Kevin, then you know that cilantro is a food group for him, along with cumin, garlic, and sometimes oregano), and a couple of entrees (we based this on picture alone). I won’t go far enough to say that it was the best meal I ever ate, but it was definitely authentic. And it was good. Kevin took comfort in the knowledge that congee is always a good option, and I learned that chili oil that’s been steeping for God knows how long is POWERFUL. Delicious, but capable of causing your ears to steam. When the check came, we were a little bit sad to see that the ubiquitous fortune cookie had made its appearance (Fun Fact: Fortune cookies aren’t found anywhere in China. They were invented in California and based on a Japanese cracker recipe). The fortune cookie at the end of our meal was the only thing not 100% authentic about the restaurant, but we went with it anyway.

I’ve been known to save the little paper fortunes for YEARS. I still have one floating around that I got when I was 12 because it made me giggle. In fact, if you go through old purses or wallets of mine, it’s a certainty that you’ll find at least one small folded fortune tucked in somewhere. It’s an idiosyncrasy of mine, and a bit of a superstition, too, I suppose. If it’s a particularly good fortune, then I feel bad for tossing it away, as if somehow it won’t come true. It’s silly and illogical, and I recognize that, but I can’t help it. So, even though we were presented with a totally non-authentic fortune cookie at our newfound authentic Chinese restaurant, we still opened our cookies to read Confucius’ words of wisdom. Mine was something vapid and nondescript, but Kevin’s? Wow.

Kevin’s fortune read “Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you”. You see, even though we were still locked tight within the dreaded endless Two Week Cycle, we knew that the math lined up. Three months from that particular date contained 6 two week cycles; the last 6, as a matter of fact. The very last day of the very last cycle falls on October 30th. That’s the day we bring Jack home for good. It’s a Saturday, and it happens to be exactly three months to the day after we read that fortune.

That tiny slip of paper is now tucked safely into Jack’s baby book. One day we’ll tell him the story of how his Mommy and Daddy were on a quest for real Chinese food, and we found, along with an appreciation for a good dumpling, that faith can, in fact, be found in a fortune cookie.

*Translation: Prospective Adoptive Parents celebrate sending their Dossier To China, the Log In Date of said dossier, the Letter Of Intent to adopt a certain child, the application to adopt a foreign orphan, the Pending Approval of said application, and the visa that signifies that your child is a citizen upon entering the US.

Adventures In Adoption, Or Ode To The Commode

It’s pretty common knowledge that we got our TA last week, so you can just imagine how chaotic things have gotten around here at Chez Donahue. Kevin has been amazing at assembling every single piece of paper we need to bring (and I know I’ve mentioned it before, but we’re singlehandedly responsible for the deforestation of America), and I’ve made, oh, about 1,000 lists of things we need to remember to pack (hello? I don’t want to get caught without an emergency packet of EZ Mac. I’m a fairly fearless eater, but I know my limits. Just ask my Mom about my quest for a cheeseburger after we’d been in Italy for a week).

Sure, we’ve had 4 1/2 years to research this stuff, but now that we’re leaving in just over a week (holy crap, can that be right?!?!?!?), I’ve kicked it into high gear. I swear I think I saw my router catch fire the other day. I have at LEAST 8 different packing lists bookmarked, I’ve been stalking FCC forums, and I may be solely responsible for eating up Rumor Queen’s bandwidth. There are a few things that show up on pretty much every list: Pepto, Cipro, hand sanitizer……All pretty standard, and nothing too unusual.

Armed with a list long enough to rival Santa’s Annual Chronicle of Naughty & Nice, Kev and I headed to the store on Sunday. Actually, we headed to TWO stores, and we still have at least one more trip to make, but I digress. I methodically ticked each item off the list: baby Aveeno, Delsym, Q-Tips….Still no big deal. Then we get to the Kleenex aisle. I tossed one 8-pack of mini Kleenex into the basket and reached for another. Kevin immediately said “I think you’re better off just getting one tiny pack. There’s no WAY you’ll need that many tissues”. So there I stood in the middle of the grocery store, surrounded by happy families, and I knew the time had come. I was going to have to venture into the Land Of The Overshare. Kevin needed to be brought in on the secret of the Chinese bathroom.

You see, while he was busy researching the tensile strength of different diapers, I was *obsessing* about all things potty-related. I’ve kind of covered this before, and I know it must seem like I have an abnormal fascination with what goes on in a bathroom, but the truth is that I just like to be prepared. It’s no secret that we’re pretty intrepid travelers (I’m fairly certain that Kevin’s Great Goat Encounter of 2009 earns us big points in the cultural awareness column), and a big reason for that is knowing what awaits you BEFORE you travel. We were ready for The Great Goat Encounter because we had a fairly decent grasp on Maasai culture. I’ve applied the same principles to researching our trip to China.

So. The Chinese bathroom. At this point, I have to warn you that this story is about to take a dark and twisty turn. You may very well want to stop reading now, because I’m going there. In detail.

The first time I was confronted by the….let’s say….minimalist approach to a bathroom, I was on a train from Zurich to Milan. I was incredibly jet-lagged, and I REALLY had to pee. I was all of 12 years old, and I congratulated myself on finding the bathroom on the train all by myself. I opened the door, and it only vaguely dawned on me that it was frigid in there. After I stood in the empty compartment for about 10 seconds, realization began to creep in. There was no toilet. There was a (rather tiny) hole in the floor. It led directly outside (hence the fact that icicles had begun to form on my eyelids. It was early spring in the Alps, for crying out loud). I bucked up and figured it out, but I sent up a silent prayer that I would never be confronted with that ever again.

Fast-forward 23 years later (at this point, I think it’s only fair to point out that the Chinese think that the Western notion of public toilets is absolutely disgusting. I’ll get into that a little more in a minute, so bear with me, especially because I totally get their point….to an extent). The one thing that kept creeping up in all of my research about packing was the need for a ridiculous number of travel packs of Kleenex. At first I attributed this to the fact that most of the babies have little colds, so that kind of made sense. And then. And then. I came across a (very) detailed article about the public restrooms in China. It would seem that outside of your hotel or restaurant, public toilets can be a bit of a challenge for the Westerner used to raised thrones, sinks, running water, soap, paper towels, and toilet paper. The last thing I wanted to worry about when we’re out and about with The Baby is how to use a Chinese toilet, affectionately called a “squatty potty”, so I did a bit of Googling. lists it as “Average” Difficulty; note that they don’t say it’s “Easy”. There’s even a WikiHow article on it, which was ultra-informative. It included pictures, etiquette tips (line up in front of a particular stall, not at the entrance to the ladies’ room, and it’s always nice to tip the lavatory staff), and practical advice (for instance, not every potty has a “splash-guard”, so learn how to roll your pants up, you almost always have to supply your own toilet paper, and never, EVER look in the wastebasket). Good to know, right? And then there were the myriad suggestions that you practice before you go so you won’t be intimidated. There are lengthy tutorials about how to “rehearse” on your own personal bowl (it involves a fair amount of balance). As far as what the Chinese think of Western bathroom habits, I think one blogger put it best: “How many butts have touched that seat before yours?” I can definitely see the point. In addition, it should be noted that Squatty Potties are far less common than they once were, especially in bigger cities, but I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down (yes, you can go ahead and groan).

So on Sunday, smack in the middle of families still decked out in their Sunday School finery, I had to explain all of this to Kevin. I tried SO hard to be discreet, but Kevin kept pressing me for details. Embarrassing, horrifying details involving proper foot placement and splash-back. I tried using hand gestures so nobody would hear me, but that only made matters worse. You try miming what goes on behind closed stall doors and see what kind of looks you get. I think he secretly enjoyed making me squirm.

And I *know* you’re dying to know, so yes, I have totally practiced. I know to come armed with hand sanitizer and pocket Kleenex, I’ve vowed to never look in the wastebasket, and I am reasonably confident in my balancing skills. I have perfected the art of the Squatty Potty. It’s not graceful, and God knows it’s not pretty, but I’m ready. I didn’t know squat about the ins and outs of Chinese toilets, but I can tackle it now. I am the Commander Of The Commode. Also? I totally threw an extra 8-pack of Kleenex into the cart (Kevin didn’t dare say a word). You can never be too prepared.

Little Sister

There’s a new movie that’s being screened in Toronto this weekend called “Little Sister”. It’s based on one of the earliest versions of the fairy tale we know as “Cinderella”, and it looks absolutely stunning (you can view the trailer here. Aside from the fact that it’s Chinese, the thing that really caught my eye is that it’s produced by Richard Bowen. He happens to be the husband of Jenny Bowen, who is the founder and CEO of Half The Sky.

I know we’ve talked an awful lot about HTS (here, via email, on Kevin’s blog, and on Jack’s blog), but I can’t emphasize enough just how indebted we are to this organization. Supposedly, if this film generates a profit, a portion of it will be used to help HTS orphanages. Since I happen to have a child in one of those orphanages, this hits especially close to home. I’m urging everybody I know to please generate some buzz for this movie. It hasn’t been picked up by a big studio yet, but if it is? Well, I can only imagine how much good can be done. If you have a Twitter account, tweet about it. If you’re on Facebook, please go “Like” it. Got a blog? Blog it. You can do all of those things, and more, from this website.

Baby Jack is currently being cared for by nannies who have been trained by Half The Sky. Because he is, he’s had one-on-one care, and this is SUCH a rarity for institutionalized children. These caregivers have been given specialized training that will minimize sensory disorders. HTS also provides long-term care for the kids who DON’T get adopted. Please take a minute and go check out their website and learn a little bit about the critical work that they do. Then? Go spread the word about “Little Sister”.

Adventures in Adoption, Or, What To Pack? It All Depends.

I’m sure that everybody who has been through the adoption process will tell you that they have their own special milestone moment; for many, it’s the phone call they get when they receive their referral. Others celebrate the victory of finally completing their dossier. My personal brass ring, from the very beginning, has been The Travel Call (yes, I think it’s important enough that I have used capital letters). I have dreamed of The Travel Call since before we even began compiling documents (also? One day I solemnly swear to plant a forest of trees to replace the small rainforest it took to assemble our dossier. I am a tree killer). The Travel Call is the thing that makes it all real (again, this is only MY opinion. Lots of other parents have other things that ring their bells).

Today, we FINALLY got word that we’re having our Travel Call. In fact, we’re having it tomorrow morning. Our agency sent us a rough outline, in an effort, I assume to streamline the 2-3 hour call. They attached some other helpful FAQ-type sheets by people who have been there done that. I have obsessed about what to pack, and I have to say up until today I *really* thought I was prepared. I knew all about the prescriptions we have to bring, I’ve studied about the benefits of bringing a beach ball for the kids to play with (they fold flat AND it’s a toy!), and I’ve dedicated countless hours to calculating the number of American diapers we’ll need to pack (Chinese diapers are fine for the daytime, but you want the security of American diapers at night to prevent blowouts). I’ve spent MONTHS on message boards and blogs; heck, there are entire websites dedicated to adoption travel. Never—not once—during all my research did I come across this little tidbit:

“Also, bring a half dozen or so adult size diapers. You may become sick on a day of travel and you will be very glad you have them.”

Whoa. This stopped me dead in my tracks. I mean, it makes sense, sure, but I have to say that it never crossed my mind that at the tender age of 35 that I’d be researching adult diapers. For me. Not for an aging parent, or somebody in hospice, but ME. I’ve had my share of funny (okay, borderline embarrassing) moments during this process. I like to think that I tend to find the humor in all situations, but this? This was WAY too easy. I collapsed in totally juvenile fits of laughter as I typed in the search request on Amazon. I fully realize that this makes me no better than an 8 year-old, but come ON.

There have been a LOT of days where it felt like we would never get here, and days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. There have been even more days when I have literally screamed in frustration and cried from the anxiety. When we started this journey, the wait was around 9 months. Four and a half years later, we’re finally here. We got our visas today. Tomorrow is our travel call. If everything goes according to plan (which, let’s face it, it probably won’t. That’s another lesson we’ve learned. I firmly believe that one of the things I was supposed to learn from this was patience, and boy, have I ever gotten that hammered into my head), we could be traveling in as little as 6 weeks. The Travel Call has been the light at the end of my tunnel, and until today, I was having a hard time seeing it. Now, though, it feels like I’ve stepped out into the bright shining sun. Everything came into sharp focus today, and I get to spend the next few weeks packing everything my little man needs. Have I committed to buying the adult diapers? I’m not sure yet. It Depends.




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