Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A forever family

Although I try not to talk exclusively about our adoption on my professional(ish) blog, I realize that it has given me some additional information to be able to connect with my work in a deeper and more meaningful way. Being on the other side of this adoption equation is helping me to understand what my clients go through. Today’s blog inspiration is based off an update we got about Yiyi. 

We’ve been marginally chill through this whole adoption process, moving none too record speed, only asking questions when we really have to, taking on the brunt of documentation prep ourselves to save money, accepting the fact that nobody is interested in traveling out to Yiyi’s foster home to start working with her on English, and, for the past 9-months, treasuring the one photo we have of her.

And it’s a darling photo, don’t get me wrong, I love it. It will always be my favorite photo because that’s the photo I saw when my eyes filled with tears and I felt something in my body that I had never felt before.

That is the photo that Jesus used to tell me that Yiyi was our daughter.

But from the looks of it, it is from November 2011. And last time I checked China is vying for superpower status and internet is widely available, so just snap another photo of her on the way to school and email it. It’s not that hard. And it’s been two years, so we’re not being all that demanding, I don’t think. But alas, it has not come to fruition and so we remain patient.

In an attempt to pacify us, we were encouraged to ask 10 or so questions to get an update on Yiyi. We decided to keep it light and casual, but worked very hard on our questions for a couple of weeks, just to be sure we had the right questions. We narrowed it down to 10 and sent them off with the email subject line: Questions for Yan Yiyi and then the first line of the email states “We would like to know answers to the following questions from Yan Yiyi.”

I thought that was pretty self-explanatory. Get the child, tell her the people adopting her in America have some questions, and ask them to her. I’m a social worker, these questions are all fine and surface level, and it’s not going to do any damage to ask her these questions.

Within about a week we got responses to most of the questions. No height and weight update, nor another photo, but we got answers to the questions. Based on these answers, we should be focusing our clothing shopping on buying dresses and skirts in the color red, filling our fruit basket with apples, thinking of fun places we can take her shopping, buying a Barbie doll (sorry sister, orphan or not, I just can’t do it), and getting a new puppy (though we are hoping we can convince her since Sunny is small that she is, in fact, very much like a puppy). 

See - tiny like a puppy!

I read through these answers, very glad for this information that I considered highly plausible, age-appropriate, and seemingly accurate. Until I got to this part -  

Question:  What are you looking forward to most about living in the United States? 
Answer: She wants a forever family with a mom and dad to love her.


Well, after I stopped chuckling and composed myself...

Despite wanting to think that my child is a delicate genius who has more appropriate social work lingo in her vocabulary than I did until I finished graduate school, I just can’t buy it. Thanks China, but unless you have been holding out on us that each child to be adopted is getting weekly, intensive therapy by a licensed therapist or social worker who is teaching her how to identify and name her emotions, I’m pretty sure she didn’t say that. I may have been born in the morning, but I wasn’t born yesterday morning.

But, when I have told folks about this update over the past week, this answer has resulted in responses that ranged from tears, to squeals of delight, back to tears again. “Oh, the sweet baby just wants to be adopted! How sweet!” None of those responses from me mind you, as my only response has been that of sarcastic laughter.

I would love to buy it. You have no idea how much I would love to buy it. But I just can’t.  

My message to you, dear comrades who are adopting older kids, is to not fall into this trap of believing anything that doesn’t come straight from the child’s mouth. It’s safe to assume that your older child does not want to be adopted. Whether or not it’s better for her, she probably doesn’t want it.

As sweet as these updates are, and as kind as the agencies are to offer some updates to us, they seem to have lost some of the oomph if the child herself isn’t even aware that such questions exist and was never even asked.

So take your update with a grain of salt. Enjoy it for entertainment value. Share it around and feel that you have something to hang onto, proudly, like a sonogram photo. Trust me, it will make you feel better. If that’s the outcome, then it’s worth its weight in gold. We have very little tangible in the adoption process, so make this something that you can grab onto to take you to the next hurdle.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Parenting and making choices

The impetus for this blog follows and email I got last week from one of my supervisors.  It’s about the new semester of some Chinese language classes in Kansas City. It sounds like a great deal. I’m really glad we have such a thing. They have classes for adults, children, and families. I think they are wanting to market to the adoptive families, which is so awesome. The times are right, the prices are reasonable and we can’t beat the location. The emails between my supervisor and I went as follows.

Supervisor: FYI <forwarded message about the Chinese language class>
Nikki: Awesome! Thank you. We have been talking about this. But we have no time. Perhaps we should learn [the words for] eat, bathroom, and drink before we go. 
Sup: Yes, probably a good idea 
Nik: We're in this super intensive 9-week Empowered to Connect class (the brain child of Karen Purvis) and it's intense. And awesome. But this is giving us no time for Chinese. Quandary: would I rather help create a super attached child that I can't talk to? Or talk to a child I don't know how to attach to? AHHHH? The choices! 

So yes, there are a lot of choices in the limited time some of us have for adoption. Between the actual adoption paperwork, applying for grants, doing my work, organizing fundraisers, calling the school, doing my work, setting up resources, planning to do her room (then the subsequent actually doing of the room), doing my work, doing my work, having our main sewer line snaked (oh yes friends, that was last night) and doing my work, how on earth can I do everything I want to do to prepare for this child?

Then, bless their hearts, there’s the other people who have been waiting 8 years for their China baby to come. I’m thinking those folks are none too motivated to enroll themselves in this language class either. Totally get it guys, don’t beat yourselves up.   

I would love to take the parent/child Chinese language class after we get home with Yiyi, but really, I’m not sure that a 10-year-old native speaker will be all that engaged learning “Ni hao” for three weeks and coloring a picture of double happiness. So we remain hopeful in the powers of Wi-Fi, Google translate, and the prayers that Yiyi picks up English relatively quickly. The sweet doctor man told us that typically when one of a child’s senses is impaired, the others are heightened. This throw away statement the sweet man uttered in passing 9-months ago echoes in our minds, and we remind ourselves of this assessment on a nearly weekly basis. No vision = better hearing and language acquisition? Um, yes please!   

But even if she does pick up English pretty quickly, how is that honoring our child’s heritage? How is that showing her that we love and respect her birth country enough to learn her language? How is that showing her that we are now a Mexican/ Italian/Mennonite/Chinese family?

All that’s stuff for the long term. Right now I have nothing more than the ability to triage the situation. And the situation right now stands that in about four months I’m adopting a 10-year-old with her own personality, beliefs, preferences, and mannerisms, who hasn’t had a mom and dad in quite a long time. And I’m going to be like, “Nice to meet you. We’re your mom and dad. Here’s a doll. Get on this plane and leave everything familiar to you behind.”

I desperately need her to attach to us. So apparently I’ve chosen between honoring her culture by learning her language and taking a parenting class that is going to give me the tools to help this hurt child bond and eventually (hopefully) attach to her new family.

I’m not sure that I made the right choice. I’m not sure there is a clear “right” choice in this situation. Or if there is, perhaps I don’t want to admit to it because I’m afraid I made the wrong one.

So my message to you dear reader, is that we can only do what we can do. And let me be the first to let you in on this little trade secret: we can’t do it all. We have to make choices. Let our journey show you that even busy people can adopt too. And if this is the last time I’m dabbling in imperfect parenting…oh my lands…I can’t even finish that thought. It’s almost laughable.

Bless this child. She’s getting a whole ball of crazy up in here. I wish I could ask her what she thinks about this. But I can’t, you know, because I’m not taking the language class.    

Monday, September 9, 2013

Truth nest!

I’ve started co-blogging with a new friend/adoption advocate/adoptive mom. Her name is Danielle and she’s a two-time colon cancer survivor. She’s super young and super cute and super tough as nails. She’s kicked cancer twice before she’s seen my side of age 30.

Back story: Danielle got colon cancer when she was in high school. She beat it and then got married to a wonderful guy who I was friends with in high school. He’s a doll and they were super happy. Then Danielle got colon cancer again, beat it again, and they discovered that treatment made adoption a great option for family building. Back in the day I met with Danielle and her husband to talk about their options for adoption. And at that time, she had just recently beaten the second round, so they were pretty limited with options. Praise the Lord they adopted the sweetest little girl into their family soon after, through a huge blessing of a friend, who had had a friend, who had a cousin’s-grandma’s-neighbor (or something like that)… But this entrance into the adoption world resulted in this high profile blogger and cancer survivor now becoming a high profile adoption advocate as well. And fast forward to our first co-blogging article about adopting after cancer.  

This has spurred me to think about the bigger issue of adopting after health concerns, or other issues that have cropped up before or during your home study. So I thought I should write about this issues. Cozy up with a cup of coffee for installment 1 of home study truth time with your old social worker, Nikki.

Fact: There is nothing you can tell me at this point that I haven’t heard yet. Nothing. Perhaps its not your exact issue, but it’s some deviation of the same issues. The bottom line is that you just need to be honest. Most of the time I don’t really care too much about the issue (not all of the time mind you, but most of the time), but the more important thing is the resolve now. How has it been handled or where is the issue today?

So let’s start by talking about a health issues. I think most cancer survivors are worried about getting an approved home study. But with a good doctors letter (especially when I read the sobering fact that you are now less likely to get this type of cancer than I am!) and talking about your prognosis with you, it should be just fine. There’s no magic equation that you have to share with me to get me to approve your home study. It basically comes down to what your doctor has to say about it. This goes for most health issues that have been treated, or are able to be prolonged with current treatment.  

But cancer and other major health issues are hard to hide. Even if you wanted to try, you know your doctor will have to mention them on your medical form for the home study, so you don’t have a choice but to be forthcoming with the information from the start. The real trickery is with those of you who have issues that are less open and obvious. To you I say, just be honest. I really don’t judge you. Really.

To the family who got pregnant before you got married, fear not, you were not telling me anything I hadn’t yet heard before. (Plus, I can do math.) To the couple who has gone through a separation, weathered it, gotten a ton of counseling, attends annual marriage retreats, and now gives marriage counseling to other couples at your church, fact of the matter is your marriage is probably stronger than most and you are more likely to address issues in the future before they become mountains (because you don’t want to climb that mountain again!) To the couple whose home study is done, and you get pregnant and you think it’s a good idea just not to tell me and you are figuring out what it’s going to be like to have virtual twins, but then you need a home study update and you open the door with a baby in your arms, bad call folks, bad call. I could have been helping you during this past year to prepare better for a lifetime of challenges (because, I do have a lot of knowledge about this and I can help. Plus, at least get your moneys worth and make me work for it!) And to the family whose parents are not accepting of your plans to adopt, you are in good company. I could facilitate a whole support group of you people; that’s how common it is. In fact, I’m writing two of your home studies right now.

The point is, sharing this stuff with me before it becomes uncovered, or becomes a mystery I have to solve, really is just a lot better. It’s going to start us out on the right foot; the foot where I feel that we’re walking your adoption journey together. Which, let’s just be honest, is a way better way to complete your adoption process. I need you to trust me, and I need to trust you. It’s like Robert DeNiro’s “circle of trust” in Meet the Parents. I like to call it the truth nest because it sounds cuter and I like birds. So let’s just start with our little nest of truth, and we’ll work from there.