Joy Is a Wiggly White Goat

When I met Hela, she was heavily pregnant with her third child. She had no idea how she could help her husband support their family; she barely spoke English. We went to visit her in the hospital a few weeks later when her red-faced baby boy was just a few hours old. The doctor had taped a brown paper towel above the bed. Scribbled in blue pen was the word “Skoo,” which she told me was Karen for “push.” I can only imagine the stress she endured–no insurance, no language, no midwife, no family. Just her and a very young husband, bewildered and alone, pushing a new baby into this upside down new life.

Hela started working at my daughters’ preschool a few years ago. It’s the kind of job we want–decent pay, good hours, kind people. She’s home in time for her kids to get back from school, but she gets to be in a place where she’s valued and loved.

This past week they had a Western Day at the preschool and the babies dressed up in their cowboy/cowgirl finest. (Is this just a Texas thing?) Watching our new little one see baby bunnies for the first time in her life was sheer joy.

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It was delicious watching her delight that the bunnies were just right there. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

But then I caught this shot of Hela and it almost brought me to tears.

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Watching her holding a goat, a toddler’s pink cowgirl hat stuck jauntily on her head, all dimples and laughter, I realized how far we have come together. Not that everything in her life is perfect or that they’ve finally stopped being stressed, but the fact that this strong, confident, hilarious women is able to work and have fun and be herself is a huge, huge accomplishment.

It’s an arrival and a completion, a new chapter beginning and an acknowledgment of how far we’ve come.

Series Debut: Parenting & Privilege

Starting next week, I’ll be launching a new series on parenting that I’m very excited about. This will not be a series in which I tell you all the things we’re doing right; instead, I’m going to share some of our very real struggles with parenting our children in a way that pushes past our own privilege. I’ll define terms, get into the nitty-gritty, and yes, probably do a few top ten lists. If you’re interested in a guest post, tweet me or send me a direct message on Twitter. Looking forward to it!

HCHT tea party, CD version

*Photo by my enormously talented friend Constance Dykhuizen.

Harder in Practice than in Theory

We’re at the three month mark of meeting Fei; in many ways, it feels like yesterday but it also feels like time has slowed down. We are deep in kairos time right now–I barely watch the clock or know what day it is. Every day is slow, intentional, deliberate. It’s toddler time but in a whole different way than we’ve ever experienced it.

I was texting with a friend from our agency who just brought home her daughter from Shanghai. She wrote that adoption is harder in practice than in theory. That sums it up perfectly.

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Fei is sleeping through the night. That fact alone changes almost everything. It is much easier to have compassion on a raging, grieving toddler when I’ve had more than three hours of sleep. Looking back on those first few sleepless weeks, we were brain-addled and beat up.

Her first surgery was last week–tubes in her ears–and she handled it like a champ. Perhaps more importantly, she showed the real mettle of our intense attachment work: a woman whose son was having surgery reached down to pick her up (who does that???) and she struggled to get away from this stranger and back to me. I was thrilled that the little girl who would walk up to anyone knew that I was her mom.

We’ve been working hard on this.

At the same time, there are still so many ways in which she shows how difficult it is to transition from an orphanage to a home. We call her micu, which is Portuguese for those tiny monkeys (the bad guys on Rio) who are famous for grabbing shiny things before you even know they’re there. We’ve found Fei’s stashes under Jonathan’s sink, in my unused purses, behind the couch. We spend hours looking for hair stuff or remotes. She’s wily, our little Chinese chimpanzee.

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Two things that we are working on overcoming: Fei’s hyper vigilance and anxious attachment. The hyper vigilance is the cause of the many, many midnight wake-ups. Until I saw her body relax in our home over the last few weeks, I didn’t realize how tense and keyed up she had been. I’m not sure what changed, but she turned a small corner eight weeks after we met her. The difference was subtle but sure–she trusts us more. Not completely, but enough to allow herself to relax with us and sleep through the night.

I’m not sure I can express how grateful we are for that one change.

She is currently in the stage of anxious attachment; adoption experts talk about attachment in ways that are different from the granola movement of attaching to your babies. There is a specific spectrum that children who are from hard places follow (google Karyn Purvis at TCU or The Connected Child–her work is all that has sustained us so far). Anxious attachment is close to secure attachment, what my bio girls have where they’re confident they are trusted and loved.

But close isn’t there yet.

For Fei, anxious attachment means a constant testing of our love and commitment. It means calling out to me hundreds of times a day: “Ma! Ma! Ma!” Said with Chinese inflection and a lot of worry, it’s cute at 8 in the morning but by 8 at night, I’m done. It’s a constant noise in my day. Add to that a whiny dog and two other small children who are not afraid to let their needs be known and you get a small picture of my day. Then add the fact that we’ve had 500 snow days (with no actual snow) this winter and you can see why I sometimes feel totally done.

It’s an intense life we’re leading right now.

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There’s no way to fully express the distress, the emotions, the joys and the griefs of these first few weeks. I know because I’ve read everything there is to read on the subject and I still feel woefully unprepared. I feel so sorry for people who stumble into older child adoption for whatever reason; we’ve been preparing for this season for years and years and still it has toppled us like a ton of bricks.

Though it’s getting better slowly, most days I have very few resources left. Everything I have is poured into the love-starved heart of this little girl who needs to know we’re here–RIGHT HERE ALWAYS–and her two sisters who need to know they’re still important to us. Routines take on a weight they never have before. My tone has to be even. I strive every moment to be both kind and firm. My eyes have to convey love when I discipline even when I’m exhausted beyond measure. To do this while still working or cleaning the house or writing thank you notes is more than I can accomplish most days.

It’s a big deal that I get everyone fed, dressed, and out the door on any given morning. And  believe me, I totally celebrate if everyone has on socks that match.

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To be completely honest, I’ve heard from so many people that it’s like adding a newborn to our home (it’s not–it’s like adding an adopted toddler to our home) or that I just need to let the house go (which means I’d break my feet on all the thousands of small plastic things) or that I just need to embrace this season (I am, but it’s hard and sad too) to the point where I’m pretty done with extra advice. I knew all the answers before we started down this path. Nothing has changed. I know what I need to do.

I’m an expert on the theory behind this sort of intentional parenting.

To do it is something  different.

I see it in the tired eyes of fellow adoptive moms sometimes, the whispered comments that you haven’t ruined your family and that life will begin again–that’s the relief and the hope I need right now. I’ll say it up one side and down the other–adoption is not for the faint of heart.

It’s so, so worth it. It really is. When I come out of the room and Fei dances a little jig with excitement that I’m still here, my heart skips a beat out of love for her fat little face.

Or when my girls hug each other casually, like sisters do, while singing along to Frozen covers from youtube, I ache with the realization that we really are making progress.

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It’s worth it.

But it is much harder in practice than in theory.

In Praise of Earnest Nerdiness

Our oldest daughter Noelle (remember, I don’t use their real names on my blog) might be the most earnest girl that ever lived. Whatever she does, she does passionately, all in. It’s precious (and sometimes exhausting) to live with this spirited girl. In the midst of this hard season adjusting to having a new little person in our home, Noelle and her school gave us the sweetest day on Saturday.

I’ve written before about my daughter’s school. She got into the dual-language program at a brand new elementary school just weeks before starting kindergarten last year. We had no idea what to expect; no seasoned parents could tell us what it was going to be like. The first few days were chaotic–the school was under construction up till the very last second, teachers had only a few days in their classroom, parents didn’t know the routine. Within about five days, however, we started to see signs of an amazing efficiency emerging as the principal and teachers worked overtime to get themselves together. And it has been that way–seamless, energetic, rigorous–ever since. Some of the classes are designated dual language, some are English and some are bilingual (targeted only to Spanish-speaking kids rather than a mix), but the entire school operates with both languages all the time. Announcements are alwasy translated; kids are told to slow down in both languages. The teachers and students move fluidly between both.

Noelle thinks this is completely normal.

These are teachers that believe firmly in what they’re doing. They’re bringing a top-notch education to a neighborhood that has traditionally been overlooked. Noelle is one of four caucasian kids in her classroom; she’s definitely in the minority in her grade.

I’ll be honest, it’s exactly what we were looking for in a school.

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When we first found out Noelle got in the dual-language program, meaning all of her kids would have this chance, we were ecstatic. But as soon as we started to share this information, we had the oddest conversations. They were well-intentioned, I’m sure, but the undercurrent was the same–you have to watch what you’re getting into. 

Someone actually said to me at a baby shower days before school started that I’d really have to supplement her education because “you never know with those people.” I pushed back hard–what people? What did she mean? No, I’m sorry, I don’t know? People who speak two languages, like my husband when he was growing up? I’m sorry, can you say that again?

I left the awkwardness there because frankly, I was offended. To have children who understand that people from all walks of life are equal human beings seems like my highest goal as a mother.

Let me tell you the kind of education we (bilingual, multicultural, mixed-economic, collaborative, outside-of-our-tiny-box) people are working on at my daughter’s amazing school.

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This Saturday, Noelle and 25 of her classmates in the gifted and talented program participated in Destination Imagination. I’d never heard of it before, but let me tell you, it’s where baby theater and speech and band and choir and AP English nerds are starting off these days. Oh my word, the cuteness of little bespectacled babies with costumes and capes. I could die of my love of the earnest nerdiness.

Right in the middle of the group was Noelle, dressed like a reporter. She was on one of three teams from her school. Each team was mixed age, race and gender, as well as mixed language. Of course. That’s how we roll at Barron.

Noelle was the only girl; there were three “big” boys (3rd and 4th grade) and three first graders, Noelle and her two buddies. They identified a problem at their school and then worked hard to fix it–they decided that their brand new school needed a school newspaper.

So they wrote one. They researched and analyzed and pecked out articles over weeks on their computer. They wrote a jokes section. Noelle wrote about China. They interviewed the tallest coach in school. Some things were in Spanish, some in English, and it was all so earnestly executed.

They presented their newspaper and, after a few mediocre run-throughs, knocked it out of the ball park when it came time for the actual presentation. When they came out, the principal, gifted teacher and team coach were all teary. Even Jonathan was a bit choked up.

Noelle stood up, confident as could be, and said, “I’m a little girl. My name is Noelle Goudeau.” And then read her much-practiced story what was the same and what was different in China, where she got a new little sister.

I die of the cuteness.

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If it had ended there, it would have been sweet enough. But in the last round of the day, they had their second event–an impromptu challenge they’ve been sworn to secrecy not to share. The team coach worked to get the instructions read to the mixed-language team in both Spanish and English; the first languages of one of the first graders is Spanish and two of the first graders is English. We were all afraid that if it were in one language or another, that they wouldn’t be able to understand the more academic terms.

But it wasn’t allowed–the rules had been changed last year. Someone felt it gave the bilingual kids an unfair advantage (!!!) to hear the rules twice. Heaven forbid they should have more time.

So instead, the teacher reading the rules said them slowly.

The “big boys” translated.

In their suits and ties, these children of working-class parents demonstrated their poise and compassion as they translated WHILE THE MAN WAS TALKING for their littlest team members.

The coach said by the end, even the judges were beaming–this is what intercultural collaboration looks like, with children who think that translating is normal, that working with other people of different ages is worthwhile, that being stand-up boys at an early age is something to be prized.

We were in tears by the time the coach finished telling the story. And you guys…they nailed it. They aced their impromptu challenge–in two different languages. Because that is how Barron rolls. And Noelle came out bouncing-off-the-walls excited and proud.

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Noelle came home last year and told me, dripping with her earnestness, “Mom, my teacher told me we were working hard at making our elementary school the best school in the world. I think we’re almost there. We’re really close.”

We couldn’t agree more. This school, these children and teachers, are a gift. My girls will always know that people who look different or speak differently are still the same inside. Those are lessons that can never be taken away from them.

And, by the way, their little team of overachieving underdogs won third place out of the whole region. Noelle wore this medal all day at school. This crazy toothless grin says it all.

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¡Qué orgullo! 

Le Mot Juste for 2014

Gustave Flaubert famously spent most of his life searching for what he termed “le mot juste”–the perfect word. He is the quirky king of meticulous writers, often spending days on one handwritten page while his peers pumped out novel after novel. But if you’ve ever read a good translation of Madame Bovary you know his obsessive focus led to tense, tight prose.

In a wordy world, it’s hard to remember when we didn’t just bleed words onto the page, wildly available to hundreds or thousands just by clicking “publish.”

I find myself still trying to put my thoughts about adoption and dissertation and the gale-force winds that all but tore us apart last year. I’d like a word for how I feel about writing or about work and what I’m focusing on in 2014, but I’m struggling to pare it down to one.

Here are three.

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Depleted.

I poured words into my dissertation, into blog posts, into paperwork, into conversations, until there are so few left they rattle around in my mind like pennies in an almost empty piggy bank. Some words are sown like seeds and they lead to more words, more action, more life. These words took something essential from me and I still can’t define it to myself, much less anyone else.

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Fallow.

I need to leave words unsown. I need space to breathe and think. I need words that have no purpose, no drive behind them, no killer point or stellar argument. I need to play and rest and tinker. I need to let go and renew.

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Roots.

What Gerard Manley Hopkins called the “dearest freshness deep down things” is still there, I can feel it. But I keep echoing in my head what he said in my favorite of his poems: “Mine, O Thou Lord of life, send my roots rain.” I want to find freshness again. I’ve seen damage done so significantly to people, such deep burnout after a terrible season, that everything is gone, roots and all. I don’t want that to be true for me. I want to write again for the joy, not the ambition, of it.

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I have so many projects I’m working on, but I’m going to try to let them come slowly. It’s hard to turn down the drive after so many years of working toward a goal. But that’s what blogging has been for me and I’m going to come back into this space more just to share some thoughts. After the burnout of 2013, I’m hoping to relax and experiment and breathe a bit in 2014. I’m going to be working on things totally outside of my field or my expertise.

And I’m going to spend a lot of time playing toddler games again. Bring on the whimsy, 2014.

Grafting

(I intend to post a lot more in February. I need the rhythm of writing again. My dissertation took away all the joy of it and I want to get it back, Also, D.L. Mayfield has told me sweetly and sternly it’s time. So here, D., more for you with love.)

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I have often heard the metaphor of adoption as grafting. But it’s an odd comparison. Grafting for plants, as I imagine it, is a peaceful if incongruous process. It’s strange to put two plants together, to add a new limb to a different type of tree, but there’s no violence or pain in the act, unless plants have nerves that are deeper down than we can measure.

In the grafting of adoption, there’s more grit and verve. We are putting a limb where a limb has never been before. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable and cumbersome. There is a great deal of grief and loss for everyone. It’s hard to see the point, sometimes, of this process.

And then you see life begin to stir in what was a dying limb and you catch your breath in wonder.

She says “Ma!” and she means me. All over the house, from sunrise till late (LATE) into the night. “MA! MA! MA!” Over and over again, she calls me by my name that is her special name for me because she’s my daughter.

And she reaches up her fat hands to kiss my cheek, first one slobbery side and then the other, over and over in a repeated smacky game.

And life slowly seeps between us as we knit together more fully.

It takes time. But it is good.

Trip to China, Day 1

Today was our first full day in China. We arrived last night around seven in the evening. It was my birthday; the girls picked out a gorgeous locket for me. They gave me an antique one last year and I’ve worn it out wearing it. I love my new silver one with space for four pictures. Though an overnight plane trip is not the most exciting thing, arriving in our daughter’s country on my birthday was pretty darn great

Our girls could not have been better on the plane; it’s as if they’ve been doing this their whole lives. They followed us without any fussing, enjoyed every meal, slept for hours, colored, read books, listened to music, watched movies—it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Jonathan and I keep saying how glad we are that we brought them. I’m not sure we ever though seriously about not bringing them, but considering that this their very first international trip, we’re bursting with pride at how well they’ve done.

We were met last night at the airport by our guide Zita; she’s a very hip-looking, English-speaking young woman who studied social work and English in college and now gets to combine them in her work as a guide for adoptive families. She has an easy smile and wore great orange boots. I liked her immediately.

We took a van to the hotel from the airport, about an hour’s ride, in a small van with cotton covers on the benches that smelled a little like cigarette smoke and body odor.  The girls loved that they were able to just buckle up without car seats; Noelle watched avidly out the window, but Joy drifted off almost mid-sentence.

The city at night had a dystopian feel; the smog was thick and the bright fluorescent lights on buildings and bridges, one of the things that Shanghai is famous for, made the scenery seem like something out of Hunger Games or The Terminator rather than any city that we’ve been to. The buildings have a square, uniform feel that marks this city as different from Bangkok or Mexico City or Sao Paulo or any of the other enormous, anonymous cities where we’ve been. But really, big cities are big cities all over the world; it’s hard to feel like we’re getting a glimpse of “real China” when we’re on such a touristy trip in a hotel that caters to Western clients.

This is a completely different trip than any Jonathan and I have ever taken. My natural instinct is that we’re not going to eat at McDonald’s, we’re going to find the hole-in-the-wall noodle shops where the locals eat. Today we left the hotel to wander our neighborhood a bit and find lunch. We looked in some stores that felt more typical, but ended up at McDonald’s because of our girls. They were thrilled—they loved the chicken nuggets and the happy meals. They were fascinated by people on the street, but a bit disconcerted at how everyone smiles, points and waves at them. McDonald’s felt like an easy compromise for their outrageously good attitudes in every situation.

It also summarizes the differences in this trip: though we want to get to know China as much as possible for the sake of our daughter because we love her culture, this is a family-building trip. That means less adventure and more comfort than we’re used to when we travel.

Traveling is the thing Jonathan and I like to do with each other most, so it’s been fun to get back into our familiar rhythm and add our girls into the trip. Noelle’s personality (remember the girls go by their middle name on this blog) is to walk around in the front ready to get to the next place. As we were walking through the plaza area outside of the train station right by our hotel, she kept saying, “I just want a Chinese friend who speaks English and is my age and wants to play with me. Can we go find a friend?” That attitude sums up her personality perfectly. I cannot WAIT for her to go to the orphanage and get to play with kids. She’s dying to make friends with everyone.

Joy, though she definitely enjoys interacting with people, is a bit more in the background watching. Jonathan held her the whole time we were walking; we talked about trying to take the subway (we were too tired to attempt that long of an adventure), but she was the one who found the subway map. She watches and makes surprisingly insightful observations for a four-year-old. She has an old soul. I’m so excited to see her as a big sister; she waved at every baby we saw and she can’t wait for there to be a little person she can help every day.

Tomorrow is the day we meet Xin Xin (again, I like protecting my kids’ real names, so we’re using her nickname on the blog). We have felt pretty prepared in many ways for the experience by our agency (we adore our agency). I think everything should go smoothly. We’re packing our bags tonight with presents for the nanny, the orphanage director and the official who is helping us, plus bottles and diapers and the Ergo. It’s a bit surreal that tomorrow we’ll become parents again.

And yet, everything in our lives seems to be leading to this moment. Jonathan’s and my traveling life makes this just another of our many adventures. The way we’ve raised our girls, especially their experiences with the Hill Tribers and they way they run readily into any group of kids, is part of what I think has helped all of this seem so normal to them.  We’ve talked over and around this situation and we feel like we are stepping smoothly into this next stage.

I put the following status update on Facebook right before we left as we were sitting at the airport and I think it sums up perfectly how we feel: “The bags are packed, the lists are checked, the crib is up, the dissertation is defended, and the stockings are hung. The time has come. We’re on a way to get our girl.”

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We cannot wait until tomorrow morning at 9:30 (7:30 pm Austin time), when Xin Xin becomes ours.

T-Minus 48 Hours

In less than two days, we will be on the plane to China. I had big plans to write a second part to the series about adoption as an arranged marriage and I will (someday!), but I’ve been going ninety-to-nothing for days now and just haven’t had two seconds to get back to it. Sorry if you were waiting breathlessly for part 2. :)

I will be blogging pretty openly about our trip. I owe a huge debt to adoption blogs before me, so I will bypass some of my normal rules about not talking too much about my girls online to give some insight into what it will be like for us to go to Shanghai and bring home our little bundle of love. My girls go by their middle names on this blog, so I’ll probably keep that up with our newest one (her Chinese name is her middle name), so we’ll call her by her baby nickname Xin Xin (Sheen Sheen) for now. Once we get back, I might dial it back in, but I’ve followed along with other families as they meet their kids and scoped out pictures to know what to expect, so I think it seems fair to do that with this blog as well.

So, to start it off, introducing Xin Xin, who becomes ours at 9:30 am Shanghai time on Monday morning:

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(And, in case you’re worried that I’m advertising that I’ll be out of the country online, let me just say to any potential burglars or crazy people–my sister-in-law and brother-in-law are staying in our house and Adam could be a bouncer in another life, so really, do not mess. There, that makes me feel better.)

And now, to finish all of the lists, the packing, the sorting, the downloading and the general craziness of these last two days.

TWO DAYS.

Adoption as an Arranged Marriage (Part 1)

It was late and we were in Midland for my husband’s grandmother’s funeral. We were sad, but it was time, and so it was a bittersweet weekend. My friend Carrie McKean and I had been emailing and blog-sharing and we finally found the chance to meet in real life. We got together for coffee and then went to the lobby of the hotel where I was staying to keep talking and talking and talking. Sometime around midnight, a baseball team settled into our space and loudly interrupted our conversation, so we took it to the indoor pool.

Inside it was hot and humid and I finally warmed up from the frigid February west Texas wind. Carrie is one of those friends you bump into every now and then who you feel like you’ve known forever. The layers of connection we have (adoption, China, economic development, refugees) are extraordinary.

We were sharing some of our fears about adoption and I said something out loud that has changed the way I view adoption. Both of us were expressing doubt about being able to fall in love with a picture. We had both worked at orphanages and knew that there were some kids you connected with better than others. The three kids from Brazil that I adored might not have been at the top of everyone’s list but I love them fiercely and would have uprooted my life for them if I had been able to adopt them.

How can you have that kind of love for a child you’ve never met? What if you end up with a kid who, if you met them in real life, you might not connect with as well as you would another kid? How do you handle the enormous uncertainty of parenting a child you don’t know with a past and a life outside of your own?

When you’re matched with a child from China (from most international adoption places, I think), you get a picture and some information and you have to make a decision about whether or not you will pursue this child’s adoption. If it’s a file that other people might be interested in, you can have as little as 48-72 hours to make one of the most life-changing decisions you will ever face.

Based on one or two pictures and a couple of paragraphs.

I was thinking out loud in the middle of the night and I told Carrie, “It’s almost like an arranged marriage.” The further we’ve gotten into the adoption path, the more that feels like the appropriate metaphor to me.

I know some people fall in love with a picture and they just know. The day that we got our daughter’s referral was one of the most upside-down days of our life. It just showed up in my inbox on a random Thursday afternoon; my caseworker had a file that she sent to us on a whim. We still had a while on our paperwork, so we thought it would be several more weeks, but this child was just becoming paper-ready and our caseworker thought she might be a good fit for us.

She was. Immediately. We had researched where she was from–we love our agency’s partnership with the Shanghai orphanage where our daughter lives. We knew her special needs were at the top of our list–it’s interesting to me that what fits well with some families does not fit well with others. And oh my word, her sweet face, with the cheeks and the bright all-over smile.

So we accepted the referral. In our case, we had at least two weeks to decide and could have taken longer if we wanted it, but we knew by that evening that we had made our choice. I used that time to call doctors and friends and analyze it from every side. We made a cognitive decision to accept the file, but our hearts were primed and ready to love the child behind the picture.

But now as we face the reality of traveling to China in the next month or so (!!!) and think about how we are about to up-end the life of an almost-three-year-old girl, my heart beats fast and my palms get sweaty. The grief and homesickness she will face is staggering.

As someone who has had my share of homesickness in my life, I can’t begin to imagine.

I’m grateful for the metaphor of an arranged marriage. It helps me to know that what we are all facing will take time. She will not (and maybe we will not) fall in love immediately. We will all need time to adjust. There will be moments of bright joy and also moments of pain. We will need to give each other space to grow in love.

She is our daughter because we decided we will love her. We sought her out. We are going halfway across the world–our whole little family–because we want her to fit with us.

The reality is, her pictures are precious and her life is full of pathos and there are a lot of idealistic reasons why this could feel lovely and holy and good. But adoption is complicated and hard and that’s the reality we want to face with eyes wide open. There is loss and pain and grief that we are accepting with this arrangement and that we have to hold in a central place in our lives.

Of all the things we bring to this relationship, patience and grit might be the most important. Because she is our daughter and by the end of this year, two governments will recognize that fact. We will move her here and incorporate her into our lives.

But the real move that is being made is that we are changing ourselves for her. Our two biological girls are dexterously handling chopsticks and learning Chinese songs and falling in love with Chinese culture. I’ve spent the last six months learning about Mao and the Cultural Revolution, Chinese literature, Shanghai economics, and socioeconomic healthcare divisions. We’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg, but we will meet this new little one where she is. In many ways, the rest of our lives will be spent honoring, learning about and falling in love with her culture and her past and her ancestry. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but it’s one of the deepest commitments we’ve ever made.

To me, that’s what you do when you agree to love, honor and cherish someone for life. Even before you’ve ever met.

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In Part 2, I will talk about why it’s so necessary that this relationship be arranged, especially for ethical reasons.

Adoption Ethics

Today I’m very, very pleased to be posting over at Seth Haines’s blog about adoption and community development. This guest post is very close to my heart; it’s not short and it wasn’t easy to write. But that’s because I think a complex, nuanced conversation needs to begin happening about how, when, and why we adopt. I’m so grateful for Seth’s desire to begin this conversation in earnest.

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The question of the ethics of international adoption has become very, very personal to me. A few days ago, in a Chinese orphanage in a very large city, our third child celebrated her half-birthday. She is now two and a half; we go get her in a few short weeks. Her videos and pictures, her fat cheeks, shy smile and her sweet clapping hands, have changed this debate for me. This is no longer theory. This is real, as real as the grief we are about to enter and navigate together as we start over as a family of five.

The week after Jen Hatmaker began her series of adoption ethics in June, no less than six people in my life asked me whether our adoption was ethical. Part of that is because I live in Austin, where Jen lives, and a lot of us really like her. Part of that is because her series of posts prompted many people to begin thinking about these issues in new ways. We had just been matched with our little girl a few weeks before, and I mentioned to a friend at the time that one of my greatest comforts was the deep sense of peace we felt about the ethics of our adoption.

I was happy to answer those friends’ questions (and the ones that have come up since) and I’m grateful to the people who are helping to change the scope of this debate—we should be asking if adoptions are ethical with the same ease that people ask why we picked one country or a particular special need. I can say with a lot of love that I realize that for some people, the issue of adoption ethics is one that they only realize late into the process as they really begin to understand the ramifications of changing the course of a child’s life forever. But for me that was not the case; this has been the guiding issue of our adoption process.

An ethical adoption was the only option for us.

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In other news, I miss you all. I’m just days away from finishing my dissertation. I’m revising like a fiend, slapping together a bibliography (digging out articles from dust-covered shelves). Half of it is in Portuguese, so there’s some translation that happens late at night and then I have funky dreams about Brazilian translation theory…I’m knee-deep in nerdy-world. I’m almost done, though, and I can’t wait to come back.

In case you’re wondering, our little one is coming home faster than anyone dreamed. We’re thinking more in terms of weeks than months right now. I have more to say about adoption and the horrible heaviness of waiting and the fact that there is a two-year-old out there that belongs to me and she’s not home, but it’ll probably be another week or two before I start that up again.

Most excitingly, I’ll be at Idea Camp this weekend. Can’t wait to catch up with many online friends as well as some of my favorite Austinites who will be all in one place. It’s going to be so much fun and deep and practical. We really will be hashing out adoption ethics over dinner and drinks (margaritas and queso, claro!), with so many great minds all in one place, it can’t be anything but a party. If you’re there, come find me!