Monday, March 29, 2010

Many Thanks

As we close the last suitcase and gather the last bit of paperwork (wouldn't you know it, there is a lot of paperwork involved) I am thinking about all the people we know who have been so kind and gracious. We feel fortunate to bring Tessa home to an amazing community of family and friends.

From our parents who have given us all their blessings and love, to our brother and sister-in-law who are taking us to the airport and installing our car seat while we are gone. To my community of writers who showered me with good wishes and baby clothes and books, to my workplace who smiles upon my absence and will get along just fine
without me, to the friends who will watch over our home, to the Chinese adoptive community who has given me tons of travel and new parenting advice, to old and new friends from all over who have held my hand and wished us well, to the blogger from OK who is in China now at the same orphanage we will visit and is reassuring me with her pictures and stories (and is giving me blogging advice), to the dear friend who left this lovely gift on my doorstep (complete with a note of good wishes in a tiny charm box!), to the man who overheard me in line at the bank to smile and tell me of his own connection to Chinese adoption, to my boss who teaches me Chinese phrases and gives me guidebooks, and last but not least our kid who can't wait to see the Great Wall of China.

Wheels up, 12:00pm, March 31st!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My other trip to Beijing

A long time ago, in a different life, before I was married and had kids and became a responsible member of society, I did bit of traveling. On this particular trip, I sailed on a ship as a staff member on an academic voyage around the world. Our second to last port of call was Hong Kong and from there we were welcome to sign up for trips that went to Beijing. I went with a group of 30 college students and stayed at the People's University. Our guide, Alice, was an interesting Chinese-American woman who happened to be living and taking classes at this university. She was the child of Chinese parents and was raised in the US. Her English and Mandarin were both impeccable. She understood both sides of the culture with ease and was able to guide us around the city and explain to us all the things that made no sense.

One of my biggest frustrations was being told by the tour guides of the various cultural attractions what I could and could not do. Tours are highly regulated and tour guides were less guides and more commanders. Herding us this way and that. Forbidding us from taking one different step from the group. I was never allowed to be far from the herd. Wandering off was something people did not do. Exploring was out of the question.

So imagine my surprise when Alice announced that we would have a free afternoon. We could do whatever we wanted. Alice offered to lead a group to the Beijing Zoo and all of the members of the college group I was with signed up. I couldn't bear it. More herding into buses and being led through an attraction as part of a routine rather than I real experience in China. So I asked Alice if I could borrow her bike and go for a ride. If you have ever been to Beijing, you know that the streets are almost paved with bicycles. Chinese commute by bicycle in a way that makes the puny bicycle commuting in our towns seem quaint. Everyone there owns and rides thier bikes all over the city. I was in awe of the massive display of bikes and wanted to ride in one of them.

Alice gladly lent me her bike and when another member of our group announced she wanted to ride too, Alice borrowed a bike from a friend for her, and we were able to set off through the streets. My riding companion was a delightful undergraduate by the name of Dionne who happened to be African American and wore long beaded braids in her hair. I mention this only because Dionne and I, the black girl and the white girl, riding through the streets of Beijing was just not something people there saw very often. My the heads did turn. I remember we made it to a kind of tea shop and then a department store and stopped to shop and then turned around and rode back. I have never regretted my decision not to go to the zoo that day. I will always remember that time of doing something that felt like what every Chinese man and woman was doing even if it was only for a few hours.

It occurs to me now too, seeing these pictures of myself for the first time in over 15 years, that another reason the Chinese stare is because Americans are large people. I would imagine that I will feel a bit like an Amazon again when roaming the streets of China with my family in tow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tessa and her foster mother

We received this picture in an early email about Tessa. Our agency writes,

"Some of you might have noticed an adult with your child in some of the recent photos. We have verified that these are the foster parents. All of the children how now been taken back to the orphanage (from the foster homes)now in anticipation of your arrival."

Foster parenting is an important part of the adoption journey. I understand that a baby who has an opportunity to bond with a caregiver at an early age will bond and attach more easily than if she had been alone at the orphanage from the beginning. Early attachment leads to healthy social and behavioral development.

I hope that when we arrive in Nanchang we have the opportunity to meet this woman who may have known Tessa since her arrival. I guess it's time to brush up on my Mandarin.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What's in a name?

Four years ago when we started our adoption journey, we tentatively picked out the name Tess. We agreed that whatever first name had been given her in China, we would give her as a middle name. When she got older if she wanted to choose to go by her middle name, that would be fine.

We jokingly called her "Tess Chinese Name Cornell McKim" and waited patiently to meet her. Over the years of waiting we stopped talking about her and her name, so when this referral arrived on February first, we were not sure what name to use. Her Chinese name is Yi Xiao Jian. The characters used to represent the name are pictured above.

In Chinese, Yi is her surname. In this case the name given to all the babies at the Yiying Social Welfare Institute in Jiangxi Province.

A friend who speaks Mandarin writes, "The surname “Yi” is very rare; I’ve never met anyone with that surname. It’s an old character that refers to an arrow with a string tied to it, used for hunting birds. The first character of her given name, “xiao,” can indeed mean “dawn ,” though it also means “understand.” The second character of her given name, “jian,” means “build” or “establish.”

We thought more about possible American/English first names. We mixed it up a bit and threw some more names into the pot. We liked Lane and Kai. We considered Willow. We liked Julia (My grandmother's name and a dear Aunt's name.)

Our son, by the way, did not like any of the names. We pressed him to think of one of his own, but he told us he would only give us the veto or approval and not suggest any names. We forged on alone.

When we filled out or acceptance form to be delivered to the various governments and consulates involved in this transaction, we had to name her. Geoff finally said he liked Tessa. He thought that Tessa McKim sounded like the perfect name and we could call her Tess or Xiao-Jian or Tessa and I quickly agreed.

Geoff wonders if we change the meaning of her Chinese name by hyphenating. The same friend writes, "This business of hyphenating or running names together is actually a very old controversy among Chinese who traveled abroad. Mainlanders do not hyphenate, and so would advise Xiaojian. Taiwanese hyphenate, and would counsel Xiao-Jian. I'd suggest you fuse the names for practical reasons and write Xiaojian"

And so she shall be Tessa Xiaojian Cornell McKim.

Many have commented that Tessa McKim sounds like a great name for a wee Irish lass. What an amazing story she will have to tell. A Chinese girl with a US upbringing and an Irish/Chinese name.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What to Read

When I do anything, I read a lot about it. Reading is a source of comfort for me, and there is an abundance of fascinating memoir out there to bring me closer to my soon to be daughter. There are probably a million stories about adoption in China, and I have chosen four to recommend to readers who might want to understand a bit more about this phenomenon.

The first book I read, Wuhu diary, was Emily Prager's account of returning to China with her 4 year old adopted daughter, Lulu. She wanted Lulu to experience being a child in China. Emily had spent time in China growing up so she knew the language fairly well and had a pretty easy time getting around. She was there long enough that she could enroll Lulu in a pre-school type classroom. It was a pretty straightforward adoption/travel narrative and one that got me thinking about traveling to China someday.

After we had submitted our dossier, I read Karin Evans memoir The Lost Daughters of China, a fabulous account of her adoption which included lots of facts and figures about Chinese girls, the cultural implications of the one child policy and what life was like for her as a parent waiting to adopt. Her adopted daughter Kelly would have been part of the first wave of infants from China to arrive in the US and would be a teenager by now. This book is very interesting and very readable and if you had to pick any book of the four on this page, it should be this one. One of the figure that stunned me was that social scientists estimate that a generation after the one child policy was mandated in China, about 30,000,000 girls are missing. In other words, China's adult population of women is thirty million fewer than it should be. This is very sad and very scary to think about what this mean for females in China and all over the world.

China Ghosts came out a few years after we joined the waiting list. Jeff Gammage was a father who wrote quite eloquently about what it was like to adopt a little girl from China. More specifically, he gave great weight to considering who the mother must have been and why she chose to abandon her child. He also conducted an extensive search for his child's biological mother going so far as to have someone write an ad in Mandarin which was placed in the newspaper of the town in which she was found. It did not amount to any leads but after some writing to various agencies and pestering the Chinese Government a bit, he was able to get the actual note that was left with his daughter when she was abandoned. This note became a great treasure which he will give to his daughter, and the only tangible thing she will ever hope to have from her biological mother.

Beleive it or not Forever Lily was a real page-turner of an adoption memoir. It was an abosulutely fabulous twist on the adoption story which I have come to know by heart. Beth Russell is asked to travel with a friend to China when the friend travels to adopt a baby girl. When the baby is brought into the room the friend cannot handle it. Beth tries to help the new mother bond but there is something wrong. Beth begins to love and care for the child and after a few days realizes that she should be the child's true mother. Beth and her husband do not have children of thier own, and when Beth calls home to tell her husband what is happening he says without heistation, "we'll take the child." So the suspense begins. Adopting a child from China is an immense amount of paperwork, how on earth can this woman get custody of the child that is not legally hers?Although we know that it ends well right from the start, it becomes monumentally suspenseful as we follow the two women and the child around China and overseas to home. What does Ms. Russell have to do to make sure that she becomes this little girl's true mother? It really is very well written and of all four books was the one that moved me to tears.

I'll post another time about some good books I read about Chinese travel and culture, but these are some of the books that shaped the way I think about this decision to adopt. I highly recommend all of them.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Travel Dates

We finally heard from our agency this week. The dates of our travel will be roughly March 31st to April 15th. They build the whole trip around a consular appointment which will happen on April 12th.

Out itinerary will look roughly like this: leave the US on March 31st for Beijing where we will spend 2-3 days getting adjusted to the time and the place and doing some site seeing. Grayson is especially excited to see the Great Wall of China. I'd imagine we will see the Forbidden City and Tianammen Square as well. The Chinese government feels that people adopting their children should know something about the culture and should be able to say to their adopted children, "I have been to your birth country."

From Beijing we head for Nanchang which is the provincial capital of Jiangxi Province. Our little girl was left on the doorstep of the Yiyang Social Welfare Institute on the day she was born, May 18, 2009. There people will bring the babies to us in either a hotel or a consulate. We have been told by our agency that we will be given the option to travel to the orphanage which is a 2-3 hour drive from where we will stay. Originally we were told no orphanage for fear of N1H1. (They are afraid of it, understandably.) This part of the trip seems to be the murkiest in details.

From there we travel to Guangzhou which is where all families adopting from China end up. We will stay at the famous White Swan Hotel and shop and site see while we wait for all the official papers to come through. Then we arrive home and adjust to our new life and new family.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Here's what we looked like when we started this whole thing...

We submitted our dossier to the Chinese government on April 5, 2006. The date would be forever known as our LID--Log in date. The contents of this dossier was many pages of birth certificates, photographs, recommendations from friends and family, a home study authored by a licensed social worker, papers from the Department of Homeland Security saying we had permission from them to bring an orphan home from China, seals and stamps from the states in which we were born and the Chinese Consulate. We had to deal with government entities in North Dakota, Virginia, Indiana, and Washington D.C. We drove to Indy several times and Geoff actually took care of some paperwork in DC when he was there on business. We used an agency out of Evansville called FTIA which came highly recommended.

The Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA) puts all the dossiers that arrive in strict date order and honors the commitment to the families one by one. At some point while we were in the queue, our dossier was translated into Mandarin. Otherwise, my vision was of a huge file cabinet somewhere deep in some Chinese bureaucrat's office, and we were in a file with a tab way in the back that s-l-o-w-l-y moved up to the front.

The only way you can move to the front of the line in this massive queue would be to agree to adopt a special needs child from a list called "waiting children". Many people jumped ahead of us in line by doing this. Many special needs children in China are often fine children, they simply have small health problems which leave them off regular adoption lists. People who routinely scanned the list and contacted their adoption agencies quickly would adopt special needs children who were relatively healthy. I often though of doing that, but it would have required another level of bureaucracy that I was not willing to face. I simply stayed true to the line and decided to wait patiently (or not so patiently) for whatever waited for us at the end.

In the intervening 4 years, I told absolutely everyone about our pending adoption. I put a lot of travels on hold thinking I did not want to plan too much for fear that we would have to cancel and travel to China at a moment's notice. The agency told us to find something to do to fill our time. Geoff ran for public office and became an elected official in our county. I became PTO president and became very involved in a community writing program. So you see, we are now very busy people.

Geoff and I had to travel to Indy two more times and have two more home studies and two more sets of physicals and two more sets of fingerprints done in order to keep our US government paperwork up to date. We went through 4 adoption coordinators at our agency. Weirdly, everyone around us was having kids and getting adoptive kids. It seemed everyone was destined to grow their family but us. When we started the process, I decided Grayson, then 8 years old, was too young to accompany us. Now, he is a perfect age 12, and I anticipate will be a great help on this trip.

I'll share more stories in the coming days. I am looking forward to hearing from friends and family as we travel and bring Tess home.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Introducing Tessa Xiaojian Cornell McKim

I have been raising a boy for almost 12 years now, and it comes as a surprise to me that I don't know much about girls. I was a girl once. I came of age on a steady diet of girl books. I loved Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Harriet the Spy. My favorite characters taught me about sleuthing and writing and how to live in sub zero temperatures on the prairie.

Now in this new age, I have discovered girl power. I wish I knew about girl power when I was young. Girls get superpowers and go out to save the world. Girls take Chemistry and art and play basketball and aren't afraid to be smart. They kick butt and use their powers for good to triumph over evil.

That's the kind of girl I want to raise. A girl who knows herself, loves herself and isn't afraid to be whatever she wants to be. She uses her superpowers always for the betterment of her community. She wants always to uplift those around her. She is a fighter, a dreamer, and loves to laugh.

So this sweet little thing will soon come to live with us, and I am full of the wonder of girls. Although I have been a parent for 12 years and I think I have done a decent job of raising my son (so far) I would certainly appreciate any and all advice about raising a daughter--especially the warrior princess type. I don't think you can ever leave stuff like this to chance. I rely on the wisdom of my community.

Please join Geoff, Grayson and I as we journey to China to pick up Tessa! We'll keep you apprised of all our adventures.