Thursday, March 29, 2007

For a Girl Like Mine, No Matter How Beautiful

In a recent New York Times article, one brave white dad recounts his triumphs over the whole new world of black girl’s hair care here: “I Have Taken On My Daughter’s Hair and Won.”

Somehow I suspect that in this household, the handling of hair will fall to me—especially in the case of a girl’s hair. I have only the most negligible skills in brushing, braiding, parting, and prettying (see: my head, circa 1985–2007). I will even confess that many years ago when adopting a black child was only the most abstract of concepts for us, my husband pointed out the different hair and skin care needs of black children, and I pooh-poohed it. Isn’t that a paranoid stereotype? How different could it be? “Of all the things I don’t know about taking care of a baby,” I said, “that is way down the list of things I’m worried about!”

In a sense this is still true: I still have many more basic and urgent things to learn about caring for a baby! However, this is no longer way down my list of concerns. In fact, it’s been high enough on the list that I’ve actually learned a good deal already—chiefly, the importance that I keep learning. As white adoptive parents we hear over and over that hair is important in the African-American community—for a variety of cultural reasons—and that we must keep our children looking good and feeling that their hair and skin are beautiful. We fear the unsolicited scrutiny and hands on our children’s hair even as we secretly seek the ultimate stamp of approval: compliments from black women. We wonder if we will learn to braid and twist and cornrow well enough; we wonder how to tell her that the amount of kinkiness her hair has is just enough; and in a world where every girl’s sense of self is under fire, where white girls want to be tanner and black girls want to be lighter and every girl wants to be thinner or taller or sexier . . . we wonder if it will be enough.

Please watch the award-winning student film “A Girl Like Me” at the Media Matters Film Festival website. It is #2 in the boxes on the right side of the screen. (Number 1, “Slip of the Tongue,” is pretty dang good too.) And tell a girl you know she’s beautiful for something she thinks is not, for something outside of—or rather inside of—her body.

O God,
help me
to believe
the truth about myself,
no matter
how beautiful it is!

—Macrina Wiederkehr, “A Prayer to Own Your Own Beauty,” in Seasons of the Heart
(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 71.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Process after Referral

Or, Five Unknowns Don’t Make a Known

If you’re reading here you probably know that we’re waiting for our referral—waiting to receive The Call saying we’ve been matched with our child, for our turn to ooh and ahh over a couple unflattering photos of a baby in an oversized diaper and off-gender clothes being propped up in an orange plastic chair. But after that glorious day when we officially accept our referral, a few more things still have to happen before our little episode of Bringing Home Baby.

A big variable is Ethiopia’s three-month rule: if a child was found abandoned, they must be in the orphanage’s care for three months before being adopted in order to allow time for any extended family members to come forward and say they will take care of the child. Many of the children—perhaps most infants, though I’m not sure—have been abandoned, but I’ve never heard of anyone coming forward. Ethiopians do highly value children and many families care for extended family members, so if a child is abandoned, most likely the options have been exhausted and none of the family are able to help. An abandoned child is not left to die but left to be found—being taken in to an orphanage care center being by far their best chance at a better life. Babies can be legally relinquished to the government, such as at police station, but I believe this is culturally stigmatized, so they are often simply left somewhere busy where someone will find the child quickly. Perhaps the mother watches from a distance to make sure. I cannot fathom a life where this is your best option, but if you are dying in abject poverty, the unthinkable becomes an act of love.

An abandoned child must be in the orphanage for three months before court can take place. If a parent or other family member brings in the child, this waiting period is not necessary because they sign papers legally relinquishing their rights. When we accept our referral and any necessary wait time is up, documents are sent to the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) and a court date is set.

This court date is when we officially, legally become the child’s parents. It normally takes place about a month after referral, but Ethiopia made a new law in January (without warning—I’m pretty sure this is Madonna’s fault) saying that if the parents relinquished, they must appear in court date to confirm their relinquishment. I’m a little fuzzy on the details of this, but it’s apparently slowing things down a bit because agencies/orphanages have to find the parents again and bring them to Addis Ababa, even if they live days away. I’m not sure what happens if they can’t be located, are too sick to travel, or have died; perhaps other family members can appear instead. A court date can be unsuccessful if the case isn’t heard when scheduled (just happened to a bunch of folks I know) or more documents are requested for some reason. So once we get our referral we will start praying like crazy for successful court!

After a successful court date, we are legally parents, but an embassy date must be scheduled. When we travel to Addis, we will spend one day at the U.S. embassy getting a visa for our child. I believe this can’t happen sooner than twenty days after court. We plan our travel around this date.

The estimate used to be that we travel six to eight weeks after referral. Now court seems to be taking a little longer, so we’d better figure two months. Then there is the possible three-months-wait complication . . . and let’s not even talk about the fact that the Ethiopia courts completely shut down in August and September! This is why I quit counting weeks—it was actually the estimating and re-estimating of when we might travel that was making me nuts. Now, I am as optimistic as anyone, but do you see why I am shifting my expectations to June travel instead of May? Of course ye of greater faith are welcome to still root for May! But an awful lot of things will have to go right for that to happen. Some of them must be in motion already. I wonder what’s going on there on the other side of the world.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Prayer for Responsibility for Children

I do have many thoughts which I hope to blog soon. Until then, think on this--and pray.

      A Prayer for Responsibility for Children

      We pray for children
      who sneak popsicles before supper,
      who erase holes in math workbook,
      who can never find their shoes.

      And we pray for those
      who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
      who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
      who never "counted potatoes",
      who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
      who never go to the circus,
      who live in an X-rated world.

      We pray for children
      who bring us sticky kisses and fistfulls of dandelions,
      who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

      And we pray for those
      who never get dessert,
      who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
      who watch their parents watch them die,
      who can't find any bread to steal,
      who don't have rooms to clean up,
      whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
      whose monsters are real.

      We pray for children
      who spend their allowance before Tuesday,
      who throw tantrums in the grocery stores and pick at their food,
      who like ghost stories,
      who shove dirty clothes under the bed, and never rinse out the tub,
      who get visits from the tooth fairy,
      who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
      who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
      whose tears we sometimes laugh at,
      and whose smiles can make us cry.

      We pray for those
      whose nightmares come in the daytime,
      who will eat anything,
      who haven't ever seen a dentist,
      who aren't spoiled by anybody,
      who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
      who live and move, but have no being.

      We pray for children who want to be carried,
      and for those who must,
      for those we never give up on
      and for those who don't get a second chance.

      For those we smother...and for those who will grab
      the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Beware the 5 D’s

Once upon a time in a land called Higher Ground . . . an idea was hatched and a man named Jeff B. fell out of his chair because it was so awesome. Some youth leaders threw chairs and trash all over a room and played grinding music with strobe lights, a man named Steph VH spoke some wise words, and Destruction Night lived happily ever after in the youth ministry hall of fame. And because a wonderful woman named Sara emailed them to me, the 5 D’s lived on to remind me this week of truth:
  • DOUBT makes you question God’s work and his goodness
  • DISCOURAGEMENT makes you look at your problems rather than at God
  • DIVERSION makes the wrong things seem attractive so that you will want them more than the right things
  • DEFEAT makes you feel like a failure so that you don’t even try
  • DELAY makes you put off doing something so that it never gets done

I was definitely wrestling with a sumo-sized heap of Discouragement and Defeat after Tuesday’s call (Debacle?). Some days it just feels like no matter what you do, if you work hard and play by the rules, if you’re kind and reasonable and polite, if you prepare and save and sacrifice and jump through a thousand hoops, well, nothing happens. All you get is . . . tired. You wonder what you are thinking to take on this outrageous process called adoption and this monumental responsibility called parenting when you can’t even seem to handle your life as it is.

But then . . . you walk by the sea, you are offered a gift, you get the giggles, you listen to a friend. You find you have companions on the path, and you walk on. You determine that D is for DONE worrying about tomorrow’s troubles today, and lo and behold it feels much better than wallowing in destruction.






Note: I believe the 5 D’s were scammed from the Life Application Study Bible notes.
The others were gifts from friends.

Monday, March 12, 2007

An Appeal for Appeals Prayer

Please don’t take this as whining—I know we are extraordinarily blessed, and I know American Christians don't like to talk about money, although perhaps the world would be better off if we did—but we have a money/insurance-related issue for which I would like to ask for prayer. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I will have a conference call with an appeals panel from our health insurance company. Aaron had his eye surgery with a doctor in their “extended network” rather than his regular “preferred provided” doctor since (1) preferred provider doctor sent us to extended doctor and (2) extended doctor actually knew what to do with a Marfan’s patient and specialized in high-risk surgeries. The insurance company gives less coverage for extended doctors; this is my second level appeal for an exception.

Basically we are talking about the difference between us paying a depressing amount versus us paying an exorbitantly outrageously painful amount. The frustrating thing is how much we’ll have to pay even in the best case scenario. It’s discouraging watching our adoption funds disappear into a cloud of “coinsurance” (I mean the funds that we had before, not what we’ve raised since starting, which is set aside separately). And it makes me wonder how much we’ll end up paying for the extra checkups and labs our baby is sure to need when he/she gets home. But one thing at a time.

Please pray that I have clarity as I prepare to present our “case,” clear and convincing words, control over my emotions (unless they’re needed...), and peace. Having someone on the panel who has experienced needing specialists for a special condition wouldn’t hurt either. Thanks.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Geekwear for All Ages

I can't even decide which one I like best. Oh, our poor, poor child . . .

Saturday, March 03, 2007

No News Is Normal News

We are in the phase of our adoption where there's nothing to report that's of any interest to anyone. In the last couple weeks a number of people have asked, "How's your adoption process going?" or "Have you heard anything?" With a pregnancy you don't have any down time where your body's not doing anything. So somehow I sometimes feel like a schmuck saying no, there's nothing to do, nothing to hear. Just waiting. And expecting to wait a couple more months.

Now that our dossier is in Addis (since Dec. 22), we are waiting for the orphanage board to match us with a baby through their G-14 Classified super-duper mysteriously secret individual selection process. This presumably consists mostly of it being our turn to take the next infant under 6 months (which is the age we requested), but they like to make it sound like we're "personally matched" somehow. Since even our U.S. agency has no idea how they do this and other agencies use the same orphanage (it's a large system of centers), it's a surprise to the agency just as much as to us when the referral comes.

That means there's nothing to hear, no updates to be expected. Some parents get bent out of shape about this, but from the agency's perspective I can see why you'd focus your energy on other things than randomly calling parents to say, "Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I don't know a thing and I won't in the future." No news is normal news. They're working on it. Don't panic. (I think the agency-parent relationship is much like the publisher-author or editor-author relationship in some ways, but that's for another post.)

However, "just" waiting, as any adoptive parent will tell you, is not at all easy--though this not-counting thing is working pretty well for me so far. It also doesn't mean we're not doing anything to prepare. I have a to-do-before-baby list that's a mile long! Would you like a sample?
  • get Hep A and travel shots
  • apply for more grants
  • child care/CPR class
  • deal with insurance company re: surgery and adoption clinic
  • call OHSU adoption clinic about referral review, first checkups
  • paint upstairs, get bookshelves, move office
  • paint, curtains, etc. for baby's room
  • plan next garage sale
  • buy baby essentials
  • read baby care books in desperate attempt to learn what in the world to do with a baby!
While y'all are praying for our baby to (somehow miraculously) arrive in May, could you also pray for miraculous productivity and sanity in our house?