Monday, August 31, 2009

Second Week of School



Just between you, me, and the lamppost, I feel like I've gotten away with something here. Was it really just 5 weeks ago that we were all in China? Touring the Summer Palace,


spending all our days with total strangers,



including a daughter we had never met before?


Now we're home, as you well know, and while we haven't yet reached the point of totally-normal, can't-remember-life-without-her-ness, still.... Everyone is getting up each morning, eating breakfast and heading off to school, just like everything is, in fact, totally normal.

What is that the kids are calling it these days? The new normal?

We still have a lot of work to do with our integration project, of course, but I've been pleasantly surprised to find that the work fits in pretty well to our family life already in progress. And with the school thing going well, let's just say I'm having that "pinch me" feeling all over again.

So in addition to my mommy work, which is of course considerable, it looks like I'll have time for helping out around the family business, as well as losing what I have now come to think of as baby weight. During the June swine-flu-vigil I took to self-medicating with all sorts of over-the-counter stuff, if you know what I mean. Time to undo all that. 


Friday, August 28, 2009

The RJ Report



Just realized I had two posts in a row with no RJ news or photos, a circumstance upon which I expect her public will frown. This was taken last week, at her first checkup with our pediatrician. It went great, mostly because her big brother was along for a checkup as well, and set a good example, which she followed.

And this week? Overall, a very successful first week of school. I got an email from her teacher today saying that Rosemary is "always smiling" at school, and really, what more could I ask for?




The Opposite House



More catch-up stuff: I recall posting a couple of times on the Opposite House in Beijing, where we enjoyed great food, friendly service, western-style cocktails and international newspapers (oh, halleluja), but I just discovered some photos of it on my computer and thought I'd share. Didn't capture the striking exterior, but here are a couple of shots of the contemporary art within (the one below by Rosemary, who loved this piece). 


Below is  a photo snapped in the House's surrounding neighborhood, the Sanliturn District, which is a hotspot for shopping and bars.

Harper is Home!


I'm so happy for this family I can scarcely think of them without crying.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Too Cool for School?


Photo: RJ with new friends. Will they be the next hot indie girl band? One can only hope.

Today we dropped a happy girl off for her third day of kindergarten. Rosemary enjoyed our walk to school, pointing out things she could name in English, including "flower," and "tall" (a tree). At the classroom door she accepted a kiss on the forehead, allowed us a tiny little grin, and headed on in. 

As smooth as all this sounds, I should note that it took place after the abject failure of an earlier strategy to avoid going to school: nonviolent resistance. She pretended to be asleep when I opened her shutters, when I turned on her lamp, and even for awhile while I was changing her clothes. It took her dad popping in for a gentle tickle for her to finally give up the campaign. 

After that, everything was pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sorry About the Old Picture



Okay, she's only been with us 7.5 weeks, how old could it be? (I don't know, maybe 5 weeks?) But I figured if I waited to post until I had brand new pictures, it might be awhile. So on to the school update, I know some of you are waiting for that--she came out happy yesterday. Woke up sad today, refusing school. Lunged for her play clothes, instead of the remarkably-cute-considering-it-cost-$7 dress I had laid out. A standoff ensued.

But she went. And came out happy again today. Her teacher seems sweet. I'm sure it's only a matter of time until things normalize, school-wise. But I hate how much she is having to go through just now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Story in Pictures


I harbor not-so-secret dreams of being a photojournalist. Or better yet, a backpack journalist, able to hop on a plane to cover a story anywhere around globe with just my video camera and laptop. 


Obviously, now is not the season for that, as I am a little busy at home, and as I haven't even figured out how to keep the lens of my Nikon from fogging up as we exit our house for the saturated air of Houston in August (see photo above).


But I think I was able to capture in these photos a little of what happened today. As my brave kindergartener got closer and closer to the schoolhouse, she became less and less sure she wanted to be there. Above, she's watching her dad point out her name on her locker. Below, expressing displeasure at being photographed at such a moment.


As usual, her steely resolve to prosper in any situation prevailed, and she marched inside, hands on her hips, or at least that's how I remember her standing there--surveying the classroom she had been inside once before--when we skulked off to the parents' coffee in the cafeteria. 

I bet she'll have a good day.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flashback




Rosemary has been with us seven weeks today, and things are changing fast around here. She's finally seeing fit to break out some English words and phrases--while still speaking lots of Chinese, thereby continuing our education in Mandarin, which we will formalize with family lessons sometime soon. 

She's been swimming. She's met and made fast friends with her cousins. She's been to Target (see photo above). She's visited her new school and met her teacher, who she'll be spending all day with as of....

tomorrow.

Tomorrow she starts kindergarten, and she's looking forward to it. The "first day" outfit we selected together is on her bed, the Hello Kitty backpack is ready to go,and I've just about hacked my way through all the registration forms I need to fill out. It all seems a long way from the Poly Plaza Hotel in Beijing, getting our temperatures checked by the manager as part of their anti-swine-flu campaign. Which, of course it is.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sorry I Haven't Written--We've Been Busy Integrating


It's not always pretty, integrating a new family member, whether they be newborns (been there) or kindergarteners (now I've been there too). But it's happening, and for that we are thankful. Out of respect for her privacy, I probably won't be sharing many details of our daughter's adjustment process, except to say that she is doing great emotional work and we are proud of her**. Though these moments can be trying, most of the time she is still more fun than a barrel of monkeys, as I believe the kids are saying these days. Her toughness and spunky spirit are serving her well during this time of transition...


In other news: this morning Rosemary sent her brothers off to their first days of first and third grade, respectively. She looks forward to her first day of kindergarten at our neighborhood school on Monday, and when asked by an interpreting friend what she'd like to be called there, she chose Rosemary. So Rosemary it is, unless and until she changes her mind...


Oh, and what is she eating in this picture, you ask? Chicken noodle soup that she garnished with a bowlful of hardboiled eggs while I wasn't looking. Impressive.

**But if you are adopting/have adopted an older child and want to talk, email me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brunch


My sister-in-law and her new husband are having us all over for brunch again. They are settling in to their lovely house and making the most of their new dining room set. This is an example I intend to follow once we are out of our temporary housing and into a place that has more dining room chairs than people living there.


I still haven't gotten used to the sheer numbers of people that surround our dinner table each night. Because we recently engaged an au pair to help us manage the hordes of children we now have, we are six for dinner almost every evening. That's up 50% from four for dinner, mere months ago. That's a lot of people to feed, and I love it when others participate in this feeding activity.


And when you add good company and conversation? Really, really love it.


Isn't it great to have family in town?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rain

Things in Houston have gone back to normal this week, with a couple of days of the summer afternoon thundershowers we are used to around here, but have been missing lo these last few months.
And this time, I got to sit on the front porch swing and watch them blow in with a newly minted Texan. She seemed startled at first, but then quickly developed an appreciation for the drastic change in the weather.
Please be aware, however, that our whole week has not been permeated with such cuteness. It has been a little rough. If you have kids, then my week has not been so unlike yours. But this was a fun afternoon.

PS: That stuff on her face is face paint from the children's museum.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Beating the Beijing Quarantine, Part II

Part I is here.

So we decided to take the boys to Beijing with us and risk the quarantine. We implemented our own mini-quarantine the week before we left, keeping them home from day camps, playdates and whatnot to prevent them from picking up any bugs. Since what you really want while you're getting ready for a life-changing, 24-day trip to China is a couple of little boys running around underfoot.

But whatever, we got packed and made it onto the plane, armed with large amounts of Motrin on the advice of a doctor friend who said it was the best for masking symptoms of any illness we might develop en route to China. I was prepared to pass it out like party favors to anyone needing masking themselves.


As it happened, our cabin was largely empty (thanks for the upgrade miles, parents!) so we weren't sitting near too may other people, thereby decreasing the number of possible guilt-by-association contaminants. I started feeling pretty confident about our prospects, sure we were going to skate by.


The flight was as good as a 13-hour flight can be. Which is to say pretty darn good for a lazy person such as myself, whose highest aspiration is to be left alone so I can sit still and read things, and sometimes write things. Due to the video-and-games-on-demand at each seat on our huge Continental plane, I was able to do just that.


But an hour or so before we landed, the nerves returned. I started chatting up our flight attendant about what was going to happen. She described the masked, uniformed women who would board the plane, aim a thermometer gun at each of our foreheads, and escort anyone with an elevated temperature off to quarantine.

Wow, I said, that sounds scary. How often do they get someone?

Almost every flight, she said. One time they took a whole crew.

Oh okay, hi panic, welcome back! I've missed you!

So I panic, we take Motrin, we land in Beijing. The pilot announces that after landing we must remain in our seats while the Chinese government completes a "health survey," which will take about half an hour. While this is going on, we can busy ourselves completing our immigration forms, including an additional health form designed just for H1N1 purposes.


Soon after the doors open, half a dozen young women wearing the official health survey wardrobe enter the plane. They move quickly up and down the aisles. My son, who has hay fever, starts sneezing. I am woozy with dread. I'm wishing I had asked the flight attendant when in the process they remove you if you flunk the health survey. Right when they deem you dangerous? Or at the end? If they pass through our cabin without stopping, are we out of the woods, or not?


I don't think it was a whole 30 minutes, maybe more like 15, before the pilot announces, "The health survey is complete. Let's go!" with an excitement and enthusiasm I hadn't heard in his voice during the previous 13 hours of announcements.

We made it. Our entire plane was cleared to enter China. It wasn't the last time we had our temperature taken, though. Heat sensors in the airport re-scanned us, and we had our temperature taken twice in the lobby of our hotel by the manager. More on the surveillance strategies and information control policies of the Chinese government to come.

Unspeakably Sad

A couple travels to China to adopt an adorable four year old girl, and after obtaining legal custody, she tests positive for TB and is denied entry into the US for 2-6 months.

At which point, because they have jobs and another child waiting at home, they are forced to leave her in China. With a kind family that they manage to scare up to care for her while they are at home.

Raising Devils has a good quick and dirty summary of why this is unbelievably unfair. This video of the little girl being separated from her daddy is one of the saddest things I have ever seen. He called it devastating, and it is. Don't watch if you don't want to be devastated.

The slightly good news is that the Washington Post ran a story about this family yesterday, and the AP has picked it up. To prevent this from happening to more families, urge your representatives in Congress to vote for the Foreign Adopted Children Equality (FACE) Act., S.1359, H.R.3110, which will give adopted children abroad immediate US citizenship.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Vignette

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Beating the Beijing Quarantine


More catchup work today. The topic? The Beijing quarantine, which is now infamous among travelers to China, but about which I said little on this blog for a handful of different reasons.

Though I posted on the threat of a quarantine and linked to the related State Department warning, it was a cursory treatment and indicated nothing of the real threat I felt, nor of the miserable couple of days I went through trying to decide whether to expose our young boys to the threat of detention and forcible medical treatment by an authoritarian government.

Here's what happened. Eight days before we left to pick up our daughter, we got an email from our agency about the new State Department travel warning. The email started like this:
We wanted to update our families who will soon be traveling to China that the U.S. Department of State has issued the following travel alert for U.S. citizens preparing to travel to China:

Current quarantine measures in China include placing arriving passengers who exhibit fever or flu-like symptoms into seven-day quarantine. The selection process focuses on those sitting in close proximity to another traveler exhibiting fever or flu-like symptoms or on those displaying an elevated temperature if arriving from an area where outbreaks of 2009-H1N1 have occurred.
This means that if you are sitting near someone on the plane who has swine flu or even just a fever, they can detain you at the airport, or COME GET YOU FROM YOUR HOTEL for up to seven days after you land in China. I was already aware of this, as it had happened to another family who brought their kids to China and whose blog I was obsessively following.

But the State Department warning went even further than that, though at first I almost missed it. When you're adopting, you get so many red-tape related emails that it's easy to start skimming them. You're so busy, sometimes even very important details fall through the cracks. Details like this, which I grasped on my second or third read through:
In some instances, children have been separated from their parents because either the parent or the child tested positive for 2009-H1N1 and was placed in quarantine for treatment. This situation presents the possibility of Chinese medical personnel administering medications to minors without first having consulted their parents.
Oh, and just to up the ante a little bit, if your children are separated from you forcibly in China, the conditions may not be very salutary, and the U.S. government will not be able to help you:
The Department of State has received reports about unsuitable quarantine conditions, including the unavailability of suitable drinking water and food, unsanitary conditions, and the inability to communicate with others. The U.S. Embassy will be unable to influence the duration of stay in quarantine for affected travelers.
Oh, my word. I was sick. Literally nauseated. Immobilized. Berating myself for getting my family into what felt like a no-win situation. I didn't want to risk quarantine with the boys, but for their sake and for their new sister's, I didn't want to make this trip of a lifetime without them. There were no good options, but the more I agonized, the more clearly I realized: the only way out of this is through it. The only way to get everything we wanted was to aim high and persevere. We just had to keep going.

Check back tomorrow for Part II, in which we undergo the "Bejing health survey."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pictures


My littles and I had a nice time walking around the block tonight. Afterwards the light was just so, and JuenJuen was looking especially cute, so I thought I'd grab the camera for the first time in awhile and take a few shots.



Which she would have none of. She ran back in to get the video camera, and we had a face-off.

Every time I would try to bend over and get an angle on her face withouth her camera in it, she would do the same, ending in quite a fit of contortion for both of us.


So no glamour shots were taken. Eventually her brother got mad that he wasn't in on the action, and launched a bit of spittle our way. So in this manner our fun ended....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Staring Contest


Apropos of nothing, the cheapest, funniest party concept ever.

Photo by Joana Goddard.

Summer Vacation

I've read a few things lately about how summer vacation is an outmoded convention based on the work schedules of farming families, or some such. Opponents of the three-month vacation argue that students, especially those from low-income households whose parents can't afford enriching activities, lose too much ground over the summer. Proponents rightly wax poetic about the freedom of long summers spent relaxing with family and playing outdoors.

Well, here in Texas, we've got the relaxing with family thing down, but the playing outdoors? Unless you're dashing straight from your car into a swimming pool (one that is large and deep enough not to have been heated to bathwater-temps by the relentless sun), then no, we're not playing outdoors. And at the risk of being impolite, once you've relaxed with your nuclear family for eight straight weeks or so, mostly inside the confines of your own house, it gets just a little bit less relaxing.

So I've been daydreaming about a year-round school schedule, in which we could take breaks throughout the year, including during some times when we could actually enjoy the outdoors in our often lovely city. In the meantime, though, we've had to get creative with our air-conditioned entertainments.*
video

*Thanks to JuenJuen for creating this game, which is sure to sweep the nation. Better get a patent quick....

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Bit More About Scoliosis


There are two kinds: congenital and ideopathic. We learned yesterday that Juen has the former kind, which is generally more difficult to treat. But not always; apparently it depends on the individual situation. Which we will know much more about post-MRI (see below). We're most likely looking at one surgery, followed by outpatient procedures every six months or so.

This picture was taken the same night we got home from China, sometime between 12 and 1 am. If you are from Texas, you might understand the joy that filled my heart as I saw her put on these vintage boots, which both my boys have worn in their turn. They've been sitting in the closet of our no-longer-spare bedroom, waiting for a beautiful little girl to come give them a third act. It only took about 3 hours for her to discover them and wrestle them on, right after she finished accessorizing her pajamas with a printed cotton dress and a tiara. That's my girl.

Scoliosis

This week we're having JuenJuen's scoliosis assessed to figure out how we're going to treat it. Yesterday we met with her doctor, and were amazed when we discovered they could work us in the next day for the MRI and other scan she would need to determine the exact course of treatment. That's wonderful, I said, but we need a Mandarin translator. Can you get us one by 7 am tomorrow?

Yes, said the scheduler. Really? Yes, said the nurse I talked to next, who I checked with just to make sure. "The translator will follow you all the way through."

So we dragged her out of bed to get down to the med center by 7 am, which was sad and hard, as she guessed correctly that this was where we were bringing her, arrived at the hospital and can you guess what happened next?

No translator.

So we called our sweet friend and colleague Ann who did a little impromptu translating over the phone, even though I'm pretty sure we woke her up. Everything ended up going okay, considering. She is such a brave, brave little girl.

And now, since this has been a stressful week so far, a little comic relief:

video