Monday, December 31, 2007

Feathering the Nest

For the last 9 days, Craig's parents have been visiting from New Mexico. We took advantage of Nana and Pa's Most Excellent Babysitting Service and went on an overnight jaunt to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Lancaster is an outlet shopper's smorgasbord featuring offshoots of some of our favorite stores. I practically had to rip Craig away from the Restoration Hardware outlet. He, in turn, had to drag me kicking and screaming out of the Pottery Barn Kids store - but not before I grabbed an armful of terrifically priced nursery bedding.

Here's the loot:

We picked up a crib bumper featuring a car motif, a matching crib sheet, cribskirt, and a coordinating picture frame for $68.00 We also picked up a matching set for the twin bed that we're going to move into the nursery. Our plan is to relocate Andrew into the baby's room when we have a lot of guests sleeping over and to later transition Szu-Chuan into that bed when he's old enough.

I figured that by the time Szu-Chuan gets home, he might soon start taking an interest in vehicles. We beat the construction truck theme to death in Andrew's room, and I couldn't find a full set of train-themed nursery bedding at the outlet. So, cars it was.

We plan to begin work on the nursery in January (eek! tomorrow!). I have to admit I am cringing a bit at the thought of the labor. I have horrible memories of working on Andrew's bedroom, scratching away at 3 layers of hemp-like wallpaper that had been painted over decades ago, all while 9 months pregnant. And that was just the beginning of the renovations that took 10 years off our lives and those of everyone else who was gracious enough to help us scrape, steam, and plaster.

Thankfully, the work on Szu-Chuan's room should be fairly simple: slap up some crown moldings, then paint.

(Heh, heh, heh... that's what we said about the last nursery.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Manifest of a Ziploc Bag

On our way to our baby is care package #2. All of our love and fondest wishes have been rolled, squished, and crammed into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Specifically, the contents take the form of ("Wonder Twin powers, activate!"):

(1) Disposable camera and (1) disposable video camera, this time with instructions on how to turn on the flash included.

(1) Bible Baby board book. I had every intention of sending a CD of myself reading it. Unfortunately, technology won out yet again and we couldn't locate the program on our computer with which to download recordings from the digital voice recorder. Next month...

(1) Gymboree one-piece jumper. I caved in. I bought him an outfit. And it has a panda bear on it. Perhaps I'm overthinking things, but I hope the caretakers at St. Lucy's don't think I'm trying to make a big deal out of Szu-Chuan's "Asian-ness" by buying him an outfit with a panda. It would be just as bizarre as a family in Tawian adopting a child from America and sending him clothes with bald eagles and Uncle Sam emblazoned on them. To be honest, I'm fond of panda bears and er... um... didn't want to pay the extra $8.00 for the other jumper I liked that wasn't on sale.

(1) Picture of Craig, Andrew, and myself, enlarged, laminated, and threaded through with ribbons for hanging on Szu-Chuan's crib. Thanks, Island Boy's mom, for the great idea.

(1) Crunchy butterfly. Pull the string and the toy wiggles. Squeeze the wings and they crunch. Even a child would enjoy this.

(1) Pacifier clip. If you look carefully at the last set of udpate pictures we received, you'll note the pacifier holder the caretakers have MacGyvered out of a burp cloth in order to secure Szu-Chuan's pacifier. It wraps all the way around his neck and has "strangulation hazard" written all over it (well, no it doesn't, but it very well should). Craig picked up a few clips that should be compatible with the pacifiers used at St. Lucy's. Szu-Chuan will be getting very familiar with these doo-dads over the next few months.

Fly away, overstuffed Ziploc bag, fly away! And perhaps this is wishful thinking, but may you be the last care package we send to our baby before we can go shower him with love in person.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Gotcha Day!

Just before Christmas two years ago, I endured a miscarriage. It was an upsetting incident, but with a highly active two year-old to care for and the busyness of the holidays, life marched on. When things had slowed down a few weeks later, I found myself on the computer researching international adoption. Over and over again, I was drawn to watching videos like the one above, compiled by Holt International Adoptions. Each time, the girl who seldom cries couldn't help but get "ugly-faced" with tears, to borrow my favorite phrase from the Lands. The gears of our adoption process had begun to turn.

One can chalk the emotion up to postpartum horomones or vicious dust allergies or something else, but here's what I think. I believe videos like these touch something deep within us because they hint strongly at our relationship with God. The Bible tells us that our heavenly Father has "predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will" and that "we ourselves... groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." There is something within us that desperately longs to be united with God and to experience his unconditional love.

Watching videos of children getting placed into the arms of their overjoyed parents is such a beautiful illustration of this principle. Like those dazed and tearful youngsters (typical Gotcha day behavior, I'm learning), we have no idea how much our eternal Father has longed for the day when at last we join his family. We don't realize the extent of the sacrifice he has made to procure us. Forget about the mounds of paperwork, the expensive agency fees, the long travel and waiting times; it all pales in comparison to the sacrifice of Jesus' life, willingly given so that we could be brought into his family. Did you notice the thrill on the faces of those adoptive parents? It only mimics the overwhelming joy God must feel when we accept that sacrifice on our behalves and enter into that family. What love, what safety, what wealth of goodness is ours to inherit!

Much more could be said about the adoption metaphor. But for now, I'll leave you with this thought: on the first Christmas day over two thousand years ago, the gears of our own adoption plan, already turning for countless millenniums, went into overdrive in the form of a little baby. This child, himself adopted into a human family, would one day grow into a man, and with the gift of his life for us, would victoriously throw open the doors for our own adoption into his family. What our souls have always longed for has became an attainable reality.

Merry Gotcha Day to us all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Smiles All Around

OK, I'll eat my words. In my last post, I was dubious about whether we'd receive Szu-Chuan's latest monthly update pictures and information. Guess what I found when I checked my email this morning? Three pictures of our little guy with a smile that could light up the world. Guess who else is smiling, too?

It's heartwarming to see October's sad face replaced with a happy countenance. Truly, there's nothing more gratifying to a parent than to see one's child laughing.

On a side note, it's also useful to have pictures that show what kind of pacifier he uses. I've been hearing from other parents who have travelled that the pacifiers given to the babies in Taiwan aren't sold in the United States. Now that I can see what they look like, I can shop for something that is remotely similar. I also plan to take Dayla's advice and buy as many of them as we can once we're in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, the pictures didn't come with any updated medical information; this will follow once Laura is able to ascertain the correct date of the pictures. FFC was expecting to receive November's updates from St. Lucy's but instead were sent a batch of pictures that were date stamped in December (yesterday, actually).

In her email, Laura also verified that St. Lucy's has received all of our paperwork. We're still awaiting news of when our case officially entered the Taiwanese courts.

In the meantime, we're delighted to receive this early Christmas gift. I try to use emoticons sparingly, but at times like these, I think it's appropriate to bust out with a :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Lowdown

I've digressed a bit lately. In case you've been wondering what's been going on with the adoption, here's the lowdown:
  1. We're still awaiting news of when our case has gotten logged into the Taiwanese courts. Laura at FFC tells us that this information should be included with Szu-Chuan's December 2007 update.
  2. We still haven't received our November 2007 update with his pictures and basic health information (height, weight, head circumference). It's been 20 days since November (but who's counting?). St. Lucy's must be very busy. Also, with the FFC office closing for two weeks over the holidays, it's uncertain whether we will receive the information by month's end.
  3. We've sent St. Lucy's a request to run several additional medical tests on Szu-Chuan. These were suggested by Dr. Farber, our adoption physician. Some of them are simply standard components of well-baby checkups in the United States. One or two are specific to a medical condition that a member of his extended family has.
  4. We've also sent St. Lucy's a list of roughly 20 questions we hope they can answer about Szu-Chuan, his birthfamily, and other circumstances relating to his adoption in case he wants to know one day.
  5. Our little guy turned 5 months old yesterday. Happy 5 months old, sweetie!
  6. And yes, we're still laboring over his first and middle names. Sandy, our neighbor from New Jersey who's pediatrician in New York City, tells horror stories of parents with similar indecisiveness. They end up defaulting their child's name to whatever the hospital types onto the paperwork: twins named Female and Male (pronounced "Fuh-ma-lay" and"Ma-lay") or "Boya" and "Boyb" (aka, "Boy A" and "Boy B"). Come to think of it, Male is not too bad of a name. I should add that one to our name poll.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

After you've finished merging your head and those of everyone you love onto the body of a 4" dancing elf, try this next one. Go to and play their addictive vocabularly game. For every word whose definition you guess correctly, the site donates 20 grains of rice through the United Nations to people in need worldwide. At last, here's your chance to put to use those words that scored big points on the SAT but marked you as an oddball if you ever tried to use them in real conversation.

Based upon the words you're able to define correctly, the site adjusts the difficulty of the words you're given next. It rates them on a scale of ease, with 50 being the hardest. So far, I've accumulated 3,020 grains and can't get past a level 48. Give it a try and let me know how you did.

Monday, December 17, 2007

And They Dance, Too!

If you haven't gone to the Office Max "Elf Yourself" website and played around with it, you're missing out on a good chuckle. My sister, Diane, sent us her family's version and of course, I couldn't resist fiddling with the program and adding in our own Thing One and Thing Two.

What can I say? Our boys are talented.

Chick Magnet

Psst... don't tell our baby, but here's what we got him for Christmas. It's a Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Kitchen. Five months ago, I found it for a great price in a store and decided that referral or no referral, it was coming home with me.

This hulking mass of molded plastic (sorry, planet!) comes complete with bleeping lights and songs that will aggressively imbed themselves in our subconscious, never to exit.

Sure, the package claims the toy teaches the alphabet, colors, and blah, blah, blah. But did you know it's also a chick magnet? Think about it: what woman doesn't love a guy who can cook? (I know I had to keep wiping the slobber off my face when I found out that Craig was handy in the kitchen.) So, like a good mommy, I'm giving Szu-Chuan a headstart, not that he'll really need one, that cutiepie.

Hannah Claire, Princess Fadely, and all you other little girls waiting in the wings - watch out. He's got a spatula and he's not afraid to use it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What's in a Name?

Many people have asked us what we have decided to name our son. Well, um.... er.... we're still working on the first name. (Actually, I've already made up my mind and Craig is still pondering it.)

We are, however, certain of what his middle name will be. We strongly suspect that his Chinese name, Szu-Chuan, was given to him by his birthmother. We'd like to honor that and keep it as part of his name.

According to my mother, the first part of his name, "Szu" means "Sent" or "Given." The latter half means "Whole" or "Complete." Within the second half is the character for "gold." Altogether, my mother assures me that it is a very well-selected name (you go, birthmother!) I have to agree. I like the idea of Szu-Chuan being a gift from God to make our family complete. And hey, if he winds up a prosperous guy one day, may he have the humility and wisdom to use those resources well.

Craig and I are toying with the idea of re-spelling his Chinese name. Technically, the English spelling is incorrect. The name should be pronounced "Szu-Chien," not "Szu-Chuan." (If you can read the pinyin next to the Chinese characters, you can get a better idea of where the accents fall.)

On one hand, it feels a bit odd to change the spelling of his name. In some strange way, I feel like we'd be tampering with the significant part of his life that is represented by his time in the orphanage. Would it trouble our son one day when he's older? Would he resent us for it?

On the other hand, when you think about it, the English spelling is really quite arbitrary. I doubt the birthmother was responsible for it. Would it bother her if we re-spelled it? I don't think so. I'm guessing she would just want it pronounced correctly.

If we left the name as-is, our son would be consigned to having his middle name mispronounced all his life. Those of us with unconventional names know how much of a nuisance this can be. My mother for one claims that if she could have a re-do, she'd have her last name re-spelled in a very simplistic "Western" way. I don't half blame her; I could probably count on one hand the number of times people unfamiliar with our name have actually pronounced it correctly.

So, "Szu-Chuan?" "Szu-Chien?" "Su-Chien?" "Suchien?"

What do you think?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Lights, Camera, Translation!

I don't know about you, but a few pictures of our child per month are just not enough. By the time Andrew was a year old, I must have taken at least 1,000 photos. I kid you not. It saddens me to think we might only have just a small handful of images of our son from his pre-adoptive life to share with him when he's older. (Yes, I know... as the second child, he'll wind up getting short-changed in the family photo albums; it's bound to happen.)

But for now, send in the single-use cameras! We mailed one to St. Lucy's in our last care package and plan to send more with each month's shipment. They're no substitute for actually having him home and blinding him with our camera flash every time he gets pureed carrots on his nose or does that irresistibly cute smirk. But such are the sacrifices of adoptive life.

For anyone who plans on sending disposable cameras to their child's orphanage, here's something that may be of use. My mother was gracious enough to translate instructions for the caregivers on how to turn on the flash and operate the cameras.

Note that the instructions are specific to the Kodak Single Use Digital Camera and the CVS One-Time Use Video Camcorder, both of which can be purchased at CVS.

And while you're at it, here's a printable coupon good for $2.00 off at CVS through January 30, 2008 (thanks, Soo-Jin!) This coupon can be re-printed and re-used several times.

Hopefully these instructions will help yield some better-quality pictures of your little one that will be meaningful to your whole family one day.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hastening the Day

There are very few things adoptive families can do to speed the day when they travel to pick up their child. Most of the time is spent waiting and wondering and learning the hard way to trust in God's wise timing. This week, however, Craig and I reached one of those rare points where the ball was back in our court, so to speak. Believe you me, we did everything in our power to hit that ball back as hard and as quickly as we could.

Last Friday, FFC FedExed us 12 documents. After numerous phone calls and emails with the agency and three other offices, we managed to piece together what we had to do with all the paperwork. (Each state has its own peculiar procedures and woe to you if you don't follow them down to the letter!) We spent the last four days dodging in and out of notary offices, two different county courthouses, the Taiwanese "embassy" (TECO) in New York City, and a bank. We drove a combined total of 10 hours beset by snow half of the time, missed one and a half days of work, spent over $8,000 in preliminary agency, notary, and authentication fees (gas and mileage not included), made photocopies until we were bleary-eyed, and wrangled a restless 4 year-old who was none too happy to be dragged along to many of the destinations.

Anyone who thinks that adopting a child is easier than giving birth has got it all wrong (and this coming from someone who delivered a child painkiller-free). Either way, at the end of the day, we're thankful to report that all of the paperwork was duly signed, sealed, and delivered. Yes, it was a very crazy week, but when we look at the picture of our baby's sweet face, we'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Monday, December 3, 2007

10 Things You Always Wanted to Know but...

One of the things I appreciate most about other families' adoption blogs is the wealth of information they contain. Adopting a child two continents and an ocean away can sometimes feel like finding your way through a poorly lit room with only a cigarette lighter to guide you (which, incidentally, is how we saw and settled upon our first apartment in New York City.)

Each adoption agency working with Taiwan has its own procedures and criteria. They each work with different orphanages which operate according to their own rules. Add to that the different governmental hoops families must jump through on both the U.S. and Taiwan sides. Considering all of this, whatever information an adoptive parent can piece together from the sources available is golden.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to chat at length with Laura at FFC. I barraged the woman with a ton of questions that we had about the referral process. Thankfully, she was game enough to respond. With hopes that I might be able to shed some light for other families and anyone else interested in the nitty gritty details, I thought I'd post some of the questions I asked and the answers I received. Much of the information is specific to FFC families only and/or to children residing at St. Lucy's.

Q: Why do infants get referred after several months of being born?

A: The directors at St. Lucy's prefer to wait at least 60 days in order to better evaluate the children for health and other issues. In some cases, the social worker goes through counseling with the birth family during this time. With the amount of paperwork they have to process, St. Lucy's staff can get overworked. They may not always be able to notify agencies of referrals the moment they become available.

Q: How are the children matched with their adoptive families at St. Lucy's?

A: FFC sends St. Lucy's the homestudies of the next few families at the top of their waiting lists. When appropriate children come up for referral, the staff carefully considers the family's suitability for the child. Because St. Lucy's is a Catholic institution, they commit each child and his/her prospectivce family to prayer prior to making a decision.

Q: When should we expect to receive updates on our child during the waiting process?

A: St. Lucy's aims to provide updates during the last week of each month. These should include the child's height, weight, head circumference, and two to five pictures. Recently, they have started sending medical checklists with more detailed information on the child's milestones (ex., how many new teeth have come in, when the child learned to sit) and any other relevant details (ex., illnesses, doctors' visits). It is not unusual for St. Lucy's to be late in delivering the monthly updates to FFC.

Q: Will we be updated on the status of our court process?

A: No. While families with children in the Chung Yi orphanage may get updates on how their cases are progressing, St. Lucy's doesn't provide updates until a case reaches the final ruling stage.

Q: What's the likelihood that we will have a chance to meet the birthmother while in Taiwan?

A: About one third of families have this opportunity. As recently as 9 months ago, St. Lucy's had put an end to birthmother meetings because of the emotional stress the meetings placed up on the women, many of whom were very young. However, they have recently re-allowed them, provided the birth family agrees to the meeting.

Q: Is my child's name one that the orphanage gave or did the birthfamily give it to him?

A: For children who don't have a name already, St. Lucy's provides a name. Children born the same year all receive the same first half of a name, i.e., "X-1, X-2, X-3." (Based on that, I think it's fair to assume our son's name was given by his birthfamily.)

Q: Can my relatives in Taiwan visit our child and take pictures of him?

A: St. Lucy's point of view is that the child doesn't legally belong to the adoptive family until the final decree. The answer to this question should be viewed in this light.

Q: May I request that additional medical tests be run on my child?

A: Yes. St. Lucy's is willing to consider requests for additional medical tests, but they must be submitted through the agency in writing with the name of the physician making the request and a reason for them. Afterwards, it can take about 8 weeks for the tests to finally be run. Note that if the birthmother's blood tests don't reveal anything of concern, a blood test will not typically be run on the baby. Should a significant previously uncovered medical condition show up in the child after the referral has been accepted, a family may have the option of requesting a different referral.

Q: Are birthmothers at St. Lucy's aware of with whom their children are getting placed?

A: They are not given any details of the family until the case has reached the final decree stage in the courts. Information is then available only if the birthmother requests it.

Q: What are the rules for sending care packages to our child?

A: Packages are due at the FFC office no later than the last day of each month. All items must be comfortably condensed into a one gallon Ziploc bag. Do not overstuff it. St. Lucy's has plenty of clothing for babies. They are, however, in constant need of diapers. Right before travelling, FFC will ask families to bring with them to Taiwan a suitcase full of diapers (or whatever it is St. Lucy's might need at that time).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Szu-Chuan Sighting

I've been in contact with another Judy, who recently picked up her son, Eric, from St. Lucy's a week ago. While there, she remembers seeing Szu-Chuan lying in a bed on wheels. Some older babies who could walk were pushing him around. I don't know whether to be concerned or to laugh. I'd like to think the other kids were just executing a plan to bust our little guy out of the orphanage so he could come home to us quickly.

Thanks, Judy, for that precious tidbit of information and gong xi!