Thursday, May 31, 2007

Just when you think the end is near... get an email from your dossier service with a brand new set of things to do. Kate in New York wrote today with the following list of documents that need to be completed and notarized. I've deleted all the explanatory info beneath each item:

1. Written Statement: about why we want to adopt, how we'll be good parents to an Ethiopian child, etc.
2. FBI ClearanceHomestudy Documents
3. Medical Certificates: yay! I get to go back to the doctor!
4. Employment Letters –
5. Homemaker Letter – You can call me Suzy if I can call you Al.
6. Life Insurance
7. Bank Letter
8. Reference Letter: if you are one of the good people who've already done a reference for us, we may be asking you to do yet another, this one so sorry.
9. Photos: at least 10, of very specific things, like the baby's future room. Ours is currently being used for our suitcases and the overflow of Ted's closet (that man has some clothes, let me tell ya).
10. Passport size photos
11. Additional Documents: this was my favorite, just to let us know that more could be added along the way...we can cross things off the list just to have it replaced with something else. Yay!

A ways back, I wrote about a meltdown that came as a result of looking at what needs to be done for the foreign dossier, so I knew this was coming. I guess I'm just surprised by how much it feels like we're repeating ourselves with documents, this time having to go the extra step of having things notarized.

Wah, wah, wah, I know, I know. I don't mean to be such a baby about it. All adoptive parents go through this. But boy, it feels excessive. This is what we'll be working on tomorrow.

On a good note, we were visited by Cindy, the friendly Social Worker, today for our home study, and it was a really great experience. She's a laugher and so expressive! It made talking to her and answering her many questions actually enjoyable. "Ooh, what face will she make if I say this?"
A few good, random things:

--I read through the book Parenting Your Adopted Child by Andrew Adesman, M.D., yesterday and can highly recommend it. What I liked most about his approach was that he tries to empower parents to make the right choices for their child. So much of the literature out there on adoption is one-sided, often polar opposites and/or preachy, telling parents the right or wrong way of doing it. He's also very practical, debunking adoption myths, and giving snappy (yet kind) come-backs to intrusive questions and unsolicited advice. Cool book.

--Our deck now has stairs going down to the yard.

--One of the final episodes of Studio 60 is on tonight, finally. We're fans of the show, and I got to watch a few scenes being filmed earlier this year when I sneaked into the soundstage. We even got a couple of pictures, though we probably weren't supposed to.

--My 13-year-old niece told me today via facebook that she has a boyfriend? What's that about? Gotta do some investigatin'...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Yes, I see the irony in this sleep problem.

Those of you who get into bed each night, turn off the lights, and fall asleep within the average range of 7-9 minutes should consider yourselves absolutely blessed. There are lots of us who can't.

My problems started about six months into wedded bliss. Before this, I'd been sleeping in various stages of 'alone-ness' the older I got. As a child, I'd always had my own bed, sometimes sharing a bedroom with my sister. When I was in college, I had my own dorm room, one of the perks of being an RA (excluding my one semester--my first--with a roommate). My first year in Slovakia I shared a room with a family's teenage daughter for several months before they adopted another, which is when I got booted to the couch until I found an apartment. In this apartment, I had my own room, though I did have a roommate. The old windows in that apartment in my bedroom would pretty often blow open during that winter, letting in freezing gusts of wind and snow, so I often would sleep on the swanky green couches in the living room. I always slept well through all of this.

In grad school, I rented one wing of a house, a house full of pets. Susan, the owner of the house, had dogs and birds. She even ran a pet-sitting business on the side, so sometimes, we'd have overnight pet-guests with us, adding a bit more to the animal chaos. The dogs were pretty okay; the birds were the problem, specifically this huge white demon-bird named Clementine who Susan had rescued from negligent owners. She'd taken pity on the bird, not realizing how evil she really was. Clementine had an unfortunate mix of three talents: the ability to mimic most sounds, razor sharp hearing, and the ability to convincingly fool her prey into thinking she was anything other than the devil himself.

I would often come home from class after Susan had gone to bed and sit in the living room, near Clementine's cage, to check my email on Susan's computer. Despite her cage being covered for the night, she would always wake up when I came in, no matter how silent I was. She'd then start mimicking any sound I was making, including sniffs and little clearings of the throat. If I stayed there for too long, she'd get upset and start squawking. And people, the only other place this squawking will be heard is upon crossing the river Styx, into the belly of Hades, amidst wailing and gnashing of teeth.

When Clementine squawked, the dogs would start barking and Timmy, the cute bird, would start talking. It riled everyone up, and I'd just slink away defeated to my part of the house, muttering under my breath all the delicious ways I could off that bird.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Clementine would lunge to bite if you got too close.

The point of all this is that when the animals would get going in the mornings before I was up, I was somehow able to sleep through it. Sure, I'd wake up for a moment, but when they got quiet again, I went back to sleep.

For the three years after grad school, I lived by myself in an apartment in Slovakia during a time I guess I would call the golden age of my sleeping habits. I could always sleep. There was something so cozy and secure about that apartment, or 'flat' as I usually called it there. Others noticed it as well; my friends would come over and often take naps.

Then I got married and things started to change. Everything was fine for the first six months or so. I guess sleeping with another person not just in the room with me but in the same bed
felt novel and cool at first, sort of like, "Look Ma! I'm a grown-up! I share a bed with a man!" While on our honeymoon in Italy, we discovered the wonder of earplugs at a hotel we stayed in our first night there. It helped block out the snoring, and I slept fine.

I think the real problems started when I signed on to teach a 7:00 am ESL class while we were living in Los Angeles. I had to be in bed early enough each night to get up by 5:30 on the three mornings a week I taught. I know lots of people get up that early and earlier; I'd even done it myself through many different points in my life. I'd taught 7:00 am classes in Slovakia plenty of times. What started happening though is that I'd fall asleep okay but then get woken up at some point later when Ted would get into bed or start snoring. In the past if I'd gotten woken up, I could fall back to sleep--now I couldn't. I still don't know why.

So after enough times of being woken up and not falling back to sleep, I started worrying about being woken up and not falling back to sleep, so much so that I wouldn't fall asleep in the first place. I'd just lay there, dead-tired, not sleeping, wondering when Ted was going to come to bed or when he was going to start snoring. I'd end up having to get up to go to work having slept 2-3 hours sometimes. I felt like one of the living dead.

Anyway, this went on all semester and I think it triggered this thing in my brain that I now can't shut off. I've had enough living-dead days now to make my brain whisper to me many nights, "If you don't go to sleep now, you're going to have a zombie day better go to sleep're gonna be tired've got an important thing going on tomorrow..." and on and on. I know how neurotic this sounds, but I've talked with a surprising number of people who've had similar experiences.

It feels involuntary. It really is like a switch I don't know how to turn off. I even went to see a couple of therapists about it, one session a piece. The first one wanted to talk about my childhood (imagine that), and I think he was pretty good, but our insurance won't cover him, so that was the end of that. The second therapist was here in our neighborhood (I actually walked to his office), but ended up telling me things like, "Make sure your bedroom is dark. Don't excercise right before bed. Wear earplugs. Here's a book on snoring for your husband." No freakin' duh. I didn't go back to him.

So where things stand now is that the quality of my sleep comes and goes in phases lasting a couple of weeks at a time. Sometimes, I'll sleep in the guest room if I'm in a bad phase, even taking one of my precious Lunesta to push me over the edge, but at $5 a pop, I dole them out slowly. It feels like paying the cost of a movie ticket to sleep for eight hours. And yes, I do see the irony in the fact that our mortgage is mostly being paid of late by a company that makes a sleep-aid. Friends have suggested that the company should give us free samples, and I say right on but...they haven't.

In good phases, Ted and I sleep in the same bed with no problems, though the conditions have to be perfect: earplugs, fan for white noise, other thing my sister thinks is hilarious. I discovered this past December while sharing a bed for three weeks with my niece on our tour of Europe that I slept much better if I was far away from my niece's head (she's a heavy breather and occasional snorer), so we slept the whole time head-to-foot. It worked great.

So yes, this is how we sleep. Please do not judge. Do not make fun of me. At least we're in the same bed. When I told our friend Baui in Germany about my sleeping problems, his solution was that we should just have separate bedrooms. Apparently in Germany, lots if not most couples have their own rooms. It's completely normal to do this.

With a baby coming, I've thought a lot about this sleep issue and tried to think of a lasting solution. A friend at our church in Los Angeles hardly ever sleeps; during her pregnancy, she couldn't sleep and after the baby was born, she slept even less. So I guess some people just live with it. I hope to find a solution though. Ted says that he'll be the one to get up during the night with the baby so that I can sleep, and while it's sweet of him to offer, to me that feels unfair.

What I'm mostly hoping for is that I'll be so worn out, mentally and physically, from being a full-time mother that sleep will just overtake me, that it'll stop toying with me. I'm hoping we'll be friends again, that the Sleep Fairy will forgive me for whatever I did to offend her.
Real news about the adoption:

There isn't any yet, not really. I'm pretty sure that my AIDS test results got faxed (not verified yet with the home study agency), and we got our certificate of completion from the online course we took. We also have started mailing documents in to Kate in New York for our foreign dossier, and our social worker is coming tomorrow for our first four-hour visit. I'm so clueless about what that visit will be like. I can't believe it will take four hours. What can we possibly talk about for that long? We'll see.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Things that make me sublimely happy

Last year when a friend of ours, Carrie, got her doctorate, I had fun putting together a congratulations package inspired by Oprah's lists of her favorite things (and for the record, I'm not an Oprah fanatic--oh, that's a whole can of worms...nevermind). This package included lots of my favorite things, random items that are helpful to me in some way (like lemon furniture wipes) or simply bring me little bits of joy (a dancing, wooden ladybug toy). Putting together that box was one of the funnest, most satisfying things I did that year. Really.

So after the outpouring of venom in yesterday's post, I started to think positively about things in this world that work or simply things that bring me joy. I made a list throughout yesterday and today. I will share it with you now in the order I thought of them. Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen.

1. Comfy shoes. In Portland, you don't see much pointy-toed, high-heeled nonsense. You see Earth shoes, Keens, Birkenstocks, and Tevas, even with dresses. Awesome. This is my new favorite pair of shoes, my very first pair of Keens:

2. The Multnomah County Library. By visiting their website, you can search the catalogue and place any books you want on reserve, to be sent to your neighborhood branch. When it arrives, always promptly, you can go pick it up by going to the reserve shelves, finding you name, and checking the books out yourself with their self-serve kiosks. It's the most efficient system ever. I love it.

3. It's totally free to place as many photos as you want here and ordering is way cheap and way-er fast. Your pictures always come in sooner than you think they will. We even ordered our wedding photos here.

4. At Peets Coffee on NE Broadway in Portland, the workers are somehow magically able to remember names and they're always in a good mood. Maybe they're being fed crack in the backroom, but works.

5. Trader Joe's. Okay, okay, I know it's not original. Lots of people love Trader Joe's. It just took me an epic journey to first get there (a long story), so I now appreciate it dearly each time I get to go. Some of my favorite things: multigrain savory thins with the mediterranean humus, key lime pie (the best west of the Mississippi, for reals), their 99 cent greeting cards, the free samples and free coffee.

6. Strong, black tea. Last December while staying with a friend in Cambridge, I was the first one up (I owe that to residual jet-lag) and wandered into the kitchen to make something hot to drink and found a box of PGTips. I'd never heard of it before, so when I went on and on to my friend about how wonderful it is, he sort of rolled his eyes, saying, "Lori, it's nothing special--very much the working-man's tea." Since getting back to the U.S., I've seen it in specialty shops, marked up a decent amount. Today, I found the biggest box of it (or any tea for that matter) that I've seen in my life. It was a 240-count box! I laughed out loud when I saw it.

The other tea is Barry's, an Irish tea that we drank there three summers ago. I found it again at the Sleepy Monk on the Oregon coast. That, paired with a lemon biscuit brought much glee to my mouth. Now I can get Barry's at the Celtic shop in our neighborhood in Portland.

I could go on and on about tea. My friend Susan wrote a really good post about it. It's a special treat when Susan makes you a pot of tea, especially one kept warm with one of her home-made tea cozies.

7. My ice cream scoop. We'd been using this crap, plastic one from IKEA for a year that bent and would end up sending projectile scoops across the kitchen, so when we found an old gift card (wedding gift we lost) to Sur La Table, I got this heavy-duty pink one. It's more like an ice-cream shovel, which really...that's the way to eat it anyway.

8. Yankee Candles. I'm always amazed by how these candles replicate exactly various scents. Their 'wedding day' candle is freaky; how do they bottle (or wax?) that smell? Magical.

9. Oregon blackberries. In the summer, they're everywhere, even on the sides of the freeways (though I've heard you shouldn't eat those since they may have chemicals on them). They're so sweet and tart and wonderful. And they freeze perfectly. The trick is in remembering you have them in the freezer. We're now in a rush to eat ours from last summer before this year's ripen.

10. Goodwill. Oh, so many wonderful things about Goodwill. I've found so many awesome books there, a pair of Italian leather boots with real fur for $14, dishes, clothes, socks...on and on. After watching The Corporation last year, we made some lifestyle adaptations, one of mine being attempting to find the bulk of my clothes at Goodwill and other second-hand stores. It's that whole hippy, sustainable living deal that I think is a good thing.

Plus, and let me be honest here, I can be cheap, so finding deals makes me giddy.

11. The Office. I enjoy the American version a lot, but the BBC version is my first love. I can boldly say that I believe that The Office-UK is the best thing ever to air on television. Ever. I didn't believe it when an English friend who'd seen the whole series told me that I would cry at the conclusion, but oh my...both Ted and I were complete, blubbering messes when we got to the end. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are genious. (if you are in any way easily offended, do not watch this show; there's a considerable amount of off-color stuff there...and please don't judge me for loving the show).

12. This photo of my friend Kelly and Aaron Ruell, aka Kip from Napolean Dynamite. He was directing a commercial she was acting in. Kelly has one of the best laughs ever, and that woman can project! I just love the surreal-ness of this photo; you look at it and think "Holy Crap! What's going on here?"

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Improved Seething Skills

I let out my first top-of-my-lungs scream today when working on our paperwork. We have a couple of workers in our backyard today building a deck so who knows what they thought was going on inside the house.

As I write this, I have to concentrate on lifting my eyebrows and stretching out my mouth to get rid of the furrowed brows, cinched mouth look of a raging woman.

Here’s the low-down. On Friday, I left a detailed and apologetic message with my doctor’s nurse, explaining that either the results of my AIDS test or a letter from the doctor stating that I am free of AIDS needed to be faxed to our home study agency. (I explained the mishap requiring this extra step in an earlier blog entry). I waited all week for this to be sent, wanting to call on Tuesday but restraining myself so as not to nag.

Finally, today I decided to call to check on things. I asked to speak to my doctor’s nurse, and the receptionist told me that I could leave a message through voice-mail since she’d need to pull my chart. I explained I had left a message almost a week ago and no one had called back and that I wanted to talk to the nurse.

I said it nicely, I promise.

A few minutes later, the nurse got on the phone without saying who she was or any ‘hello’, no niceties at all, making sure she let me know from the very begining how much I was putting her out and possibly ruining her day.

I explained quickly what I needed, but she wasn’t listening. She was flipping through my chart. All she heard was something about a fax needing to be sent. So she says, “Oh okay, I see here where your document was faxed on May 15.”

I explained AGAIN that this was not what needs to be faxed and told her that I was trying to avoid launching into the whole saga of these documents. She said, “Oh, no, you don’t need to explain all of that, just what do you need?”

Well, I had told her three times already what I needed, so I was getting well-practiced in being as succinct as humanly possible, so as not to take up any more of her time.

She STILL DID NOT LISTEN. She said, “Okay, we’ll re-fax this document and it’ll be done before the end of the day.” I could have assumed she had heard exactly what needed to be faxed and that it would all be okay, but instead I said, “Before I go, let me just make sure the right thing is being faxed...”

She cut me off before I could say, “Only the results of the AIDS test.”

Apparently I made her mad by trying to make sure the right thing would be sent (does she think that all this is FUN for me?), so she took out the document and READ THE ENTIRE THING THROUGH TO ME in rapid fire beginning with, “This is what we’re going to fax.”

It was at this point that my heart started pounding and my ears turned red, always the truest sign of Lori getting mad. As a teacher, my students always could look at the color of my ears to know when they'd probably crossed the line. The nurse was outdone with me from the beginning and was now punishing me by making me listen to the entire document.

There was no slowing her down, no interrupting her. Believe me, I tried. And what gets me about all this is that she was treating me like this was all MY fault when she was the one who decided to ignore the succinct voice-mail that I left last Friday. She heard it and made the decision that it was not important to her. So when I call nearly a week later and call her on the fact that she ignored my request, she gets mad.

And what gets me even more is how apologetic I’d been through this whole ordeal. Even though it was the doctor’s fault for forgetting to check the ‘no’ beside the AIDS question, I’d taken responsibility for it every time I had to talk to the staff, saying something about how I forgot to make sure the doctor checked that box. Up until today, I’d been planning on sending flowers or a plate of fresh cookies or something to show appreciation to the office staff for being helpful. Maybe I still should, just with a caveat that the nurse is not allowed to look at the flowers and can’t eat a single cookie because she was a insert-your-favorite-word-here to me.

So how did the conversation end?

As she was nearing the end of her dramatic reading, I said, “You didn’t have to read the whole thing to me” and then I launched into my own long explanation. I was trying to avoid this. I really was. I didn’t want to have to explain the whole saga to her, but she was asking for it. When I got to the end, I started hearing little “Ohh”s and “Now I get it”s from her. Big roll of the eyes from me. She even said, “I’m so confused about what is needed.” Well, had you been listening the FOUR OTHER TIMES I explained it, you wouldn’t be here now having to listen to this, now would you?

Once she finally got it, she told me that she can’t fax over any lab results without my signing a release form. Sigh. So this will be my fourth time into this office, my personal hell-on-earth, simply to sign my name. If the nurse had actually listened to my message last Friday, I could have been in there on Monday to sign this form and all would be taken care of by now.

So what gets me most about all of this is not the snags in the paperwork, not having to go for a fourth time into the office, not having to make these phone calls. What gets me is being talked down to, being treated like an idiot, like someone hell-bent on ruining someone’s day when I’d gone out of my way to be succinct, apologetic and polite to the whole staff through the entire process.

The wonderful staff at Gladney, when they sent the “Welcome to our Program” email with all the manuals and details, included a note of encouragement at the top of the email. It made me cry. Here’s an excerpt:

One - if you stick through the frustrations and possible changes, we will find you the child that is meant to be part of your family.
Two - you will not be happy with this process until your child has come home.

And when you worry and become frustrated with the paperwork or the wait or the many number of little details involved in adopting from Ethiopia, remember to be thankful that you have the opportunity to worry about the small problems, because that means someone else is worrying about the big ones for you.

It’s wonderfully uplifting to keep these things in mind. I might recommend though that they add something to the pep talk about being patient not just with the wait, paperwork, and details but also with the people out there who are less than helpful, the people like this nurse I dealt with today because honestly, I was ready to rail into her.

As is, I got some extra practice today on my quiet seething skills. If I were a more mature person, I guess, it would be easier for me to let go of having someone be so blatantly impatient with me. There's nothing like having someone treat you like an idiot when they're the one who is wrong and not listening. I'm sure I will be able to let go of it. See, even now as I finish this blog, if you could see me, you could see that my face isn't as squinched up anymore and Ted pointed out that my ears are now only a dark shade of pink.

It just gets me thinking about the importance of treating people with respect, no matter how impatient you may get. Because unless you're God, there's always the chance that you might be the one who is wrong and misunderstanding something, the way this nurse was today.

So coming up is my chance to show respect this afternoon when I go sign this paper. It's tempting to make my complaint known to someone, to attempt to bring justice to my poor, hurting ego. The trick will be not just to quietly seethe but to genuinely be kind, the way Jesus would probably have me do. It'd be awfully tempting to nix that higher standard though...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Interesting guest house

I can't figure out any way to make the following interesting, so I'll just lay it out there for ya.

Today, we got our FBI letters in the mail with our sets of fingerprints and a big "no arrests" stamped on them. That's a good thing.

However, we did find out that we didn't do our I-600A form correctly, which we mailed off ages ago. Filing this form is one of the first things you have to do in the whole adoption process, and so we were concerned that this might set us back. Thankfully, it most likely won't, so tomorrow, we're resubmitting in the correct form with the right cover letters and other documents that have to be included.

Since we have a social worker coming next week, we went ahead and hired Kate in New York to handle our foreign dossier, since these requirements are beyond confusing. Most, if not all, of Gladney's parents have used Kate's services. It's apparently well worth it, as I could imagine after looking at what all has to be authenticated, certified, notarized, etc in all sorts of different levels (state, federal, etc). Jiminy Christmas, as Ted says.

Still waiting for our letter from the online course to come in verifying that we finished and also for my doctor's office staff to fax that medical report.

Isn't this so interesting?

We did sit down today and try to figure out the time-line of when we could potentially be traveling over. I'm trying to expect the delays everyone talks about, and nothing being sure is sure, but we were both surprised by how soon it could actually be...though still a few months away.

Oh! And I got pretty excited about this place today:

It's a guest house in Adis Ababa, which appeals to Ted and I so much more than staying at the Hilton or the Sheraton, the two main choices we've heard about. Both of those are super-expensive and in some of the reviews I read online, people talked about the stark contrast between the luxury of the hotels and the extreme poverty right outside. We are excited about the possibility of staying in an Ethiopian owned and run establishment, especially this particular guest house, since they use all their profit for service projects like building wells. Pretty cool.

Hopefully the next entry might be more interesting.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

First Homestudy Appointment!

We weren't expecting to hear from our case worker until the weekend, but she just called! She could have come to our house this Friday, but since we're going to Seattle for the weekend, it'll be next week on Thursday. I'm so happy and excited that she called so quickly. And she sounds awesome. When I asked if we need to do anything to prepare, she said, "Just make sure you've got toilet never know!" and then she laughed this awesome, hearty laugh. So fun.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kitty wars! and a bit of adoption process update too, but mostly Kitty Wars!

Until we have kids, our cats fill the void, as pathetic as that may sound to some, as evidenced by the story below. If you are bored by cat stories, feel free to skip ahead the end, starting with "On to other things." I promise it won't hurt my feelings.

Ted and I, as well as being t-shirt people, are cat people. We have three, a fact Ted seems sometimes a tad ashamed of, as if it makes him a bit off-center. A big, manly man can't have three cats, right? He had the first two, Chitty and Bang Bang, before we got married. Chitty was found as a kitten in the back of a pick-up truck in Hollywood by his friend Sally. Ted gave him his name for the fun that ensues with the mispronunciation that often occurs with a name like 'Chitty'. "You named your cat what?"

Ted and Chitty are joined at the hip. Chitty is the most dog-like cat I've ever known. He's loyal and faithful to his one and only, Ted. Chitty can be passed out asleep and if Ted moves to another room, Chitty follows him within five minutes. Every. single. time. Here's proof:

For the record, Ted was there on the couch first. (as a side-note, the book Ted has fallen asleep with is A Celebration of Discipline--around our house, we celebrate discipline with naps).

Here's a close-up of Chitty's attachment to his master. I often imagine Chitty walking around the house looking for Ted humming "Nearer my God to Thee."

The next cat Ted got before we got married is Bang Bang, given to him by some friends whose cat had a litter of kittens. While Chitty's nickname is "the fat one," Bang Bang's is "the dumb one." Notice the vacant expression.

Ted picked him out of the litter by watching the group of squirming kittens and finding the most laid-back one. That's Bang Bang. He's the one kids like to play with the most, as he doesn't really care if a two-year-old carries him around football style under one arm. He just mosies away when he can.

We have these attic storage spaces in our house, accessed by two small doors in our upstairs hallway. Our cats are obsessed with sneaking in there any time we have the doors open. This weekend, Ted was getting his collection of wigs out (yes, I just wrote that), and Bang Bang found his way in there while we weren't looking. When we got home a few hours later, we heard a really loud thumping upstairs, which sounded almost like someone had broken in while we were gone. Ted bravely goes upstairs, opens the attic doors, and out comes Bang Bang with a scratched up face. He'd apparently been trying to get out of the attic by using his face as a battering ram. I told you he's the dumb one.

We felt pretty bad about it, giving him lots of kisses and lap time and tasty morsels of half-n-half for the next few days to make up for his traumatic experience, though most likely he'd forgotten about it 30 seconds after we let him out. Nonetheless, he milked it for what it was worth (in this case, lots of milk), and could even put on a pretty pitiful face.

All I had to do was tell him, "Hey Bang Bang, tell me what it was like in the attic yesterday" and he'd make this face:

Our last cat is Buddy, whose life story requires a whole separate blog entry. Suffice it to say, our "Lil'bastard" has only one lung and his theme-song is "Back that thang up." If I get any requests for Buddy's story, I'll write about it later. As is, I know I'm testing the patience of our kind readers with all these cat stories.

So what's with the kitty wars, you may ask? Life seems generally peaceful for the cats around the Rooney house. Mostly, yes, but we've had an ongoing battle with our neighbor's smashed-faced cat, Jesse. When we moved in to this neighborhood last June, other neighbors told us Jesse stories, mostly about his sneaking into their houses regularly. Jesse really likes to be in other people's houses, and in cars as well. One neighbor got all the way to work one morning before realizing that Jesse was tranquilly curled up in her backseat, just enjoying the ride.

The day we moved in, Jesse came right over within five minutes of us unlocking the front door and walked right in the house, going all the way down to the basement exploring. At the time, we didn't have our cats with us yet, and we thought it was kind of funny, this brazen cat making himself at home.

In time though, it became less funny. We eventually got our cats up here to Portland (Chitty and Buddy rode in the car with us, those 16 hours from L.A. and Bang Bang came on a plane with our good friends Steve and Margaret who own Bang Bang's mother). Jesse had discovered the kitty-door, allowing him to come and go as he pleased. With our cats in the house, we wanted to put a stop to this, so Ted looked up online a list of substances that cats hate. We bought a long-range squirt bottle from Fred Meyer and put in it a concoction of vinegar, funky red wine, and lemon juice. We kept this bottle by the door, and anytime Jesse would show up, we'd squirt it in his general direction, hoping some would at least get on his fur and irritate him.

It didn't. If anything, he started to see it as a game. So we upped the ante. We started letting him get in the house so that we could pick him up and squirt him in the face with it. He'd just sort of squint his eyes and look away but not really fight to get away from us. We'd put him down outside, head dripping wet in our vinegar-wine-lemon potion and he'd just meander off back to his house, la-de-da de-da.

This is when I started to hate Jesse. He chases another neighbor's cat, Yoda, a really sweet loving kitty, and there were rumors around the neighborhood that another neighbor's cat got run over because Jesse had chased it into the street. I went into protective-mode and determined not to let this happen to our cats.

I upped the ante even more. Knowing most normal cats hate water, I started picking Jesse up on his daily visits to our house, taking him to our kitchen, holding him under one arm, and spraying the ever living daylights out of him with the faucet sprayer, getting myself about as wet as Jesse. He'd squirm a little more than with our potion but still didn't really seem to care. He'd just go out the kitty door and I'd see him walk back to his house, soaking wet, shaking his head, wondering to himself, "What was that all about? Geez, what's her problem?"

It's a good thing we have Chitty around, the 'fat one' because he's our protector. He stands nose to nose with Jesse, all puffed up to twice his already big size, and lowly growl, not letting him pass. Chitty is the only one who can reason with Jesse.

Except when he doesn't, mainly when he's sleeping.

One night when Ted was out of town, I woke up in the early morning and looked across the room at our dresser. There was Jesse, just sitting there staring at me. Chitty was downstairs asleep on the couch. Since Jesse doesn't seem to stalk or chase our cats, I've reached a truce with him. Now when he comes in at night, it doesn't freak our cats out anymore, waking us up with screeches, howling, and loud thumping through the house.

We have this comfy chair in our office that Buddy likes to sleep on. In fact, he's right there behind me asleep as I write this. Here he is:

Sunday morning, we came downstairs into the office and found Chitty and Buddy asleep on the couch, Bang Bang asleep on the guest bed, and our newest addition, our renegade neighbor-cat Jesse, all curled up asleep here:

Who knows how long he'd been there, maybe all night. Oh well. I give up.

On to other things:

We stopped by Heritage yesterday to hand them a document and found out that we'd been assigned a case worker that morning! We weren't expecting that until Wednesday, but the staff there has something else going that day, so they assigned us early. This was really good news.

We're waiting for a couple of documents to come in to Heritage this week. They're photocopying all our info for our case worker, then she'll look it over and hopefully contact us this weekend. We found out that she just finished a couple of home studies for Ethiopian adoptions, so she's familiar with that process. And Vicki, the international coordinator at Heritage, told us that our case worker is the type of person who immediately puts you at ease. That's good to know.

One hold-up with the document collection is with my AIDS test. I was so organized when I took my collection of medical forms to my doctor a couple of weeks ago. Filling out these forms correctly would require two visits, one to collect my blood and another to read the results verifying that I am free of certain diseases. They took a blood sample and administered the TB test, which takes two days to read. My doctor filled out parts of these forms this day, and I went home.

Two days later, I returned for her to read the TB test and sign all the forms which she had partially filled out before. There were three separate documents to be filled out. We managed to get two done correctly, but we forgot to have the doctor check the 'no' box beside the AIDS question on the document that gets faxed to Heritage for the home study, which she had partially filled out on the first visit.

Aurgh! So when Heritage told us this was incomplete, I took the form back to my doctor to have her check that box and re-fax it. She wasn't there. So another doctor in the office looked at my chart, read my negative result, checked and initialed that box, and faxed it.

That wasn't good enough. I have to have them either fax over a copy of my test results or the doctor has to write and sign a letter saying that I do not have AIDS. Man, oh, man. So I called to explain this to the receptionist, and she told me to leave that message with the nurse on her voice-mail, which I promptly did on Friday around noon. It's not Tuesday around noon, and the fax hasn't been sent yet.

I know it's complicated and I'm sure it'll get done eventually. It's just hard to have things hanging out there, especially when I tried to be so organized about it. It's amazing what you have to go through when one little box is not checked.

So, word for the wise: even if you think you've been organized and have checked things twice or thrice, check it again. It just may save you some phone calls and waiting.

PS: and if any of you are curious as to what Ted is doing with those wigs, well keep checking the blog. I'll post the link to youtube just as soon as we have it up.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Do you wanna t-shirt? Ano, ja chcem t-shirt!

That was a jingle for some radio promotion in Slovakia back in 1999. As effective jingles often do, this one comes to mind pretty often when I hear the word 't-shirt'.

Ted and I are t-shirt kind of people. We don't wear them every day or anything, but we do enjoy a clever t-shirt. I'm especially a fan of the "Life is Good" brand of shirts, bags, etc. My sister wears a Life is Good baseball cap that says "What up, dog?" on it. I think she's pretty cute in that hat. Here's a photo of her wearing her cap three weeks ago at Merlefest. That's me with her. We were trying to make an indie-rock album cover. Sorry half the icon is covered up by her hoodie. The point is how cute my sister is in her cap.

She even let me wear her "What up, dog?" cap the next night, since it was pretty cold and she had a better jacket than I did. Here's me wearing her hat the next night while she's cussing her camera. We were watching Allison Kraus and Union Station here.

Tara has always been able to make funny faces, better than I can. Here's one of my favorites:

And so she doesn't get mad at me for posting weird pictures of her, here's a proof of how pretty she is, here all gussied up with a cross growing out of her head for my wedding. That's our Granny behind her, offering proof of our good genes--she's awfully pretty too.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of hats, here's the best hat I've ever seen:

True dat, true dat.

Since getting married to an optimist, I've discovered what a pessimist I tend to be. This is one of the biggest weaknesses I've been trying to change in myself, so when I came upon this Life is Good t-shirt last year in Sisters, Oregon, I figured that wearing the motto might make me more optimistic just by having it close to my body. It says "Half Full," in case it's too small. Here's me wearing the shirt at Old Faithful in Yellowstone last summer:

(Ted's also wearing a Life is Good shirt here. His says "Reality Show.")

Though we've known we're going to adopt for a few months now, Ted nor I had really bought anything for the new Baby Rooney. It felt sort of weird, and maybe I was feeling a little superstitious, the way some of my Slovak friend's mothers wouldn't let them buy much for the baby, even when they were eight-nine months pregnant. You don't want to jinx anything, which is pretty silly, I guess.

But when I was at Merlefest three weeks ago, I found a baby t-shirt that I couldn't pass up. It's the first thing either of us have bought for the new Rooney.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Questions from Strangers

More on the subject of intrusive questions, and then I'll try not to write about it much more:

The online course that we just completed for our homestudy as well as most all literature I've read on international adoption do a lot of prepare us for how to handle potential prejudice and/or simple intrusive questions from people when they encounter our nontraditional family.

We didn't tell many people for quite a while that we were planning on adopting, especially during the stage of trying to find the right agency for us. We did this for the same reason that Ted usually doesn't tell anyone when he has an audition: 90% of the time, an actor doesn't book the job, and you just start heaping psychological funk on yourself when the sweet people you've told start asking, "Didja get it? Have you heard?"

Once we, by the grace of God, found Gladney (who I would recommend heartily to anyone considering adoption), all the way in Texas, and filled out their initial application, we figured it was safe to start telling people. The reaction that gives us the most warm fuzzies is the one that most closely resembles how someone would react if we were to say we were pregnant, since it's essentially the same thing: in a few months (hopefully), we'll be adding a new person to our family--so...woo hoo! We really love the hoots and hollars and yee-haws that people give!

We've only had a couple of less-than-yeehawin reactions, one from a friend who is dealing with issues of infertility. When we told her, I could tell that she wasn't sure what to say, as, to her, this would feel like second-best, a compromise. Her eyebrows turned up in the inner corners, her head tilted to the side, and she made a little clicking sound of pity with a little "Aww...well, that's great for you guys" in a sort of sad and resigned voice. Ted chimed in, in his less than subtle way, saying, "Hey! It's not a compromise! This is a really good thing!" I completely understand that her reaction came from a place of personal sadness and angst at the wait she and her husband are experiencing to have a family. But it was almost funny to me as she went on to ask me questions about adoption, including, "So can you request a certain child, like gender, age, and, you know, eye color? I mean, I hate to say it, but I'd want a cute baby." Um, okay, but what's the guarantee that your birth-child would be cute? Would you send him back if he wasn't quite up-to-snuff with that Gerber-baby standard?

It helps to find the humor in these reactions (Ted helps with that) and to understand that people react often from a place of their own pain and/or lack of understanding, as in the case here with our friend. Adoption is first-best, such a wonderful, beautiful thing, and I think it must just take some a little longer to understand that.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting next to a sweet lady about my mom's age on an airplane going to Charlotte. We started talking, and when she asked about family, I told her about our adoption plans. She was really sweet about it, asking lots of questions and telling me about all the friends of hers who'd adopted. After talking for a while, the intrusive question came: "So did you and your husband decide to adopt because you can't have your own kids? (italics mine).

I suddenly was pretty taken-aback, completely unsure how to respond to such an over-the-top personal question. I felt instantly defensive. I finally stumbled something out about how no doctor has ever told us we can't have kids and that we have always talked about wanting to adopt, even before we were married, and that now is the perfect time, and we don't know what the future holds for us with family, etc. Then I sort of clammed up and started listening to my ipod, not wanting to talk anymore.

I understand that she was just curious and really had no idea that the question crossed a line. Lots of people just don't realize that adopting parents view the adoption process in much of the same way as pregnant parents view their pregnancy. There are acceptable questions and intrusive ones. Could you imagine being pregnant and being asked, "So how long did it take you to get pregnant? So...come on now, tell me--wink, wink--where was your baby conceived? How did it happen? How much do you think your hospital bill is going to be?" (Thankfully, we haven't been asked yet that most infamous of questions about adoption: "So how much is this baby costing you?").

I really want to make clear that I myself had never thought about all these things before Ted and I got serious about adopting. I used the phrase "own kids" to refer to birth-children as well. It's funny how starting this whole process has made me see so much of the world in a completely different way. It may be the mother-bird in me, seeking to protect what isn't even there yet from comments that could make Baby Bird Rooney feel not of our nest.

I've discovered that there's a lot of assumptions made about adoption and people who adopt. But just as no couple (or single, for that matter) who decides to have kids is the same or goes through the same process, no two adopting couples are the same either or have come to adoption through the same process. Be careful about assuming that someone who is adopting is doing so because they can't have "their own." Please, please, please, don't assign that label to them, as I've heard through the grapevine in our extended family, has been assigned to me. Oh, labels are nothing but hurtful and isolating.

Labels are never a good thing. Please don't refer to our child as our "adopted child." If you've seen The Royal Tenenbaums (one of my favorite movies), you may remember that Gene Hackman's character referred to his daughter played by Gwyneth Paltrow this way: "And this is my adopted daughter Margot." Margot's ensuing adulthood angst for constantly being pointed out publicly as different, as other is understandable.

A really interesting and helpful book on this subject is called Cross-Cultural Adoption: how to answer questions from family, friends, and community by Amy Coughlin.

This leads me to explain the title of our blog. Another couple adopting through Gladney pointed out the hurtfulness of the term "your own" referring solely to children birthed from one's body. We feel that any child that comes to be a part of our family, whether by birth or by adoption, is "our own." The circumstances don't really matter. If only birth children are "own own" then what are children who come to us through adoption? Are they somehow less ours? Is the bond and love any less?

So while we plan on talking openly with our child about his/her/their cultural heritage by birth, our main concern will be with ensuring that he feels he is a solid, integral part of this family, one whose value to us cannot be measured, just the same as any child-by-birth would be treated.

So where are we now in the process? You can see above just a sample of the paperwork. Well, yesterday we finished up our "parent questionaire" given to us by our home study agency, and both of us finished writing our autobiographies as well. It was difficult not to write a short novel, as we were given questions like, "Describe your school history, from preschool to college, describing things which made an impression on you as an adult." That was only one question of eight similar ones. Both of our autobiographies have hit the 6-page mark (single-spaced, 12-point font).
We hope whoever is reading these can stay awake through 12 pages of Ted and Lori.

We also found out that the FBI is, in fact, expediting our criminal clearance forms, so that's good news as well. We're waiting for that to come in (hopefully next week), and are waiting for a letter from our insurance company stating the child will be covered. We're waiting for our answers to the online course we finished this week to be read and approved and a resulting "certificate of completion" to be emailed to us.

Ted's taking our autobiographies, parent questionnaire, and some financial info over to Heritage (our home study agency) today while I work out all this energy at the gym. They assign caseworkers every Wednesday, so we're hoping we get ours next week so that we can start the home visits for the home study. After this is completed, we get the foreign dossier completed, which is what gets approved by Gladney and gets mailed to Ethiopia. The mailing of this dossier is the biggest step in the process, since after that you sit and wait for your referral. We're anxious to have this done. Might it be mailed within the next month???

Thank you for your attention, ladies and gentlemen, for those of you who have read this far.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Who is narrow of vision cannot be big of heart.

In nearly every other blog I've read by parents who are adopting or in stories I've listened to, there seems to be a common sensitivity to the words we use to talk about adoption. Back when we first started thinking about adopting, I read a good bit and when these issues would come up in my reading, I realized that I most likely asked dumb questions or made insensitive comments along the way, having no idea I may be hurting someone. I guess it's a classic story of shifting from sympathy to empathy.

I'll give you a couple of examples from my own life. The first, and most hurtful, happened at a womens' soup-party through our church in Portland. The church organizes these gatherings of groups of six women at various homes to eat together and connect. Many of the women are meeting for the
first time. At the gathering I attended, we got onto the topic of our families of origin. Everyone was going around the table talking about how many siblings we have, the age of our parents, etc. Through this topic, someone brought up the issue of people today having kids at a later age than in the past. Apparently, though our ages were varied, the women at this table mostly seemed to follow the traditional model of getting married in their early 20's, kids by mid 20's, kids out of the house by early 40's, grandkids soon after that. A few women started swapping what sounded like horror stories about parents they know who are older than the norm (though what is the norm, I'd ask?). I just sat quietly, biting my tongue. I am 32; Ted is 46. We don't exactly fit whatever they considered to be normal. One lady in her early 50's, I'm guessing, spoke up and in a hushed voice, as if she was sharing a shocking secret, gave an example to trump the rest:

"I know a man who is 45 and has a
fourth grader."

I was shocked alright, but not at the fact she shared. I was shocked and eventually deeply hurt by the isolation that comment forced upon me. I am guessing that I wasn't alone in my feeling, as there were several single women at the table. None of us spoke up, I suppose since this was a polite gathering of Christian women.

I got home that night and could hardly sleep. The next morning, it all came pouring out to Ted. In the one place that I should have felt most supported and understood, my church, I felt the most hurt. That one comment made me feel seen as a freak for not having lived my life in the old-school, traditional way (not that there's anything wrong with old-school--I have plenty of friends who had kids in their 20's). I hope I gain compassion for this woman. I hope I can let it go eventually. And I also hope that one day she'll get to see my hot 50-year-old husband dropping off our preschooler in kids' church. Imagine the story
that'll give her for her next womens' gathering!

"Who is narrow of vision cannot be big of heart."--Chinese proverb.

It was later that morning that we went to our first adoption seminar and where we first were drawn to Ethiopia. I still felt like a sleep-deprived emotional wreck when we walked into the building. We spent some time wandering around the many agency's booths gathering their abundant brochures until we came upon this one simple table with one lady standing nearby. She explained that she was there representing a support group for adoptive families. I am guessing that she read a look on my face saying, "Oh, this doesn't apply to us yet."

More likely, she heard directly from the voice of God because she stopped mid-sentence, made eye contact with me, and gently pointed her finger to my chest. She so earnestly said, "I want you to know that you two are still welcome to join us because the two of you standing here
are a family." It was so what I needed to hear, after the night before having been made to feel glaringly deficient and crippled for not having kids. What came next were projectile tears and snot. She pulled me to her and let me sob, this complete stranger, my newfound angel of grace.

God hears our cries, no doubt in my mind about that one.

PS: If you've never listened to The Duhks, I urge you: go look them up. They have an excellent myspace page. Listen to them and breathe in the goodness.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In Medias Res

I sat down this afternoon to catch up on one of my favorite blogs and suddenly found myself in tears (I'm guessing I may type the words "in tears" often here), jumping up in excitement to find Ted to show him. The blog is by a family who just got to Ethiopia a week ago to pick up their child, Silas. He's beautiful. Their experience in country has been life-changing, and the tears came to me because I was so out-of-this-world happy for them and suddenly very excited for us.

I have been thinking of starting this blog for a few weeks now but just never got around to it in the midst of the mounds of paperwork we are currently consumed with gathering as a way of offering proof that: yes, hopefully, by God's grace, we will be good parents. I realized while reading Josh and Amy's blog that I need to get going. Their story this afternoon was so inspiring to me, and I'd love for this one to maybe inspire someone else.

See, I had a bit of a meltdown last week. I needed to be inspired today. The meltdown was an unfortunate byproduct of looking ahead at a project that won't really come for another month or so (I'm guessing), that of our foreign dossier. The very nice lady at Gladney Center for Adoption told me on the phone that we are very close to the point of putting together our foreign dossier, which is basically this huge honkin' packet of information about us that goes to the Ethiopian government and to the in-country staff of Gladney that they use to clear us for adoption and pair us with a child (or children? We think twins would be awesome). So I got pretty excited about that bit of news, as once that packet is sent off, we just sort of sit back and wait to get the news that our child is waiting for us (If you want to watch a slideshow of what an amazing experience it is to see your child for the first time via an email, read Josh and Amy's blog. I cried my guts out--there I go again crying--the first time I saw this).

So I looked at the checklist of what we have to include for the foreign dossier, and I got completely overwhelmed. My heart started beating faster, my vision blurred and little chirping birds started circling above my head. Before looking at this checklist, I was in the middle of trying to figure out how to do our FBI background check. It's a bit complicated. Ted walked into the room to find me in front of the computer, staring intently at my email while waving one arm around in an attempt to shoo away these obnoxious birds. It was a bit much. He offered to take care of the FBI check, and I went away to take a nap.

Three hours later, we were successfully fingerprinted and had our background check request in the mail in the very specific proper form, all thanks to Ted, the best man I know.

This week, we have a list of things to get together and/or fix to hand in to our home study agency here in Portland so that they can send a social worker out to our home. I'm anxious to get all these things turned in. This has become my full-time job. I wake up in the morning thinking of paperwork and go to bed at night thinking about what needs to be done the next day. The good people at Gladney have been so wonderful through it all. They even broke the application process down into three distinct packets for us to gather together and send. This has enabled me to see this process as a school project, one that I get to work on to get just right and then make little (or often big) check marks beside as I finish things. Ted keeps reminding me that we don't have to get an A; it's enough if we end up with a child. He's right, but I've actually somehow enjoyed the whole process of gathering papers together and filling out forms: I feel like I'm accomplishing something, in spite of the occasional breakdowns.

Hopefully, I'll take the time to go back and write about the process up until this point. But until then, those of you reading are joining us 'in medias res', in the middle of the action, which I've heard is one of the characteristics of a great epic.