Friday, January 27, 2012

Protected by ADT - NOT by Common Sense

So, I had a brand-new experience today.  For the very first time, I set of a trespassing/burglar alarm.

My 4 year old has therapy on Friday afternoons in an office that is in a converted house.  Several independent therapists share the space.  The parking lot is in the driveway and the front door has a little blue-and-white sticker that says "Protected by ADT."  Until today, I never saw the sticker.

As usual, I pulled into the driveway, which was empty except for my SUV.  That's pretty normal.  We are often the only ones there, and the most traffic we've ever seen there at one time was 3 cars.  I lugged the 2 year old and the baby I watch, along with my purse and bag with my Maternal-Newborn Nursing textbook and laptop out of the car and in through the door, the 4 yr old eagerly leading the way.  The door is always unlocked.  For once, the boys didn't fling the door open, further deepening the doorknob dent in the entry wall.  Dmitri (the 4 yr old) was very proud of himself, and told me all about how he was going to show his "fehrpis" (therapist) his super-fast new shoes.

The office has lots of natural light, especially in the waiting/play area.  I took off the boys' coats and let them go play, then started settling in.  The usual Disney movie soundtrack was playing from the speakers.  I was vaguely aware of a beeping that had been repeating about every 3 seconds or so, but payed little attention to it.  Everything beeps nowadays!

It was about then that I noticed that a light in the further hallway near the therapist's office was off.  It was usually on.  Odd... maybe she's not here yet.  I'm almost catching on at this point...  Wait for it... Wait for it...  Oh wait!  She's in FLORIDA this week!  We don't even have an appointment.  How embarassing...  Boy, that lady in the office there must think we're nuts, showing up... when... Wait, no one is in that office.  Are we alone here?  

Just then, the beeping changed to every second, rather than every 3 seconds.  Things started to add up. (Slow, I know...)  Maybe we ought to leave sooner than later.  Yeah, good thought.  So I told the boys, "Guess what!  Lydia isn't here!  Mommy forgot!  So, we're going to go to the library instead.  How about that?"  My boy, who has sensory processing disorder and ADHD, doesn't take kindly to changes in his expectations.  It takes him a while to shift gears.  We, however, didn't have that kind of time.  I was putting their coats back on and trying to explain why Lydia wasn't coming to see him when the beeping changed into a full-on alarm.  The two boys were panicked.  I tried to be calm as I hurried them out of the door.

I decided, once we were outside and it was quieter, that it would be a good idea to be caught at the scene and explain the mix-up to the police than to be met with an arrest warrant in a month and have it fuss-up our adoption process.  So, I slowly, slowly, got the kids into the car, talking the boys calm again and explaining what was happening.  Dmitri was very upset that Lydia wouldn't see his shoes.  She would be the very last to see them.  We waited a few minutes, and no one was showing up, so I figured it was safe to leave and send our therapist an email, telling her about us showing up by accident and mentioning that a security alarm does little good when your doors are wide open.  Dmitri decided that he could get a book at the library about shoes.  We left.

My feelings of being embarrassed by this were short lived, because the more I thought about what had happened, the less the whole set-up made sense.  Why would the doors be unlocked when no one is there?  People's office doors were open.  Toys, computers, TVs, therapy equipment, files, all unprotected!  I can understand the internal openness IF there are external protections (ie- locked doors and security system), and I can almost accept leaving the front door open IF all internal office doors are locked, electronics are secured, and nothing of value is accessible.  No... even then.  LOCK THE DOORS, people!!!

My parents live in a high-end neighborhood that is regularly cased and break-ins are not uncommon.  Several years ago, they got an APX Security System (now Vivent).  It sounds like it operates much the same, with sensors on doors, a warning period for you to disarm the alarm system, then it does its thing.  BUT - as part of their service, Vivent requires - as I assume ADT would as well - that you lock the external doors when the alarm is engaged.

So now, I'm home, torn between hoping that the police just never paid any attention to the call and that I won't be trying to explain my later arrest to the Chinese Consulate and on the other side hoping that calls and alarms like that are not routinely ignored.  What would be the point, then?

In the mean time, my 4 yr old is still a little freaked out.  When our bread machine's dough cycle finished this evening and beeped, Dmitri came running from the other end of the house, yelling, "The beeping thinks that we're bad guys again!!!"  He doesn't like anything that beeps now.  And as I said before, EVERYTHING BEEPS THESE DAYS!  So I hope he'll be over it in a few days.

I sent off an email to Dmitri's therapist, who, in spite of being on vacation, answered my email in less than an hour.  From her response, it sounds like this was an unusual incident, that things are not normally left open, and I do hope so.  I really do hope so.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What if...

What if every one of my ethnic origins was visually apparent?
What if German looked strikingly different from Swedish?
What if everyone who passed me noticed that I was French?
What would they think?
Would they stare?
Would they ask me where I was from?
Would they eavesdrop eagerly when I talk to my children
listening for traces of an accent?
Would they watch me to see
how Irish mothers treat their children?
If I chose an unhealthy treat, would they assume
that's just what Czech people eat?
If I was having a bad day, would they assume
that Norwegian lady doesn't like American people?
If my origins were obvious, if I had Danish skin
or Scottish hair
or Austrian eyes
Would I worry about people's staring?
Would I dread their questions and comments?
Would I tire of representing everyone who shares my ancestry?

I recently completed a parent training course for our adoption about being a multicultural family.  The class gave me a lot of food for thought.  I like to think that I'm a pretty unbiased person and open and free of prejudices, but it has been interesting and sobering to examine my own thought patterns regarding people who are different in some way.  I've been more aware of my thoughts recently - how I think about people, what mental questions I ask myself about them, etc.  Today, while shopping at the Asian market, I noticed I had more of those same thoughts about the people I saw: "Where are they from?" "How long have they been here in the US?"  "What do they think of me as a 'white girl' shopping at 'their' market?"  "Are all Asians this quiet?  Dang, that makes my kids look noisy."  I thought about how biased, how unfair, but at the same time how naturally these questions and thoughts come.  Food for thought.

I welcome comments and the experiences of people who have experienced something like this. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Talking to Your Child About Adoption: Perspectives from an adoptee who is becoming an adoptive mother

"How do I tell my child that s/he is adopted?"

That is a very common question in the trainings, books and articles about adoption.  To me, the question was puzzling.  Not puzzling as in, "Yeah, how would I tell my child she's adopted?"  More like, "Why the heck would someone ask a stupid question like that?"

Honestly, that was my first reaction - and not a very fair one.  Unlike most adoptive parents, I am an adoptee myself.  In fact, my brothers, sister, mother, aunts, and now a nephew, ALL adopted.

Talking about adoption has been part of my family since 1952 when my grandparents adopted my mother and scandalized their social circles by admitting it in front of the child!  Heaven forbid!  In 1952, mothers went so far as to pad maternity clothes in order to fake having given birth to the child themselves.

"Let's just hope no one tries to pat my padded belly or I'll have to kill them... hehe."

My mother had "ILLEGITIMATE" stamped in big, red letters on her birth certificate.  

My grandparents, for all their faults, were admirably forward-thinking about adoption for their day.  They never hid my mother's story from her - they told her from the beginning that she was "Mommy and Daddy's little adopted girl".  Their friends and associates were shocked.  "How could you tell a child something awful like that!"

"You're not supposed to tell her that until you're on your deathbed!!!"

From the legacy of my grandparents attitude, my mother had confidence in her own history and identity, and she and my father passed the same openness and confidence on to me and later, to my siblings.

Of course, to be fair, there really are different types of adoption and different ways to approach a child's back story.  The articles about how to talk to your child about adoption seem to take a one-size-fits-all approach that appears to be based off of standard voluntary-relinquishment domestic infant adoption.

One thing I feel is across-the-board important: make sure your child knows FROM DAY ONE that he or she is adopted.  It's part of his or her story.  No one is benefited by putting that off or pretending otherwise.  Make or buy the child a baby book or life book with their own story.  There are tons of options for pre-made or DIY books.

After that point, however, things get a little fuzzier.  What do you tell the child and when?  Well, that depends on the child, it depends on his or her story, and what the child feels about it.  I will use mostly my own family's experiences as examples, because I don't know anyone else's family's personal experiences.

My oldest little brother and I were adopted as infants in very similar circumstances.  I always knew more about my own origins than my brother did for one simple reason: I wanted to know, he did not.  He was content to know that while he was born of another woman's body, this is his family, period.  He did not ask for more and to this day is not interested in more.  Our mother was quite similar to my brother. 

I was different.  I wanted to fill in every bit of blank space in my story.  I wanted to know about my parents' fertility struggle, what my birth parents' hair was like, what they were studying in school, how long my labor was, who were my foster parents, what were Mom and Dad's first reactions to me and the entire legal process. My parents told me exactly what I asked, striking a beautiful balance of honestly answering my questions to the best of their knowledge, employing "We just don't know" at appropriate times, and not giving too much information.  Even as a little child, I knew quite a bit about my early history, but they did withhold my birth parents' names until I was an adult, and I think that was a wise decision. 

My younger brother had a very traumatic past and was adopted older - at about age 5 - when he came to our family.  He knows he was adopted, he has never had any information held back from him, but he wants nothing to do with it.  His name was changed - twice in fact (by the foster family and then by us) - because if he even heard his original name he would have severe reactions.  Giving him more information about his adoption or life previous to it does him no good, and likely would do him hurt.  Is that true of all abused children?  No way, but it is for this particular child.

My sister also had a traumatic past and was likewise adopted at almost age 5.  As a child, she did ask more questions than my brother did, but on the other hand, she requested to have her name changed.  For several years during her teens, she didn't ask any more questions about her past but instead focused on rebuilding her life and identity in her current surroundings: attachment, security, cognitive development, etc.  She is now nearing adulthood.  I anticipate that in the coming years she will be more curious about her past than our younger brother, that she will want some of her blanks filled in.

Our adoption will be different yet again.  Mei-Mei will have a different story, different circumstances, but she will need the same things: security, attachment, a sense both of who she is and who she was.

A tree needs roots in order to branch out and blossom.

We haven't even been matched with a particular child yet, but we are already planning how to make her adoption and her pre-adoption life part of her story in our family.
  • When we get matched to our daughter, we will build and send her a book with pictures of her new life. We will also begin building her life book with pictures we are provided from the orphanage/foster family, etc.  We will include any information, medical records, notes from the nannies that we are able to get.  
  • We will honestly and openly answer her questions about her past with what we know, what we think, and what we believe.  "We know you were found in a park.  We think that you enjoyed watching the leaves and listening to the river until you were found. We believe that your birth parents loved you very much and wanted someone to find you and take good care of you." 
  • We will include Chinese holidays in our family traditions, Chinese art and literature, Chinese dance, and as she becomes Irish, Danish, and German, we will all become Chinese.  Sound silly?  My family is all adopted, and each of us is from a different ethnic origin, but we were all given Irish names (like my father) to symbolize our family unity.  
This is just preliminary ideas we have to make sure our daughter feels fully part of our family AND fully in ownership of her past and her adoption.  On the whole, I think it will be easier for us than for most adoptive parents simply because adoption already has such a precedent in our family.

In the documentary "China's Lost Girls", one adoptee who was interviewed said that one hard thing about being adopted is that "everyone else was born from their mom" and she wasn't.  Well, in our family you can be home-baked like Daddy (and brothers, sister, and some grandparents and cousins) or adopted like Mommy (and grandma, great-aunts, and a cousin).  I am grateful for the place that adoption has had in our lives this far, and I can't wait until our Mei-Mei comes home and gets to take her place in this special family.