divide and conquer

I dropped Mark and Jafta off at LAX this morning. They are en route to Haiti, and the house is calm and quiet. It was really, really nice for about an hour. Now, it’s just eery. The girls and I leaving for Florida on Friday, to spend a few days with my family and meet my new nieces.

Being separated as a family wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend the holidays. I couldn’t afford to fly all five of us to Haiti, but we want to be visiting more so it makes sense to take separate trips when Mark has time off. It’s one of those moments where you just throw your hands up and say, IT IS WHAT IT IS. Kind of like premature graying, or having an odd-numbered house on the even side of the street. You just learn to deal with what you are dealt. It becomes the new normal. Until one day you take a trip to Haiti, or you notice your eyebrows are white, or the UPS driver sends the new Nike+ system back because he can’t find your house and then you continue to have no way of monitoring your pace when you run. And then suddenly you think, “This is SO not cool”.

So yeah. Back to Haiti. I think I’m a bit melancholy about this particular trip because it was two years ago on Thanksgiving that we visited for the first time knowing that Keanan was to be our son. We had met him before, but we didn’t know we were officially matched until a couple months later. Our adoption has taken so long that I have kind of stopped counting how many months/years it has taken. But this Thanksgiving there is no denying that we are well into two years and some months of waiting. That is hitting me hard today.

At the same time, there is some excitement because we’ve heard that we have finally exited IBESR – and Mark will be filing our I600 while he is there, which is the first step in getting permission from the US side of things. We’ve been wanting to do this for a long, long time. It doesn’t mean he’s coming home soon, but we will celebrate any forward movement we get at this point.

If you are a praying person, we would love your prayers that Mark can file this paperwork without a hitch. And while you are at it, throw up a prayer for my cross-country flight with The Screamer and The Puker on Friday.

catching up

We are slowly but surely settling back in from our whirlwind trip to Haiti last week. During the month of September, we somehow spent nearly as much time traveling as we did at home. My house, my work, my kids, my sleep, my email inbox, and my patience are all feeling the results of that. I am SO looking forward to a month of doing nothing. (Nothing other than raising three small children while working from home, of course).

We had such a great time in Haiti. It’s always an adventure, and this trip was no exception. Karis did really well on the long plane ride, and she was a big hit with her seatmates. Turns out, in other cultures, babies on planes are actually welcomed. And smiled at. A lot.

She was winning friends at every turn, and quite the hit in Haiti. The nannies at the orphanage were really excited to hold her, which made our time with Keanan even easier. And also, she got her very own mosquito net, which I think sort of makes her look like an appetizer:

But it worked! Not one single mosquito bite on our little blanche baby.

Our reunion with Keanan was rocky at first, which we expected. He is always a little wary of us . . . a telltale sign that he is bonded to his nannies, which makes me feel reassured and sad all at the same time. It was surreal for me to see him again. He looks so much older. It was so great to hold him and kiss him in person. There is also the tension of wanting to smother him with affection, but also to hold back as to not overwhelm him. I think I might have overwhelmed him just a tad.

For the first hour or so with us, he just kind of sat very quietly in a daze. Mark finally drew him out with some soccer, and I am here to tell you: this kid can kick. He loves sports of any kind and I think he will soon be giving Jafta a run for his money. He is such a cool kid – very playful and funny. He has a great sense of humor and even though there was a language barrier, he was cracking me up with just his facial expressions.

On our second day there, we had to go sign the papers that the government is now requiring of parents, stating that we have met him and intend to adopt him. This experience was definitely quintessential Haiti. Our orphanage’s adoption coordinator, Junior, picked us up in the morning in his small jeep, and we proceeded to take the most harrowing car ride I have had in a long time. With Karis in my lap. In the front seat. I think Junior might have been smirking a little a when I repeatedly pointed out that a car was coming straight at us. Things like lanes and lights are just mere suggestions in Haiti. Be liberal with the horn, might makes right, and watch the potholes. Those are the rules to driving in Haiti.When we arrived at the courthouse we were ushered into a crowded lobby where about 20 people were standing in what felt like a 10×15 room. There were three tables, each with a person sitting behind the table. On each table sat a notebook. Behind these tables was a man typing on a typewriter from the 1950’s. And behind him were piles and piles and piles of notebooks. This room opened to another room, where about 30 people were sitting and waiting for their case to be heard in front of that judge. In the back of that room there was a huge pile of rocks, and about six dead motorcycles. There was no a/c and it was HOT. Everyone seemed very agitated and grumpy. Fortunately I had the four-month-old Princess of Smiles and Goodwill with me to lighten the mood. Except that she chose that very moment to have a minor meltdown. (If only she’s given me some indication of what she wanted):
As you can see in the photo, this is me signing my name in the official notebook of graph paper that will soon join the other piled of notebooks of words on graph paper. What happens to these notebooks is anybody’s guess. What I do know is this: I signed my name under about four paragraphs of hand-written text in Creole, and I have NO IDEA what it said. I may have just signed up to buy a timeshare in Jacmel. We shall see.On the way out, we saw about five guys sitting outside with typewriters on tables. Junior told us that these guys are there to make documents. Need a birth certificate? They can make you one. Wanna change some info on your marriage license? They can fix it. With their typwriters from 1950 . . . in plain sight of the courthouse. O-kay?
Our ride back was just as thrilling, but we got to have a very interesting discussion with Junior about adoption and the state of things in Haiti. Junior is a fascinating guy – he grew up in Haiti and had little schooling, and yet he speaks four languages and is an avid reader. He told us how difficult adoptions had become, and some very interesting conspiracy theories as to why Haiti continues to struggle as a nation. Sadly, I think his theories are right. There is so much corruption in this place, and some of it is coming from the very sources who are supposed to be protecting and serving these people. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. *cough* *goonicef* *cough*
We got the pleasure of hanging out with another adoptive couple while we were there. Jason and Sarah are adopting Naomi who is turning three. They also have a three-year-old at home, so we will both have sets of “twins” through adoption. We celebrated their birthdays while we were there, with some cake that Sarah brought in. Mark and I carried in some scooters and trikes for all the kids, and they were a big hit.

We had a really great visit with Keanan. It was so much better than last time, when he was recovering from surgery and very out-of-sorts. I was worried that this trip would be emotional and difficult and heavy, and that I would come home angry and bitter. Surprisingly, the opposite happened. I’m not happy that Keanan is still there, but it was such a good reminder that he is happy and nurtured and loved. He still has the same nanny he has had since he was a baby, and there is a clear bond with the other boys in the house. The boys’ home is run so well, with a schedule that would probably benefit my own household. All of the kids seem

content and joyful, and that is exactly what I needed to see. It was like a balm to my wound. We have a son. He lives in Haiti. I know he will be cared for and loved until he comes home. I have no idea when that will be.
Whenever we visit, we love getting the chance to spend time with the people who are serving there full-time. There is one thing I will say about expats: they are always, always interesting people. We smuggled in five Burger King Whoppers for John McHoul, who reportedly will eat them up to five days old. The Tluceks hooked us up with smoothies that I thought were the best I’d ever tasted (though it could have been the heat). We got to have some quality time and smack-talk with the Livesay family, who are every bit as funny and sarcastic and lovely in-person as they are on their blog. Which, if you aren’t familiar with, you should be. And we got to meet Renald:

This is a picture of Renald now. Three months ago, he was brought to a medical rescue center nearly starving to death. Go look at his picture from this summer. Seriously, go look. It is devastating that any three-year-old would be so small. It is amazing to see how he is thriving now, due to the Medika Mamba (medical peanut-butter) he is being given. Meeting Renald was powerful for me, because I’ll be brutally honest (and I think I’m not alone in this): sometimes, when I see photos of children in a malnourished state, a part of me detaches a little bit. We see images on tv, on the news, on informercials, of skin-and-bones kids with flies around their faces. It is so easy to not think about that reality. To look away, or to depersonalize these children. And yet here is Renald, this kid who was clinging to life, who is now one of the most vibrant kids I have ever seen. His personality is bold, his smile is infectious, and my heart literally broke with the realization that EVERY CHILD is important. Starving kids in foreign countries are KIDS. Kids that are just as important as any of ours. So when someone like Tara Livesay decides to run a marathon (tomorrow) and raises over 50,000 to feed children just like him, it is with admiration and humility that I wonder how I can start to effect some change right now, too.
A trip to Haiti is always a rattling experience. We had such a good trip – better than I could have imagined – and it has shaken me up a bit, as travel always does. I’m so happy to be home, but I can’t wait to go back, and I’m moved to think about what my comfortable little life is all about.

orphan movie, orphan stigma

One of the most discouraging things I have heard people say about adopting a child is that “you never know what you are going to get.” I supposed there is some truth to that statement, but I feel that it is usually said with some air of genetic superiority . . . that somehow a person’s own familiar chromosomal makeup would be preferable to the “crap shoot” of adopting. It’s interesting to me that this notion is held in a society that seems to blame bad parenting on every childhood deviation from perfect behavior. I also think it is interesting that anyone should think that their own family blood line to be better than another without taking into account the mitigating factors of education, privilege, prenatal care, and good parenting. In fact, even in the presence of these things, families from all walks of life have some blips in the tree here and there. Which is why I always find it a little rattling when I’ve been asked about Jafta’s birth family in a way that indicated the answer would be some sort of an indictment on his character or potential. (This is also why I am tight-lipped about it, because I know the prejudice of “guilt by genetic association” is still pervasive).

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that there are genetic components to things like mental illness, addiction, cancer, diabetes, etc. But if those were deterrents to parenting, then Mark and I should never have had our own biological children, because Lord knows we’ve got enough of that crap in our own family of origins. Most of us probably do. Then there are a host of other issues that can crop up during pregnancy or childhood that have no foreshadowing in the genetic code. Because the universal truth is, when you decide to be a parent, whatever way that happens, you don’t know what you are going to get. That’s a risk you take whether you get pregnant or adopt. So forgive me when I get annoyed at that truth being applied so liberally and exclusively to adoption.

The reason I’m feeling a little testy about this today is that I just saw a preview for a movie called Orphan. Now I am so not the type to send out boycott emails, or jump on the latest bandwagon of Things to Be Alarmed About. But one of the things that stuck out to me in a preview is someone whispering that very warning to a prospective adoptive couple: you never know what you are going to get. I’ve not seen the movie, but from the looks of the preview, the couple adopt a little girl who ends up being some sort of a monster who wreaks havoc on the lives of an idyllic suburban couple. I am not blind to the fact that the adoption of hurting children can really wreak havoc on a family, but an exploration of attachment issues does not seem to be the goal of this movie. (I would love to see a mainstream movie about that). Orphan is a horror film, and it’s perpetuating an insidious notion about parenting orphans. I think it is bringing unneccesary fear and stigma to the adoption of older children, and I’m kinda pissed about it. And yes, I’m rattling off about a movie I haven’t even seen yet, and I HATE when people do that. But based upon the entire plot premise I don’t think I need to waste my time, and no matter how it ends, the moral of the story is clear: this couple shouldn’t have adopted.

There are 140 million orphans in this world, and I can’t think of a population in greater need of compassion. Why a movie company would choose to vilify orphans for a cheap thrill is beyond me. I’m not going to link to a petition or call for a boycott. I don’t really think that stuff effects much change. Instead, perhaps it’s a call for all of us to contemplate how we can honor and respect the least of these when our entertainment industry does not.

adoption delays

We are running into more delays with Haiti. This one really felt like a punch to the gut. I’m not sure why – by this point I should be more prepared for the insanity that is adoption from Haiti. The only thing that is predictable in this process is that nothing goes smoothly.

We are now almost two years into this process. When we first started out, I thought Keanan would certainly be home by now. I had his name on the waiting list at the preschool India starts at in 22 days. I have his bed ready for him in the room he shares with Jafta. And yet we find ourselves spinning our wheels again, with no real understanding of when he may come home. But it definitely won’t be this summer. The little baby I met in May of 2007 is now almost 3.

It’s hard to explain what is going on, so I’ll offer two sets of explainations:

for those not familiar with Haiti: to be approved to adopt, there are three government agencies that must approve our adoption. They all work as slow as molasses and can take anywhere from 6-18 months in each stage. We were ready to leave the 2nd stage, but found out this week we got bumped back into the first stage.

for those who know the Haiti system: Parquet just sent our dossier back to IBESR to have presidential dispensation redone.

Now as to the inevitable WHY question – that’s where we just have to go a little “numb+dumb” about the whole thing. Because there is absolultely no logic or rationale to this stuff. And to answer the constant question I get from caring and indignant friends: don’t these people in the Haitian government care that they are keeping kids from joining a loving home?

The answer, sadly, is that I’m not sure that they really do care. Haiti is a hard and heavy place, and everyone is in survivial mode. I don’t think international adoption is high on the priority list when your country is recovering from a year of natural disasters, famine, kidnappings, violence, and political unrest. I know that there are people at our orphanage who care very much, but there is nothing that anyone can do to make the “powers-that-be” move any faster at signing papers for the hundreds of children who wait.

Which leave us with this fact: We have a son, who continues to live in a different country, without the presence of his family. This is a fact that is so painful for me that it sometimes takes my breath away. It is painful for me, but how much more so for a child. I worry all the time about Keanan growing up without us. He is loved, and cared for, and I know he has a lot of fun. But he needs a mommy and a daddy.

Sometimes I wonder in this process what I would do if India or Jafta were forced to live in an orphanage in another country. I can’t imagine I would sit idly by. I would probably pack us all up and move there to be with them, because they are my children. And that’s really how it feels with Keanan, too. Mark and I both have a constant tug that we need to just pack it up and move to Haiti for however long it takes. But then the practicalities and anxieties of that plan overwhelm us, and we passively choose not to act on it, because we drop the subject for another couple of months. It’s a conversation that is always on the table, and yet never really on the table. It becomes a sort of nagging guilt: I SHOULD BE WITH MY SON, BUT I’M TOO SCARED. And really, that’s the truth of the matter. Fear.

So we go on with our busy lives and amp up the sarcasm a notch to hide the fact that we are in continuous pain over not being whole as a family. It is a seperation that is palpable, and even Jafta feels it. It has a weight like depression or grief, and we feel so utterly helpless to change things right now.

We have met other friends along this path, and they are going through similiar things. There is so much pain amongst waiting families, and there is pain for the waiting children, too. If you never have, go read Jamie’s blog. She articulates so many of the feelings that I have, but don’t have the energy to even speak.

Adoption is hard.

why it matters

This brought tears to my eyes the minute I saw it. A young boy visiting the White House asks to touch the president’s hair to see if it felt the same as his. I have heard some cynical people balk at the big deal some made of having our first Black president. This picture illustrates why it is a big deal for some. When my son pretends to be a prince but then says he can’t because his hair is “not like a prince’s hair”, or when he comes home telling me a kid at school touched his hair and called it weird . . . and then seeing him light up when, on inauguration day, he made the connection that “Barack Obama has hair like me!!!”. Yes, he notices. And yes, it matters.