Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

RIP, Thomas Tillman Moore, Jr., TSGT, USAFR
January 18, 1923 - August 7, 2006
Veteran of World War II (Pacific) and the Korean Conflict

One Sunday night around 8 p.m. a little over two years ago, our phone rang. I picked up, even though I was literally heading out the door at the time to do the grocery shopping. It was my sister Anne calling to tell me that my dad had a stroke, or so they believed at the time. (Later we learned it was a bleeder on the brain caused by a fall when Daddy had one of the seizures that were becoming more and more common.) He had been taken to the hospital and things didn't look so good. This was the phone call I'd been dreading since my Pappaw's death when I was five.

When I started the van, the radio was on, and the song in the video here had just started playing. I broke down. Then and there, I knew my dad's final illness had begun and he wouldn't be with us much longer. That song was my sign.

I cried my way through the grocery store and home. By bedtime, I knew Daddy had gone into surgery, and at some point in the night, perhaps aware that I wasn't sleeping, my sister Susie called to let me know that he had survived the surgery. So far, so good. For a while, he seemed to make real progress; however, a couple of weeks later, a second surgery was required, and he never quite came back after that one.

It was my prayer at the time that he'd survive past Memorial Day weekend so that I could see him one more time. We'd all been planning to come home then to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday, which was the first week of June. Together with my sisters, Daddy had put together a family celebration. We all came home, and we celebrated Mom's birthday, but it was a bittersweet celebration. We spent most of our time waiting outside the ICU to squeeze in one more visit.

When I saw Daddy in the ICU, it only confirmed my feeling that it would not be long. Mom thought he would survive and eventually leave the hospital. I tried to stay optimistic for her sake, but in my heart, I knew. I believe he knew, too, though he fought hard because she wasn't ready yet. Over the summer, he had his ups and down, but by August, the months he spent bedridden had taken their toll and he succumbed to a hospital infection.

I love country music because it tells the stories of real life, and in that sense, it has become the soundtrack of my life. Hearing this song always takes me back to the moment I knew that we were losing Daddy. The message of the song, however, isn't one of sadness, but of hope that I'll see him again someday.

Until we meet again, Daddy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

There are no words

Steven Curtis Chapman is well-known in the Christian community and the recording industry at large. He's one of the most successful Christian artists of all time and has won multiple Grammys. He's also known and loved in the China adoption community. At the urging of his oldest daughter, who was 14 at the time, Steven and his wife Mary Beth adopted a daughter from China, Shaohannah. Soon thereafter, they adopted another, Stevey Joy, and then, a few days after Kevin and I went to get Madeline, they adopted Maria Sue. They also started a charity that awards adoption grants to families, Shaohannah's Hope. Kevin and I had the privilege of hearing Steven sing and speak at a fundraiser for our adoption agency, AWAA, that we attended while we were waiting for Madeline's referral. AWAA assisted with Maria Sue's adoption.

We all were greatly saddened today when we read that Maria Sue, age 5, was hit by an SUV yesterday at the family's home and died a few hours later at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Please keep this family in your prayers, especially her older brother, who was the driver of the SUV. The authorities have determined that it was a terrible accident, and no charges will be filed, but there are no words that can adequately describe how devastating it would have been for that young man, as well as his entire family.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When I get where I'm going

Madeline and I had a conversation earlier this week that was one of those priceless ones you never want to forget. We were riding along in the car and she pointed out some vultures that were circling overhead on one side of the road. She mentioned that she and her aftercare teacher, Miss Jeannie, had seen some vultures when they had been on the playground. She told me that Jeannie said that vultures ate dead animals.

I concurred, and explained that around here, the vultures ate pretty well because of all the road kill. We live in a recently-developed area. A little over five years ago, the plot where our house sits was part of somebody's farm. We see a lot of wild animals.

Then the conversation took an interesting turn:

Madeline: Do vultures eat people?

Me: If the people are dead, yes. That's why when people die we bury their bodies in the cemetery. It's one way we show respect. We bury them so their bodies will break down and return to the Earth. [Well, no, not really, but it wasn't the right time to go into a spiel on the funeral industry.] They don't need their bodies anymore.

Madeline: Where's the spirit when that happens?

Me: Remember, when someone dies, their spirit leaves their body and goes on to Heaven.

Madeline: Like Grandpa? [Grandpa was my dad, who passed away in 2006.]

Me: Yes, that's right, Grandpa's spirit is in Heaven now.

Madeline: What does he look like?

Me: I've never seen a spirit, but some people claim that they look like a younger, healthier version of the person who died. If someone has died in an accident, they'll probably look like the accident never happened. Grandpa probably looks like he did when I was your age. I'm sure he's very handsome again!

Madeline: But when I'm dead and get to Heaven, how will I recognize him?

Me: I'm sure he won't look that different. Maybe his hair will be black again rather than white and he'll be able to stand up straighter. But I'm also pretty sure he'll know when you arrive and will be there to meet you at the entrance.

Madeline: Well, I know I'll recognize my Gramps [her paternal grandfather] in Heaven even if he looks younger. He'll still have a big nose!

My new favorite LOLCats

Monday, May 12, 2008

Maybe it wasn't the perfect place, but ...

I had a conversation that set me on my ear while at an outing yesterday. I was talking with an acquaintance who has a child that's only a little younger than Madeline. This person has been trying out some Love and Logic-like techniques for disciplining her child, who tends toward stubbornness. She was sharing that her child was angry and told her that, as children are sometimes wont to do, she wished she had different parents. In response, my fellow conversationalist told her daughter that she'd take her to the orphanage that very night. Then she preceded to explain that she'd told the child just how awful orphanages were: "You know, they chain the children to the beds, the children don't get anything to eat, only one small grain of rice a day ...." Yadda, yadda, yadda. And she said all this while Madeline was sitting right there.

What! The! Hell?!

This person knew me well before the time we adopted Madeline, and I know that she knows that Madeline spent her first 14 months in an orphanage. But I'm very bad about letting things like this pass, even though I know that, with an adopted child of a different race, I shouldn't be so slow to speak. I just don't like to make waves, and I don't think well on my feet. I've also been reading Miss Manners for too many years. Usually the best I can muster is a stern glare or, on occasion, an icy, "Whatever do you mean?" After this person left, I ask our hostess and Kevin if they'd caught the remark and, if so, what they thought. For the record, both thought it was appalling.

So, fellow conversationalist, if you're reading this, the children in Madeline's orphanage were not chained to beds there, nor were they starved. You have no business suggesting that to anyone, especially your child, who plays with my child.

No, fellow conversationalist, the children in Qinzhou were very much loved. Perhaps there wasn't money for fancy toys, pretty clothes or even a lot of food, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was love. I saw it in the nannies' faces, and though I understand only a few words of Cantonese, I heard it in their voices. I saw love in the eyes of the nanny who handed my daughter to me and the tears on her face. Those nannies were dedicated to the welfare of our children, and they treated them with incredible tenderness. As a result of being so loved, Madeline mourned fiercely at first, then bonded to us quickly and tightly. Our bond is every bit as miraculous as birth itself.

And lest my observations seem biased to you, a couple of years ago, another family in our little Qinzhou Social Welfare Institution e-group visited the orphanage and spoke at length with the director, the shorter of the two men in the picture above. As they were leaving, the family asked him if he had any thoughts to pass along to the children who'd been adopted from there. "Tell them that the people in Qinzhou love them," he said.

You may think that I've gotten very PC, and perhaps that is the case. But there's nothing like experiencing the sting of stereotyping, albeit through my child, to drive home why such attitudes are heinous. While you may not have intended any ill will, what you said hurt me because it had the potential of tearing her down, and that's just not acceptable. I've forgiven you, as my faith instructs me to do, but I ask one thing: that you think before you speak.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to some very special moms (besides me) in my daughter's life. First, to her Godmother Alice, who is also her Aunt Alice.

Second, to her Grammie, Connie McGee (who is also about the best mother-in-law anyone could ever hope to have).

Finally, to her Grandma Wanda in Tennessee, my own loving mother for over 50 years now.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

You make a difference

I am in Reno this week taking a civil mediation course. More on what I'm learning later, but our instructors introduced us to this really neat video that I thought I'd share. For a long time I've felt that we all make a difference somehow and we detract from the life experience of others if we opt out of doing what we were put here to do. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The debate rages on

This is a good article on a subject I loathe, The Mommy Wars. Before I became a mom, I wondered if they were real or just intended to sell soap. Now I know they are real, though probably overblown, except perhaps in the minds of petty women who like to keep score.

I work full-time, and I work guiltlessly. I'm not your ardent, in-your-face feminist, but I am an attorney, and even as a federal employee, my earning potential is pretty good. When I was much younger, I just assumed I'd stay home with kids, at least until they were in school. By my mid-30's, when I still hadn't married, my assumptions changed. I never assumed that I wouldn't eventually marry, but I knew I'd probably keep working. After all, I thought, my children would likely be born of another woman and a bit older, perhaps school age, when they entered my life -- as stepchildren, I assumed. Meanwhile, tired of headaches from pounding the glass ceiling in my previous career (computer programmer/analyst for various defense contractors), I made a U-turn on life's path and backtracked to pursue a long-time (try from junior high days) dream of becoming a lawyer. I enrolled in night law school as a prematurely gray 37-year-old. (Hence the moniker "Old Lady," bestowed on me by some younger peers, and it wasn't intended as flattery.) I graduated and passed the bar at 41. Magna cum laude, law review, various writing honors, judicial clerkship -- not only had I become a lawyer, but people seemed to think I'd probably be a pretty good lawyer, too.

In the mean time, I'd married Kevin, a guy who didn't have children and wanted them. I quickly learned that it would be difficult, and require a lot of medical intervention, for me to have a baby. Although we have no problems with assisted fertility in many cases, it wasn't for us. There are babies out there, if race and national origins are not important to you. Ultimately, we decided to request an infant rather than an older child. In terms of everything from attachment to language acquisition, it just seemed easier that way.

So ... Madeline arrived at a time when I was changing careers at mid-life and trying to establish myself as an attorney. She arrived when I had just incurred big student loans. There was no question about it: I would keep working. And because there wasn't any "work or don't work?" question, I never felt guilty about working.

It's true that some people tried to make me (and people like me) feel guilty. I've participated in a number of adoption-related e-groups over the years and frequently some neophyte will pose the question, "If you're going to all the trouble to adopt a child, shouldn't you have to stay home to raise her?" Usually, these neophytes are evangelical Christians. Agendized evangelical Christians, I might add. I was raised as an evangelical Christian and, though a fairly liberal Methodist now, I know a lot of them. But, the answer to that question is a resounding, "No!" It's actually a pretty silly question. Isn't a child without parents better off with parents, even if those parents work?

I remember one of these e-debates where a self-righteous lady told us that if she worked, her family could afford a trip to Disneyworld and a house with a three-car garage like the rest of us, but no, she was sacrificing those frills and fripperies to give her children "the best." Well! For the record, we're planning right now to take our 6-year-old to Disney for the first time. Disney won't be a yearly occurrence. That place is expensive. Oh, and the last time I checked, we had a two-car garage.

On the other hand, we ought to be able to take care of ourselves in retirement without burdening our daughter, and hopefully, we'll be able to send her to Harvard if that's her dream (and she can get in). It's much easier to do that with two incomes.

None of this is to say that there aren't rich folks out there who don't need two incomes. And there are families where it would eat away the vast majority of the extra income for both parents to work. In that case, it makes sense for the person with the lower income (I did not say "mother") to drop out of the workforce for awhile. (On the other hand, it does NOT make sense to homeschool. Well, maybe not never, but seldom. And escaping the evil public schools isn't a good reason to homeschool. Get a job, woman, and send the kid to private school like I do.)

Okay, so I have strong opinions on this stuff, too.

I have to say, though, my daughter has thrived "despite" my staying in the workforce. She never forgot who Mommy was. While she's always run to me at the end of the day, she runs to her friends in the morning when we dropped her off. She attached about as quickly as could be expected. She's been incredibly healthy. Other than begging me to buy her a Bratz doll of late (not happening), she's picked up relatively few bad attitudes and habits from her peers. She has a big circle of friends. She incorporated the Golden Rule in her dealings with others at a tender age and is learning to resolve conflicts constructively. Adults love her. She has a healthy degree of independence, but a little kid's neediness and sweetness. Kindergarten isn't over yet, and she's already reading and doing "pluses and minuses" in math. She's a little mouthier than I'd like (but so was I at that age) and she's a pickier eater than I'd like (one of her cousins asked me how she survived), but she's a good kid, and I can't help but think that her daycare experience enhanced that.