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.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I'm no fan of Barbie, but ...

Maybe they should save their consternation for Bratz.

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer Mon Apr 28, 4:09 PM ET

TEHRAN, Iran - A top Iranian judiciary official warned Monday against the "destructive" cultural and social consequences of importing Barbie dolls and other Western toys.

In the latest salvo in a more than decade-old government campaign against Barbie, Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi said in an official letter to Vice President Parviz Davoudi that the doll and other Western toys are a "danger" that need to be stopped.

"The irregular importation of such toys, which unfortunately arrive through unofficial sources and smuggling, is destructive culturally and a social danger," said the letter, a copy of which was made available to The Associated Press.

Iranian markets have been inundated with smuggled Western toys in recent years partly due to a dramatic rise in purchasing power as a result of increased oil revenues.

While importing the toys is not necessarily illegal, it is discouraged by a government that seeks to protect Iranians from what it calls the negative effects of Western culture.

Najafabadi said the increasing visibility of Western dolls has alarmed authorities and they are considering intervening.

"The displays of personalities such as Barbie, Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter ... as well as the irregular importation of unsanctioned computer games and movies are all warning bells to the officials in the cultural arena," his letter said.

Najafabadi said Iran is the world's third biggest importer of toys and warned that smuggled imports pose a threat to the "identity" of the new generation.

"Undoubtedly, the personality and identity of the new generation and our children, as a result of unrestricted importation of toys, has been put at risk and caused irreparable damages," he said.

Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie, had no immediate comment on the Iranian letter.

Barbie is sold wearing swimsuits and miniskirts in a society where women must wear head scarves in public and men and women are not allowed to swim together.

In 1996, the head of a government-backed children's agency called Barbie a "Trojan horse" sneaking in Western influences such as makeup and revealing clothes.

Authorities launched a campaign of confiscating Barbies from toy shops in 2002, denouncing the un-Islamic sensibilities of the iconic American doll. But the campaign was eventually dropped.

Also in 2002, Iran introduced its own competing dolls — the twins Dara and Sara — who were designed to promote traditional values with their modest clothing and pro-family stories. But the dolls proved unable to stem the Barbie tide.

Angel Food v. Devil's Food

Here's another one I didn't write that struck me as particularly funny:

Angel's Food vs. Devil's Food...

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

Then using God's great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and Krispy Creme Donuts. And Satan said, "You want chocolate with that?"

And Man said, "Yes!" and Woman said, "and as long as you're at it, add some sprinkles." And they gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.

And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 6 to size 14.

So God said, "Try my fresh green salad." And Satan presented Ranch Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

God then said, "I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them." And Satan brought forth deep fried fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained more weight and his cholesterol went through the roof.

God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it "Angel Food Cake," and said, "It is good." Satan then created chocolate cake and named it "Devil's Food."

God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan gave cable TV with a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds.

God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald's and its 99-cent double cheeseburger. Then said, "You want fries with that?" And Man replied, "Yes! And super size them!" And Satan said, "It is good." And Man went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.

Then Satan created HMOs.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tears on my laptop

On Fridays, I work at home. This past Friday, I fired up my virtual connection to the office, opened up my work email and learned that a coworker had died. The email had been sent on Thursday after I left, and immediately, I called in to try to learn what had happened. Suicide. It goes without saying that the day went downhill from there. I spent the remainder of the work day in a mental fog, crying intermittently as I tried to write. When I wasn't crying, or reading the email traffic about the availability of EAP counselors and the all-hands meeting for my office, I was on the phone with people from the office trying to make sense of what had happened.

There's no way that Jane's (not her real name) death makes sense to me even now, and at present, I'm mad at her. When I'm not crying, that is. And I'm spending a lot of this weekend doing just that. I've known other people who've committed suicide, but I was closer to this woman than I was to those people. I can't say that we were close friends, but we were friends and had been colleagues for nearly six years (I was hired at my current job in July 2002). Jane was actually one of my peer-interviewers when I applied for my job, and perhaps one of the reasons I accepted the job when offered. And Jane and I shared some important commonalities. We both struggled with depression, and we both battled eating and weight issues. It's the commonalities that make her self-induced death harder to accept, and like a lot of those left behind in any suicide, I wonder what might have prevented it.

A couple of people I know have told me not to think this way. One told me that Jane's passing was her choice and I couldn't have done anything to stop it. The first part is definitely true, and I suppose that a person absolutely set on ending her life would be pretty much impossible to stop.

The second friend, a colleague, told me that I shouldn't be angry, that I should understand why she did it because I too suffer from depression. That doesn't work for me. Even in the worst of my own depression, and I've had bouts of it since college, I've never been suicidal. Sure, I had some minor suicidal ideation in my mid-twenties, but it was mainly drama queen stuff in response to a job that was harder than anything I've dealt with in my life, and frankly, for which I was emotionally unsuited.

That pain was pretty bad, but it did end, by the way. My employer soon realized I was unsuited, too, and terminated me. Looking back, that was a humane act because it caused me to leave a career that would have been soul-crushing and strike out for something better. It took several years, but the road eventually led to law school. That was probably the road I should have taken in the first place, though at the time, I was probably too immature and perfectionistic to have survived law school.

Since that time, I've had ups and downs. My bouts of depression have mainly involved extreme lethargy, overeating, weight gain, poor sleep hygiene, a messy house, crabbiness, and tearfulness, but not losing my will to live or purposefully trying to die. I know my strong religious convictions have played a part in this, but beyond that, killing myself just doesn't compute. At some point (in my late 20's or early 30's), I realized that things usually do get better if you give them time. I've never gotten so deeply mired in depression that I haven't found something good to hold onto ... a hug from a friend, a call from a family member, an unexpected check in the mail. I don't know what it's like to lose all hope. I'm surprised that Jane did know that.

I'm not just saying this because she's dead, but Jane was a terrific woman through and through. She was unfailingly kind, endlessly caring, utterly decent, and a damn fine lawyer, too. Jane was the type who'd organize the office baby showers, retirement parties and welcome receptions for new employees. I'd worked closely with her last fall on our agency's Unity Day observance, which is an annual celebration our varied personal histories and origins. Jane always had a kind word and a good suggestion for resolving the sticky legal problem currently on my desk. Beyond my individual sorrow, Jane's death is a huge loss for our agency. And it begs the question: Did she even know how much we all loved her? I suspect she did, but the depression monster was stronger than that love.

Despite my anger about the emotional chaos her passing creates for us all, I pray she's found the peace she was seeking. Requiescat in pace, dear friend.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ring! Ring!

This is not a post about jewelry, title to the contrary. It's a post about amazing customer service that's almost unheard of these days.

I've always loved my engagement and wedding rings. Back when Kevin and I decided to get married, he did some Internet research about local jewelers after spending a rather frustrating Sunday afternoon store-hopping in a large mall. Washington Diamond, a small family-owned store in Falls Church, Virginia, got consistently high marks its customers, and so he decided to make an appointment there. We went on a Thursday night after work.

Our shopping experience there was clearly different than anything we'd experienced at the mall stores. Instead of being sized up, shaken down, or shamed into looking at bigger stones than we could afford (essentially, a used-car-buying experience), one of the owners, who'd apparently already discussed budget with Kevin, simply brought a tray of stones in our price range into his office, and I selected the one that I liked. No attitude, no condescension, no frilly showroom.

The photo above doesn't do justice to it. It was the smallest stone on the tray, but has incredible fire. Though it's not small, what it "lacks" in carats, it more than makes up in color, cut and clarity. And it was considerably less than a stone of similar weight (but of a lesser quality) that we'd seen at the mall stores.

It gets better. I brought with me a picture of a ring I liked from a bridal magazine. We found the setting in one of Robert's catalogs, and it was pricey. Robert proposed that his goldsmith would make a similar ring -- not identical, of course, but in the same genre -- for a considerably less inflated price. The goldsmith made me an elegant ring for which I still get frequent compliments. When time to buy a wedding band rolled around, we came back to Washington Diamond and they created a matching band.

So you can imagine my upset when I looked at my hand one day last fall and saw that one of the baguettes had fallen out of the engagement ring.

Together with my coworkers, I scoured the floor of my office, the hall and the restroom on the floor where I work. We took apart my computer keyboard. We turned off all the lights and searched using a flashlight. No stone.

I emailed Washington Diamond to inquire about a repair. The owner called me the next day and assured me that the ring could be repaired for a reasonable price. Essentially, I would pay for the new stone. That's it.

So last month, I finally took my ring in for repair. I left my wedding band as well so they could inspect it. No sense losing another baguette. Because before I took over the family filing system, Kevin had lost the certificate that came with the ring, so I wanted to replace that. And, yes, give me an updated appraisal, too.

I picked up the rings late last week. I swear, they looked new. The baguette turned out to be a bit more expensive than we expected because it's not a size they normally use, but Washington Diamond had cleaned and polished the rings beautifully, and replated the platinum parts with rhodium -- all for the cost of another baguette. And they even had a photocopy of the certificate in their files.

I love these guys. I love my rings!

My 10th anniversary is coming up. An anniversary ring? Oh, how I wish! But, those darned tuition payments never end. (That's not to say that she's not worth every penny of it.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pet Diaries: Dog vs. Cat

No, I didn't write this myself. Don't know the author (for attribution purposes), but it is too good not to share.

The Dog's Diary:

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!

9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!

9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!

10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!

12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!

1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!

3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!

5:00 pm - Dinner! My favorite thing!

7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!

8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!

11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

The Cat's Diary:

Day 983 of my captivity.

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am. Jerks!

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage. Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again
tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released, and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded. The bird must be an informant. I observe him communicate with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

April 9, 2003, and Beyond

In the fall of 2003, I did something I've always thought would be fun to do, write a feature-like article for a magazine. It all started a few months earlier -- during the thick of the events I've been describing in this series -- when I received the slick Furman magazine from my alma mater. (My first foray into higher education was at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., where I graduated in 1979 with a B.A. in history.) There was a first-person article from a classmate, Jim Ewel, regarding an adventure he and his family had in Paris, when Jim decided to take a few months off from work and get an humble kitchen-prep job at a multi-star eatery there. Now, this adventure begs the question, "Who can afford to do that?" After college, Jim seems to have struck out for Seattle and landed a job in the little software start-up that eventually ate the industry. So while I was in law school reading about Microsoft's antitrust "issues," Jim was probably making a ton of money. Oh, well.... I saw the article and said, "I can do this!" Not market Windows mind you, or slice and dice in Paris (though I probably actually could do that), mind you. No, write a first-person article for a slick magazine. After ruling out the Washington Post's Sunday magazine, I contacted the editor of Furman. He liked the idea, and six months later, I was a published author. With apologies to Paul Harvey, the " Rest of the Story" comes from my article:

On Wednesday, April 9, we boarded an early-morning flight to Hong Kong, and at noon departed for Chicago from a tomb-like Hong Kong International Airport. The trip back was somber – and very different from the journey over. On our flight to Beijing, every seat was taken, but we had congregated in the plane’s galleys, gotten to know our fellow adoptive parents and chatted up the flight attendants, who were more than happy to keep the liquid refreshments flowing. On the way back, the flight was half-empty and the attendants were wearing surgical masks and latex gloves.

By now, Madeline was adjusting to us – and rapidly becoming her sprightly self. She didn’t sleep until we were 30 minutes outside of O’Hare, when she nodded off in my arms. When we passed through Immigration, the inspector looked at her and said with a grin, “Well, it’s another ‘lucky kid’!” With a stamp and a stroke of his pen, Madeline became a citizen.

Her warm welcome to America was short-lived, however. On the way to the domestic gate, she was awakened by an overly zealous security inspector who insisted that she be removed from her harness so that it could be X-rayed. I didn’t know terrorists had sunk so low. As we took off, she started whimpering and pawing her ears, and she remained unhappy all the way home. Kevin’s folks met us right outside the security perimeter – two very tired parents with their first grandchild.

At the time, many returning parents in the China adoption community were choosing to be quarantined for 10 days. We thought this was excessive, and we knew that Kevin’s parents would never agree to wait that long to meet their grandchild. To be safe, though, we decided not to leave the house much during our first few days home.

I did, however, take Madeline to our family practitioner, Dr. Joanne Watson, the day after we got home to get more amoxicillin for what I was sure was an ear infection. I also told Dr. Watson about my illness in China. She attributed it to the same causes I had – jet lag, dehydration, stress – but told me to keep in touch.

When we took the baby to Johns Hopkins, the doctor pronounced her “healthy but small” and advised us to continue treating her scabies and to feed her whatever she’d eat. By the end of the next week, Easter weekend, all of us were over jet lag and feeling better, and we decided that Madeline would make her social debut in church.

By Monday night, however, both Kevin and I were feeling sick. Kevin thought he was suffering from allergies, but my symptoms from Nanning had returned with a vengeance, and this time with an added problem: shortness of breath.

When my temperature reached 101 on Tuesday, I called Dr. Watson’s office. Within minutes she returned the call and said, “It’s probably nothing, but I think we need to rule out SARS, and a hospital is the best place to do that.” She agreed to make the arrangements. If I was sick, it was likely that everyone in the house would get sick, so we decided that all of us should be tested. We left immediately.

Kevin dropped Madeline and me at the emergency room door, where a security guard stepped up and asked, “Ma’am, are you Mrs. McGee?” When I said yes, he led me to one side as a staff member approached, bringing masks for us to wear. He wasn’t in protective clothing and kept a healthy distance. When Kevin arrived, the guard led us all to an isolation room, where a group of doctors and nurses waited – in masks, gowns, gloves and goggles.

Five hours later, after we had endured assorted questions, tests, X-rays and specimen collections, the nurse-manager, who had been presiding over this circus, re-entered our isolation chamber and announced, “Edith, you have a probable case of SARS.” (I later learned that she had used the wrong term; I was merely a “suspected” case.) She went on to explain that I would have to be isolated until 10 days after all symptoms had abated, and that Kevin and Madeline would have to stay inside for three days – unless they developed symptoms, in which case they’d be isolated, too. She added that only the Centers for Disease Control could verify whether I actually had the disease, and the process might take a few days.

Then came the ground rules: No stops on the way home. No visitors, even for emergencies (including the guy I had scheduled to fix my dishwasher). I was to check in with the health department twice a day; they would call the next morning with instructions. If my symptoms worsened at all, I was to call 911 and let county emergency services know that I was “the SARS lady,” so they could send an ambulance crew in protective gear. Having seen reports on television about people in isolation, we wondered if the hospital intended to notify the media. She assured us that the media would not be called.

I’m sure her intentions were the best. I’m also sure the media train had already left the station by the time we reached home.

We decided we would limit the spread of information and tell people on a “need to know” basis. We called Kevin’s parents and my brother and sister-in-law, Mike and Alice. Alice offered to purchase groceries and leave them on our porch. Our niece, Rebecca, who worked at a photo store, offered to develop our film from China.

We did not call my family in Tennessee. Before the trip, my mother had called in a swivet, fearful that we would be exposed to SARS. I responded that the issue wasn’t open for debate. Our child was waiting in China, and we were going.

The next morning, I received the first of many calls from the Anne Arundel County Health Department. After fielding several dozen questions from Dr. Sohail Qarni and his nurse, Marie Crawford, I went back to bed, expecting a peaceful recovery.

Later that day, though, a public affairs officer at the health department called. “I really hate having to tell you this,” she said, “and I don’t know the source of the leak, but The Washington Post has your name. They just called to confirm that the suspected SARS patient in Anne Arundel County is Edith McGee. We refused to comment, of course.”

My reply cannot be printed in a family publication, and when I hung up I was trembling with anger. A few moments later, the phone rang again. It was a Post reporter. I hung up. He called again. Kevin grabbed the receiver and shouted, “If you print anything about my wife, we’re going to sue you!” Having confirmed my condition – and obviously undeterred by the isolation – the reporter rang our doorbell a couple of hours later. Kevin shouted for him to go away.

The next morning, the story ran in the Post and was picked up on radio and television: a 45-year-old Millersville woman who had just returned from China with her husband and one-year-old son was sequestered in their home.

The phone calls started almost immediately. Our builder’s project manager left a message: Was I the woman with SARS? He needed to know, because company personnel had been in our home since our return. Recognizing the potential for trouble, I confessed.

My boss called next. “This is none of my business, but I know you were sick in China. Listen, if it’s you, I’ll put ‘sick leave’ on your timecard rather than ‘annual leave’.” Recognizing that the amount of paid leave available to me had just increased, I confessed. Then a girlfriend called. “They got the baby’s sex wrong, but I know this is you, and I’m worried sick.” Recognizing a shoulder to cry on, I confessed. So much for privacy.

Later that day, Nurse Marie called and dropped another bomb. “The Post has been bugging our public affairs people all day. They’re sure it’s you. Won’t you give them a telephone interview?” After she assured me that Phuong Ly, the reporter now on the story, was “nice,” Kevin and I granted an anonymous interview, hoping it would put an end to the media interest.

That evening, a Baltimore news crew conducted on-the-street interviews at a strip mall near our house, and patron after patron gravely insisted that the health authorities had a duty to reveal my name to the public. So now I was Typhoid Mary.

In contrast, Phuong’s story was balanced and accurate. We didn’t look like fools, and she graciously omitted most of the identifying details. But our decision to talk to the Post only encouraged the media. We became a hot commodity.

First, the local television stations did telephone interviews. Then the national outfits wanted a piece of the action. We agreed to cooperate as long as our names weren’t used and as long as I didn’t do live interviews. We wanted to maintain at least the pretense of privacy, and I was sick enough to distrust my self-censorship capabilities. I talked with the CBS Evening News and the New York Times. Unfortunately, members of my immediate family in Tennessee saw the CBS piece, and yes, Mom, I know you told me not to go.

That weekend, CNN’s medical reporter, Elizabeth Cohen, called and requested an on-camera interview. Although I was feeling better, I was still supposed to avoid contact with others. CNN asked if we could provide footage, using our camcorder, and ship the tape. Our faces would be obscured for the broadcast. We complied, and the result was a delightful piece. Elizabeth and her producer were so pleased with our footage – “This is better than the stuff we get from our affiliates!” – that they jokingly offered to award us academic credit for our experience in news production.

Over the next 10 days I continued to improve – and talk to the press. On Monday, May 5, Kevin returned to work, and later that day the health department called to let me know I was free at last. Ten days had elapsed since I had run a fever.

Within minutes, television reporters were calling again, this time for on-camera interviews. Granted, we were a great human-interest story: “Middle-aged woman goes to China, adopts adorable child, gets very sick, then recovers just in time for Mother’s Day!”

Over the next two weeks, stations from Baltimore and Washington sent crews. Phuong Ly from the Post dropped by with a photographer in tow. Our local rag, the Maryland Gazette, and the Annapolis paper, The Capital, also sent a reporter and photographer. A Chinese language daily did a story, as did Voice of America. Sharyl Atkisson of CBS Evening News interviewed me about the effects of my two-week isolation for a story on the gaps in the public health system that the SARS crisis had exposed.

And then, by Memorial Day, it was over.

In retrospect, I doubt we would have received so much attention had there been another big story other than SARS. And despite the leak to the Post, the entire media circus would have been avoidable had Kevin and I been less accommodating.

But I think it was better that we cooperated. We offered the press a “real” story rather than fodder for the kind of speculation that fuels unfounded fears. In turn, despite having to field a few silly questions, we were treated well.

Leave it to Fox, however, to sensationalize our story. A few days after I learned that I had not been infected with the corona virus that causes SARS, a reporter for the network’s D.C. affiliate asked whether anyone had been unkind to me. At the time, there were reports that some people returning from China were being shunned by friends and neighbors. “Only one,” I said, and described a humorous encounter with another patron at a department store where I was awaiting checkout with Madeline. The woman told her young children to stay away from us because we might make them sick. Fox played that up.

Not everyone who’d been exposed to us was treated so benignly. Alice, my sister-in-law, received a call from the mother of one of Rebecca’s schoolmates, asking if she was safe to be around. My brother Mike, an airline pilot, informed his employer, and although the airline allowed him to continue flying, some flight attendants and a first officer mutinied.

The people we knew personally, however, were kind and supportive. Some of our new neighbors asked about my welfare while I was still in isolation. Our pastor and my in-laws handled with humor and grace some concerned but polite inquiries from persons I’d “exposed” at church.

Despite being able to identify a bit with Monica Lewinsky, we’re none the worse for wear. And yes, knowing what we know now, we’d still have gone to China to get Madeline.

It’s not just that she is a wonderful child, a match for our family that only God could have engineered. It’s that once we saw her picture and knew her name, there was a hook through our hearts. Even before she was officially ours, we knew that we were her parents.

And what parents wouldn’t go?

Five years later, my story still surfaces in odd ways. I'll be standing in the produce department and some total stranger will approach me and say, "Hey aren't you...." It used to happen all of the time, though, thankfully, it's infrequent and I've gone back to being Citizen Edie, rather than the Millersville SARS Mom. But, Google "Edie McGee" and "SARS" and see what you get.

I still wonder what it was that attacked my respiratory system. The tests say that it wasn't SARS, but it was unlike any cold, pneumonia or flu that I've ever experienced. Occasionally, I wonder if it will have some long-term effect on my health. I raised the issue when I had the mysterious breathing troubles after my lap-band surgery last fall, and the physician's assistant with whom I was speaking proceeded to chew me out about not sharing my story with my surgeon and anesthesiologist before the surgery. WTH? (Sorry Drs. Schweitzer and Mazza, but hey, I had surgery in 2005 and didn't have breathing problems then....) It's been five years, people! Surely my lungs are well by now. So, I keep walking on the treadmill and refusing to live in fear. It was a fluke and what a fluke it was.

Darn! I'd hoped to get my fifteen minutes of fame doing something more worthwhile than being Patient Zero in a media-created pandemic.

Vote for my post April 9, 2003, and Beyond on Mom Blog Network

Saturday, April 19, 2008

April 7, 2003

Sorry for the long delay in finishing our story, but a lot has happened in the last two weeks. Don't worry -- nothing particularly earth shattering. I just had a personal goal of getting all our tax-related paperwork finished by April 1 so that our accountant would have a couple of weeks to work on it, and then on April 4, Madeline and I drove to Tennessee for a family wedding. (No, I did not let Madeline drive. Her feet don't reach the pedals yet, and my gut sense is that she will be a speeder.) We returned on April 6, and since that time, I've been crunching away on Girl Scout stuff. I lead Madeline's Daisy troop. I had new leader training last weekend, and the Spring merchandise sale stuff came in and had to be distributed to the parents. On top of all this, I've been doing shuttle diplomacy for four different appeals at work. I've had no time to write. Zero, zip, nada. The dust has settled now, and I can continue the saga.

We spent a few days in Nanning waiting for Madeline's Chinese passport and various other documents, then on Friday, April 4, we flew to Guangzhou for the last leg of our trip. And that's when things started to get weird -- at least they did for us. Here's an email home dated April 7, which I wrote while Kevin was at our Consulate appointment for Madeline's visa. I've interjected a few comments in brackets.

Hello everyone!

Greetings from the epicenter of SARS. We are in Guangzhou getting Madeline's visa. Guangzhou reminds me a lot of San Francisco. On the water, cool and foggy.
[I will add here, five years after the fact, that unlike the City by the Bay, Guangzhou is not particularly hilly.] Although the Consulate assures us everything is okay -- no one there has gotten sick, and they have a lot of public contact -- we have been told not to go out where there are crowds of people and are complying. To save us from venturing out, they even did a "group swear" at the hotel. [After writing this email, I learned that they actually did it at the Consulate. We were told it would be at the hotel, but apparently they put everyone who showed up on the bus when the appointed time came. They did, however, allow us to send only one parent and did not require us to bring the baby.] We are also coming back one day early and avoiding spending the night in Hong Kong, which was our original itinerary.

Fortunately, this is a VERY nice hotel, comparable to a big Park Avenue hotel in NYC, so we are very comfortable even as we are cloistered somewhat. Kevin went back to Shamian Island this afternoon to shop. I'd love to see more of the city myself, but because it's raining and I've been running a low-grade fever since last Wednesday (I caught Madeline's cold), I am typing one-handed and holding her with the other.

After spending Thursday touring the Nanning countryside and visiting a farm village similar to the one where Madeline was likely conceived and born (you've never seen poverty like this, believe me), we got all her paperwork on Friday morning and flew to Guangzhou on Friday night. Madeline did very well on the plane. [Kevin tells me he's seen far worse poverty in the Philippines. The guides did tell us that this particular village was relatively wealthy; nonetheless, seeing it was still sobering for a rich, fat American like me.] No screaming. She just went right to sleep. We spent Saturday getting her visa physical exam and photos made, as well as shopping on Shamian Island. BTW, Madeline is 28.5 inches high and weighs 19.3 lbs.

On Sunday, we went to church on Shamian Island right by the Consulate. It was an "official" protestant church, but the people were very fervent. [It's a partial misconception that people can't worship in China. You can worship, but it has to be at a government-approved church. The government-sanctioned protestant denomination is called the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.] We sang hymns in Mandarin -- same hymns, and they had the Pinyin (English phonetic) words on an overhead screen. They had an English language translator for the sermon. The sermon was on 2nd Timothy. It was more in the nature of a Bible study than an American sermon, and definitely had a cultural twist. The pastor talked about being a good citizen of China AND Christian. He also admonished the younger parishioners to obey their parents and grandparents. [Very Chinese.] We met a bunch of young university students who spoke good English and had a nice visit while waiting for the service to begin. They were very supportive of international adoption of orphaned or abandoned children like Madeline. On Sunday afternoon we saw the Guangdong Folk Art Museum. What a place! Beautiful paintings, ceramics, bone carving, wood carving and embroidered pieces to die for. Today was the group swear. Since they only needed one parent, I stayed in the room with Madeline and Kevin went.

Madeline is doing beautifully. She still has a cold and scabies, both of which we are treating, but she's really warmed up to us and is showing us what she can do and who she is. She's a velcro baby with me and is gradually warming up to Kevin. She took her first steps on Saturday afternoon. The orphanage told me she was right on the verge of walking. We had a meeting to do paperwork on Saturday, and we, of course, brought her. She saw a ziplock bag of Cheerios (a favorite of this little girl) on the other side of the room and just took off. She's not real steady on her feet, but she walks on her own, and we got to witness those first steps. Unfortunately, we didn't have the cameras with us at the time.

She also talks a little. In Cantonese, of course. The waitress this morning translated, and she's definitely trying to communicate with us. She asked us for milk (nai-nai). She also calls me "mama" and Kevin "dada." She also loves to steal things from us and play games. She's anything but peaceful and quiet, which is another meaning for her name.

I'll write some more when I get back. It's hard to do this with a baby on your lap!

One of my few regrets about the trip was not getting out more during the Guangzhou leg. We'd heard time and time again from adoptive parents that Guangzhou is a terrific city with wonderful, child-friendly restaurants and fabulous shopping, much of which is on Shamian Island where the U.S. Consulate is located. (The fabled White Swan Hotel is also on Shamian Island, and most adoptive families stay there. Our agency, America-World Adoption Association, doesn't use the White Swan, so we missed that part of the China adoption experience. Oh, well. Some parents are peeved when they learn that AWAA uses a different hotel, but the agency has its reasons, and they are good ones. And the China Hotel where we stayed is itself fabulous.) We'd heard about the lovely park across from our hotel. We'd heard about the famed open-air food market where you can get just about anything you might want to eat, including animals that we Americans consider house pets. We'd heard about the beautiful Six Banyan Temple, a renouned Buddhist cultural site. We missed all that. And we broke our rule and ate at Mickey D's our first night there. It was next to the hotel. (I don't regret eating at McDonalds, but I do regret introducing Madeline to french fries at such a tender age. She was also introduced to another favorite while still in China: chocolate ice cream. See the video above.) Hopefully, we'll get back to Guangzhou in not too many years. I want to see it properly.

We also missed our Hong Kong layover. I've always wanted to go to Hong Kong. We'd planned to fly out of Guangzhou with our group the morning of April 9. Our group was leaving Guangzhou at 6:30 a.m. and taking a 30-minute hop to Hong Kong, then flying back to Chicago at noon. We planned to check into the airport hotel instead, spend the 9th playing in Hong Kong, and leave on the same flight the next day. Our agency advised us that it might be wise to return with the group instead, so we changed our flights while we were in Guangzhou. While I was disappointed on both counts, it was smart to do what we did, given that the World Health Organization had declared Guangzhou to be the epicenter of SARS the very week that we arrived there.

While the email above sounds totally cheery, the truth was, I felt like crap. I didn't have a low-grade fever, unless you consider 101.5 to be low-grade. I had a dry, hacking cough and trouble breathing. Even though it was cool in Guangzhou, sweat just poured off of my body with the slightest activity. I had zero energy. It was hard work just getting out of bed and taking care of the baby. My gut was going crazy, and I was losing weight at a precarious rate. I was disappointed to have to miss so much on this long-awaited trip, but there was definitely something wrong with my body. I wanted to go home. April 9 did not come a moment too soon.

Monday, March 31, 2008

March 31, 2003

An email message I sent from Nanning, China, on April 2, 2003:

Hi everyone!

It's no accident it's taken me 2 1/2 days to get back to the computer. It's 10:30 p.m. here in Nanning. Kevin and Madeline have crashed, and I'm running on adrenaline down here in the business center of the hotel. Since our first meeting is at 10 tomorrow (a late one for me), I can stay up another hour or so.

We had an uneventful flight to Nanning on an aging 737 operated by China Xinhua Airways. We arrived about 6 p.m., and it was 90 degrees in the shade, with 200 percent humidity. (Since the Chinese don't care much for air conditioning -- they have it, but they don't crank it up like we Americans do -- Kevin and I have been hot, hot, hot! Especially lugging around a 20 pound "velcro baby." I've dropped at least 10 pounds in the past week, as has Kevin. Nanning reminds me a bit of the Florida panhandle, flat and semitropical. The city itself reminds me of Baton Rouge for some reason.

The first 48 hours have been a little rough. They handed Madeline over on Monday night at the Civil Affairs Office. I knew Madeline instantly on seeing her. Her nanny grinned at me and pointed to me and said something to the child. Then, the nanny pointed to Madeline's cheeks and to her own. Both of us have dimples, and the nanny knew that from the photos of us I had sent to the orphanage. It was so cute -- they had all the babies dressed alike in little red and black matching Chinese-style pajamas.

Madeline was just taking it all in when her nanny burst into tears. Well, that started Madeline crying, and the next thing you know, I had both a new baby and a young Chinese woman in my arms comforting both of them. We went back to the hotel and they shot the pictures for the adoption certificate -- two sweaty but happy parents and one screaming infant in our case. Madeline was inconsolable for the next three hours and finally cried herself out and went to sleep on our bed

The next morning, she was sullen and clingy, obviously in mourning. She was clingy and quiet all day, wouldn't let me out of her sight (and still won't), and she wouldn't eat very much. We went to the Civil Affairs office and completed the adoption, then went to the notary.

We also met with the orphanage staff. One of the nannies told me she had actually been the one to name her An An, which means, in Cantonese, "safe and sound." You see, Madeline was found at three days old on the steps of a Qinzhou police station approximately 10 minutes after she was abandoned there. Her birth mother made darned sure she'd be safe and sound. Pretty amazing, isn't it? God works in wondrous ways.

When we returned to the hotel in the afternoon, Madeline felt hot, so I took her temperature. 100.5. I called our guide, Alice, and asked about a pediatrician who practiced WESTERN medicine (thank you very much). I wasn't taking any chances.

Well, I know we signed up for an adventure by adopting in another country, but a trip to a third world hospital? Heaven forfend! But we did it. And it was a very nice hospital. Apparently, Nanning has a well-regarded medical school with a sterling hospital. It was attractive and clean, and we were in and out of the emergency room in an hour. The bill was a whopping 52 yuan, which is roughly $6.50. That covered a doctor visit, lab work and three prescriptions. Alice came along to translate.

Madeline had a viral infection, but is rapidly improving. She smiled for the first time at the hospital (the nice young doctor flirted with her) and has really come along since then. She's obviously feeling better and her temp is down. She's acting like a normal year-old child now, flirting, laughing and cooing and stealing food off my dinner plate. This morning at breakfast she stole my watermelon cubes and ate them with gusto. She practically stood on the table when she saw a banana we had gotten her from the buffet. The kid is a bottomless pit.

If Madeline's eating, Mommy is not. She is too busy feeding Madeline. This might be a good thing. I needed to lose more weight anyway...

Off to bed.

The email sums up the basic events of our first meeting with Madeline. There are a couple things that were inadvertently omitted, however. We left Beijing mid-afternoon of Monday the 31st. As some of us were waiting in the Radisson lobby for the bus to take us to the airport, an elderly woman in Mao pajamas came over to our group and started talking to us in rapid-fire Mandarin. She moved around our group, bowing again to each of us and saying the same thing over and over again. Of course, our guides were outside at that point. After the woman left, the front desk clerk explained what she'd been doing there. Apparently, she was related to someone who worked at the hotel, who tipped her off whenever a group of adoptive parents stayed there. And she'd come to the hotel to thank the parents for taking care of the little girls. A couple of times later on in the trip, we ran into other seniors who had a similar reaction to seeing us -- a gentleman in the park in Nanning and one in the Guangzhou airport, a married couple (who did speak some English) on Shamian Island near the U.S. Consulate. These people all remembered life before the one-child policy took effect and held in high regard its small victims.

The second thing I omitted is lighter. After they handed me Madeline, it suddenly hit me that I knew very little about taking care of babies. Sure, I'd read a couple of childcare books, but I had almost no practical experience with the little ones. I didn't even know how to make a bottle! The next morning, I arose before Madeline started to stir and crept out into the hallway with my bottles, liners and the bag of formula that the orphanage had supplied and figured out much formula to use in an 8-ounce bottle. I'm sure my ignorance and inexperience with babies definitely played into my decision to take Madeline to the hospital later that day for a 100-degree fever. That trip to the hospital, by the way, probably had a significant impact on my own health, but that's for another post.

I sent several emails from China to friends, family and colleagues relating the events as they happened, but looking back on those emails now, I realize they didn't capture my roller-coaster emotions. No doubt, this was because I was entirely focused on figuring out how to care for this squirming little person who'd joined my family. I realize now though that they seem a bit dry. To write about what all this felt like adds an entire dimension to the story. We left for the Civil Affairs Office within minutes of arriving at our hotel in Nanning. I remember clearly the oppressive heat and humidity, the nervous chatter on the bus, and other parents asking our Nanning guide Alice about a thousand questions as we wended our way through the streets. I remember walking into the Civil Affairs building, which was a converted hotel, and down a narrow hallway and into a paneled ceremonial room with a huge silk carpet and red lanterns and tassels hanging from the ceiling. I remember the high-pitched laughter of the group ringing in my ears, sweat pouring off my forehead and stomach acid creeping up my throat. I remember standing around the perimeter of the room and hearing babies crying in the hallway, while the provincial Civil Affairs officer droned on and on about the responsibilities of parenthood. I was thinking, "Let's just get this done!" It was labor of sorts. Interminable labor, no less. (But my video is much more tasteful than the ones people show of themselves giving birth.)

As they bring in the babies on the video, you will notice that the nanny in a burgundy blouse points directly at the camera and speaks to the nanny next to her, who was carrying Madeline. I didn't notice this at the moment, but when I saw the video for the first time, I had one of those forehead-smacking moments and realized that the nanny in burgundy was identifying me and Kevin to Madeline's nanny. Madeline's nanny then caught my eye to let me know that she was carrying my daughter, so we'd know which baby to film. Or to try to film. The man standing between us and Madeline was well over 6 feet tall. But you can hear me and Kevin talking about which baby was Madeline in the video clip.

I will always wonder about the nanny who handed us Madeline. I wonder if she (and the entire orphanage staff) knew more about Madeline's origins than we were told: that she was found at a police station. Looking back, I have good reason to doubt that story. Madeline's nanny seemed incredibly attached to her. While a few of the nannies were sniffling a bit when they handed us the babies, she was the only nanny who let loose and bawled. She cried so much that they had to take her out of the room. Before she left, however, she gave us a handful of snapshots taken over a few months. One of the photos was clearly taken in a private home.

Those photos are a gift, but sometimes they make me wonder all the more about who my little girl might be and what the orphanage didn't tell us. Madeline had no developmental delays and there's almost nothing about her that would suggest early institutionalization. I find it hard to believe she was simply, as one of our fellow travelers put it, the teacher's pet. I do know, however, that she was meant to be our daughter. I know that beyond any doubt and I find it humbling to have been given such a child to raise.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

March 28-30, 2003

We spent March 27th and 28th on airplanes. From BWI, we flew to O'Hare, where we met up at the gate with most of our travel group, which was comprised of 55 people, or 17 families. A few stragglers, e.g., people who had beaucoup frequent flyer miles on airlines other than United, a dad-to-be who was a CPA and swamped in seasonal tax work, etc. (To no avail, we had tried to use our own 120,000-plus United frequent flyer miles -- Kevin used to travel a lot for work -- to upgrade to business class. Grrrr!) Our plane to China was literally full, every seat of the big 777 taken. Fortunately, we had good weather and lenient flight attendants, and I spent much of the flight standing in the back galley talking with people whom I'd previously only "met" online and in a video teleconference a few days before the trip. We shared family pictures, including referral pictures of the children who were waiting in China for us, and life stories as the plane bored its way through the Friendly Skies. We also talked with other travelers, including a bunch of retired folks who were on a group tour. One little old lady kept expressing her amazement that we were able to adopt from "Red China."

We landed in Beijing a little after 3:00 p.m. China-time on March 28. Our guides Sherry and Johnson met us at the airport. Sherry was a young, sweet-faced kid -- I believe she was 24 at the time -- who spoke fluent, idiomatic American English. Johnson was a 40ish man with a kind smile and apparently quite an expert on internal travel in China. They had a tour bus waiting and whisked us away to the Beijing Radisson, where we were free until 8:00 a.m. the next day.

The Radisson looked like any downtown hotel in small-city America. It could have easily been in Chattanooga. A mid-size city hotel, it had the requisite sunny atrium lobby with cushy jewel-tone chairs and a brass-and-fern bar off to one side.

Kevin and I have always felt strongly about resisting the temptation to Americanize our foreign travel. So while a number of our fellow travelers planned to dine at KFC or Pizza Hut, both of which had restaurants near our hotel, we decided that we should eat what the locals do. We asked the front desk manager -- a young American kid -- if he'd recommend a good seafood restaurant (and not necessarily one that catered exclusively to foreigners). The manager first checked the reservations list for the hotel restaurant, which was a celebrated Cantonese-style eatery, and found that nothing was available. Then, with a wicked gleam in his eye, he told us that he had just the place for us. It was 3 or 4 blocks away, and he drew a little map for our use. "You'll feel like you've walked into a National Geographic special," he promised.

We found the place easily enough and, yes, our young friend was right. There were rows and rows of aquarium tanks filled all kinds of sea creatures. My sushi-loving husband went nuts. There were also a couple of big tables displaying various uncooked vegetable dishes. The place was full. We were the only Caucasians -- heck, we were probably the only non-Chinese -- in the place. One of the wait staff approached us, showed us to a table, and procured a couple of beers for us. He then explained, more in sign language than in the bit of English he knew, that we needed to make our selection from the tanks and the table and the chef would prepare our meal. We chose a spiny lobster, some dumplings that we thought we recognized, and a vegetable dish with snow peas. Apparently, the chef would decide how these raw materials would be prepared.

A few minutes later, the waiter returned with lobster sashimi. Kevin was ecstatic. I did not eat raw fish at that time. I was hungry, though, and I didn't want to insult the chef or the waiter, so I dug right in, thanking God with every bite that I'd endured a round of hepatitis shots a few weeks before. And it was good! I've eaten sushi occasionally with my husband ever since. Hunks of raw fish still aren't my favorite, but I'm not grossed out by them either. Later, the waiter brought us more lobster, this time deep-fried in a spicy batter, and of course, our dumplings, veggies and more beer. This truly delightful repast cost us $23, I think.

The next morning, after an English-style breakfast in the hotel dining room, we boarded our tour bus again for a day of sight-seeing. As we chugged down the broad avenues of Beijing, which was relatively quiet early that Saturday morning, we noticed two things: the unbelievable smog and the tiny trees that looked barely alive. China has a serious air pollution problem, folks. Pollution, in fact, has become an issue for the upcoming Olympics. Although I was feeling no ill effects from our gastronomical adventure the night before, my sticky eyes and runny nose testified to the atmospheric conditions.

As Sherry was regaling us with tales of growing up in China, our bus pulled up to Tiananmen Square, and one of the men in our group piped up and asked, "What can you tell us about June 4, 1989?"

A dead silence fell over the group, though in our heads a lot of us were probably screaming, "Oh, no!!!" I know I was. Next to me, I heard Kevin gasp. Sherry handled the question beautifully. "As you know, I am only 24 years old, so I was a small child in 1989," she began. Then she lowered her voice, and with the most serious expression on her face, said something like, "You would be very foolish to discuss these matters anywhere outside of this bus. Do not ask questions like this to the people you meet here. Do not talk about the Falun Gong. Do not take pictures of an military or police equipment you see or of people wearing uniforms. The Army wears green. The police wear blue. The secret police wear gray." While the Cold War imagery conjured up by the little old lady on our flight didn't exactly fit the China we were seeing that morning, it was abundantly clear we weren't in Kansas anymore -- or anywhere else where the First Amendment applied.

I'm sorry to admit that much of the rest of our time in Beijing is a blur, for Sherry and Johnson ran us ragged over the next two days. We started at Tiananmen Square, then visited the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Great Wall at Badaling, and several shopping outlets for silks, jade, pearls, and cloisonne. We had a festive dinner on Sunday night at a famous restaurant where Peking Duck was the house specialty. Down the street from the hotel, we discovered Carrefour, a huge French-owned Walmart-like place with an amazing and colossal western-style supermarket on the ground level -- think Wegmans -- and a department store above. On Monday morning, I spent close to an hour upstairs in Carrefour looking for fuses for Kevin's CPAP machine, which he uses for sleep apnea. His machine had blown a fuse, thanks to the uneven power supply in the hotel. (Unfortunately, we were never able to find the right kind of fuse. I endured a lot of snoring for the rest of the trip, and poor Kevin didn't get a good night's sleep until we got home.)

Besides the pollution and the scrawny trees, there were a few other things that struck us during the Beijing leg of the trip. First, we never saw a bird. Downtown Washington, where I work, is just full of birds. Later on, we learned that Mao thought they were pests -- rats with wings! -- and launched a campaign to get rid of them during the famine of 1958-61. Second, although Beijing itself was crowded and bustling, there was little traffic on the way to the Great Wall. Sure it was Sunday morning, but even in the middle of the Bible Belt, you'd seldom see a 12-lane freeway that was virtually empty on Sunday morning.

In a similar vein, we were struck by the extreme contrasts between new and old, rich and poor. Besides beautifully-maintained freeways (not that hard when there aren't many cars), there were buildings going up everywhere, construction sites ringed by bamboo scaffolding. The street where the Peking Duck restaurant was located was a sea of neon reminiscent of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus. Walk a couple of blocks off the main drag, however, and you'd see decaying buildings and other signs of extreme poverty.

Additionally, everywhere we went, we were accosted by people who wanted to sell us touristy trinkets. "Worth 50 U.S. dollar, ma'am, but I give it to you for five!" One of the first Mandarin expressions Sherry taught us was, "Bu yao!" or "I don't want it!" Self-defense, I guess. It did, however, come in handy.

And on Monday evening, so did the second expression she taught us: "Wa ai ni," which means, "I love you."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Five years ago today

Five years ago today, Kevin and I were getting ready to embark on an amazing journey, an adventure of a lifetime. Our ride to the airport, Kevin's parents Bud and Connie, would be arriving at 5:45 a.m. in the morning. The leftover Papa John's pizza from dinner was wrapped up in the fridge waiting to be eaten for breakfast. Our little dog-boy Alex, our only "child" to that point in time (we also had cats and a parrot, but it's just not the same) was already at Grammie and Gramps' house. The crib was assembled and made up with fresh new linens. Tiny dresses and overalls -- mostly size 9 months -- were hanging in the closet of Madeline's future room. Four or five changes of clothes, eight or ten baby outfits, a couple of dozen diapers, bottles, formula, snacks and lots of medicine were crammed into two large Costco suitcases, one of which had been procured the day before. We both had fresh haircuts. A video camera with several tapes, a still camera, a dozen rolls of film and $5,500 in cash -- crisp, new $100 bills per our agency's instructions -- and $2,000 in travelers' checks waited in Kevin's carry-on. My carry-on was packed, too. It was a spiffy new Land's End diaper bag. At ages 45 and 47, we were finally going to be parents!

And it's been an adventure in so many ways. Sure, I knew parenting would be an adventure. Adopting a child is like Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get. With Madeline, we have been extraordinarily blessed, or we lucked out, whatever your perspective. I have friends with adopted Chinese children whose kids suffer from attachment problems, behavioral issues, learning disabilities and the like.... actually like a lot of biological children that I know. Madeline has none of those issues, knock wood, at least of which we're aware. And, believe me, I've looked for them. She's going to be book-smart, she's already gifted athletically, she is emotionally intelligent out the wazoo, and if that weren't enough, she's pretty. And this is what other people have said about her. No, she's not perfect, and she can definitely act too big for her britches sometimes, but all and all, it's been good.

The trip itself was also an adventure. Sure, we knew we'd have a great vacation trip in China. We went looking forward to seeing all the things we've read about and seen in pictures. We went to gain an up close and personal appreciation of our future daughter's native country. We went determined not to be "ugly Americans," but instead to represent all that is good about our country, our culture and our faith. I think we did all of these things, but there was a lot that happened over there and after we returned that was, well, unexpected.

Come along, dear reader, while I re-live a very special journey that began on March 27, 2003.

Monday, March 24, 2008

When my child has a home of her own

A friend in one of my Yahoo groups wrote this and posted it today. It's too good not to share.

When My Children Have Homes of Their Own

I can't wait to visit them. First I'm going to drop my coat on the floor. In S's house, I'll make sure I track snow all the way into the dining room before kicking my shoes across the room. In Z's, I'll simply remember to bring six or seven pairs of shoes and leave them ALL in a heap by the front door, even summer sandals when I visit in December.

Next I will go into the refrigerator and take out the milk and forget to put it back. I'm going to eat half an apple and finish the orange juice and put the empty carton back in the refrigerator. I'll complain heartily that there's no good food.

I'm going to snack, a lot, on the awful food they do have, and I'm going to make sure that I leave the dishes under the couch. With my socks.

I will make a point of missing the wastepaper basket when I drop lip gloss blotted Kleenex towards it, and I will figure out exactly how to make the faucet not quite turn off.

If they do ask me to pick something up (I hope they won't because I'll be so elderly, but they might), I will promise to do it in a minute. I will promise this several times, while they still ask nicely and when they lose their temper (assuming they would do such a thing with their poor elderly mother) I will definitely manage to look hurt and act as though they had only to ask nicely once. Of course, I'll have the benefit of senility to give credence to my performance.

I plan to forget things when we leave the house, and not remember until two blocks from our destination, and then I will blame them for rushing me.

And at meals, I will definitely want to leave half of the food on my plate and put it in the garbage before asking ten minutes later what else there is to eat.

I know that as frustrated as I might make them, they wouldn't dream of yelling at me.