2012 Goals!

I have a few goals for 2012:

1. I want to declutter and organize the basement so we can create a small play area down there. I'd like to put the sensory table, easel and play dough down there so the kids can play with themwhen the weather is bad outside. Right now, we have the ugly old curtains that we need to throw out, recycling and some toys we need to donate. It will always be crowded- Adam's tools, a couch and chair, normal storage- but I want it more organized an usable.

2. Keep up with my cleaning routine so the house is neater- or can get neater faster.

3. Potty train the little boys. Well, I'm not worried about Cole. He'll be 2.5 years old this time in 2012, so I know that is a little young but George? Georgie dear, your diapers are going AWAY before you turn four. Just sayin'.

4. Make sure to set time aside for the kids to work on school work and therapy.

5. Get back into the routine of chores for the kids and checking them off their chore charts.

6. File. All of it. This could take a year.

7. Loose weight. Alot of weight. Well, a girl can dream, eh?

8. Foccus on the positive in every day. Sadly, I attended a wake for the husband of a friend. He had been very ill for a long time and while we are happy he is no longer in pain, we are sad for the people he left behind. I knew his wife fairly well and she is bubbly and postive. She said she thinks God wakes up in the morning and askes, "How am I going to bless [name] today?" She manages to find the blessing in every day and I think that's a great way to live!

Like I said, I'm looking forward to 2012. I'm excited to see what the year brings as the kids grow!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

We had a wonderful, lazy Christmas and week this year. Since Christmas Eve and Day were on a weekend, Adam was off Christmas Eve all day, instead of a half day, and worked only a half day on the 23rd. We all have really, really enjoyed spending more time with him.

On Christmas Eve we went to Mass at church. The weather has been super abornormally warm and we didn't freeze waiting outside. Mass was said by our new preist (his first Christmas Eve Mass) and the archbishop. I really like Fr. M but I felt bad that his first Christmas Eve Mass was said with the archbishop. Fr. M was clearly nervous but he did a wonderful job- what I heard anyway. Cole was in rare form and we were up, down and all around everywhere.

We came home, relaxed and had Trader Joe's pizza for dinner before leaving donuts for Santa. The kids didn't really have a hard time going to sleep. Joseph woke us all at six am wanting to open presents. We told him to wait 15 minutes... and he counted down ever second until 6:15 exactly.

Okay big dude. Santa was good to you!

Lego, curcuit sets, lego and books....
and Nerf....

But his BIG present was a Lego table to keep in his room so he could build his projects on it without getting little pieces all over his room or having his brothers bother it.

Camille recieved Kanani, dolls clothes, some "girl" easy readers and a Melissa and Doug cupcake set:

Georgie recieved Duplo, Buzz Lightyear and a horse trailer with horses and Cole got two more Thomas Early Engineer sets. He was so cute! He knew how to open them and said "Ta da!" when he saw his presents. Between the three boys, we have increased our "toys with wheels" and "things that go down ramps or tracks" collection by about ten thousand. Kanani has long hair and my brother in law gave Camille a "Tangle" doll, so now we have tons of doll hair to get tangled in the wheels!

I kinda wish everyday was Christmas. Everyone was so quiet and played nicely. Joseph and Camille have been experiementing with Joseph's curcuit set. The little boys have been playing with trains and crashing into everything. Adam and I have been able to sleep in most mornings and we both really, really needed the sleep.

This week a good friend of mine came into town. We took our girls shopping at the American Girl store and checked out a couple of stores. We used to get together to roam the malls and chat but then she moved away and I haven't gotten out to the stores in ages. In some ways, that's good because I don't spend money but I really miss getting out of the house! I met up with two additional friends today and we all went out to lunch. I was gone five hours and needed every moment of that break. Aside from lunch, I only bought some candles on sale (Advent candles and bayberry candles) but it was nice to get OUT with friends. We didn't even talk about kids much or kid problems. We joked alot and talked poltics. Normally, poltical stuff is a no-no in mixed company but we are all such good friends we can chat about it and no one minds differences of opinions.

Now I am hanging on the couch watching season two of the Muppets with the older kids. I think it might be an up and down night for Cole. We are slowly night weaning, so I rock him if he wakes but I don't nurse him. I actually read on the iPad if I have to settle him again. Let me tell you, reading a book while comforting a kid makes the night go SO much faster!

I think 2011 was a good year. Nothing MAJOR happened- no new babies for us, no pregnancy. Cole is out of a crib and we are rapidly putting the baby stage behind us. I'm pretty okay with that. We got a dx for Georgie and he's getting real help. Joseph is turning into a kid- not a toddler or preschooler but just a kid. Camille started school and is maturing. It's been a good year for us and I hope 2012 is more of the same!

CP Connection #2

With a New year, we are looking forward to some new exciting things for Nina. After her 6 month post-rhizotomy follow up at Mayo Clinic, we have some goals and lots of work to do. Hopefully we will get Nina back in private therapy because she needs it in order to accomplish these goals.

1. Nina will walk 20 feet independently with braces and shoes in 4 weeks.
2. Nina will ambulate with forearm crutches with contact guard assistance for 25 feet in 4 weeks.
3. Nina will transition from sit to stand independently from bench (90/90) in 3 weeks.
4. Nina will increase hamstring length to 35 degree popliteal angle.

Pretty exciting to think about, although 4 weeks sounds a little intimidating, but we will work hard to accomplish these goals. It would be great if her next gait analysis is done with her crutches and independent walking.

Some new 'toys" for Nina include:

Glasses: Nina has a new prescription and new glasses. We stayed with blue, because she likes blue glasses. She has such a small face that finding frames is difficult. But I think these are pretty cute. If you know of some good deals on bifocal glasses for kids, please share!

 AFOs: Nina finally outgrew her first air of braces. These new friends of hers are pretty sweet, not only because they have butterflies, but do you see how they seem to be in an angle?

 There is a plastic piece that connects the bottom and the top of the AFOs. This little plastic piece provides quite a bit of resistance, so when Nina stands, she has to really push and make her legs straight. When she takes a step, her toes come up, being pushed by that plastic piece in the AFO. This is making her take steps and make contact with her heel first...for the most at. We have never seen heel-toe steps, all we saw were toe steps or straight down, but never heel first. These AFOs are awesome!

 There is a down side to these awesome AFO's. The extra little piece there that makes Nina step so well, also makes her braces very wide. So wide indeed, that we have not been able to find any shoes that go over them other than Crocs.

 So here is a video of Nina walking with her new AFO's. If you pay close attention you will see there is heel first contact in her steps, especially her left.

 Forearm crutches: And they are pink! Okay, they look salmon, but it is a shade of pink so we are happy. This was Nina the first time she held them. She was very nervous.

And here she is, practicing walking with the crutches. We have been told it takes 2-6 months to learn how to use them. I believe that!

Now it is your turn to join in the CP Connection. A few things to remember, make sure you add the CP connection button at the end of your post, that way we can all be "connected" in one place. Take some time to visit the other blogs and leave a comment if you are able to. You can click here and read the guidelines in how to connect.

Overseas Adoption: Micro v. Macro Views

At the Korea Times, Pastor Kim Do-hyun, director of KoRoot, a support organization for Korean adoptees, looks at international adoption from South Korea from a macro view:
Some years ago, during a seminar about overseas adoption from Korea, I stated that the practice is “child abuse rather than child welfare.” Some of the social workers who were working for overseas adoption agencies looked very shocked when they heard my presentation.

After the seminar, some of them came to me and made strong complaints and protested. They argued, “Why do you insult and disgrace us, while we try to find sweet homes for abandoned children through overseas adoption?”

* * *

From a micro-perspective, overseas adoption can be seen as child welfare. In view of this, certainly I am very grateful to the adoptive parents in Western countries, who have looked after the abandoned Korean children with “philanthropic love.” I also am deeply appreciative of the various social workers in adoption agencies, police stations, maternity clinics and orphanages, to name but a few, who have tried to provide a sweet home for abandoned children. However, from a macro-perspective, the overseas adoption program of Korea has been deeply related to the international social system.

First, overseas adoption is a kind of child abuse by the state. Second, the overseas adoption policy of the government was likely a part of its economic development strategy, which means the overseas adoptees have been used as part of a project to create wealth and prosperity for the rest of the South Koreans.

Overseas adoption is the forced expulsion of children from the society where they are supposed to live. In this sense, overseas adoption is a social violence against children. As humans, we exist as part of a gigantic ecosystem. The existence of the biological parents of adoptees can never be annihilated nor denied. Accordingly, while adoptees are growing up, they should be given information about their biological parents and be able to interact with them. By doing so, adoptees can form their identity with less conflict.

Overseas adoption is a forced separation of children from their natural ecosystems, as well as a way of forcing them into compulsory unity with settings different from and unnatural to their genetic and original social systems. Through this forced separation and compulsory unity, not only the adoptees, but also their biological parents, adoptive parents and their family members suffer trauma.

The overseas adoption of Korean children can be seen as child abuse since it has been interrelated with the economic development strategy of the government. How can we call the overseas adoption program of Korea “child welfare” when we create wealth and prosperity by forcefully expelling them?
Go read the whole thing and let us know what you think. He's certainly addressing one of the biggest conundrums of international adoption.  It's like that damned starfish story -- adopting one makes a huge difference in the life of that one.  But what about the negative societal consequences that come from adopting the one?  The dangers of creating a money-driven adoption economy that leads to corruption, coercing poverty-stricken parents with few other options to relinquishing children, and "out-sourcing" adoption to countries with child protection and legal systems completely inadequate to handle it responsibly, just to name a few. . . .

Government Conferences on Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children

From Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog (Notes from the Loyal Opposition), a look at two conferences, one hosted by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute and the other by USAID:
I recently participated in two groundbreaking events focused on highly vulnerable children. The first in November was the Way Forward Project Summit sponsored by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI)which brought together African and U.S. officials and experts in this field to make recommendations for strengthening child protection systems in six African countries. The event was held at the State Department and Secretary Clinton gave solid remarks making her the first Cabinet level official to specifically address this important cross-cutting issue.

The second event in December was an Evidence Summit on protecting children outside family care. It was sponsored by USAID with participation and support from over a dozen U.S. government agencies or offices that work with vulnerable children. For the first time, a true ‘whole of government' approach was presented that is beginning to break through the silos that typically define our government's approach to children's issues globally. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah drew from his personal experience in Haiti seeing the devastating toll of the earthquake on children and ended his opening remarks by noting that the most important line of protection for vulnerable children is a safe and loving family.
Secretary Clinton's remarks, referenced above, included the following:
And we know, not only from our own personal experience, how we feel when we see a child being abused or neglected or in some way denied the rights that children should have, but that is backed up by scientific and sociological studies going back more than 50 years. Consistently, the studies prove that children in residential institutions too often experience developmental delays, attachment disorders that obviously impact their ability to mature and their success later in life. One recent study showed that, on average, children reared in orphanages had IQs 20 points lower than those raised in foster care.

Now, over the past several years, many countries have taken steps to get children out of orphanages, off the streets, into kinship and community care situations. But UNICEF still estimates that there are at least 2 million children in orphanages around the world, and that is likely a vast underassessment. So there’s clearly more work for us to do.

What you’re doing today with The Way Forward Project is bringing policymakers, investors, and implementers together. And we are so proud to be partnering with Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Uganda, and we applaud the leadership of those countries for putting your children first. We’re seeking ways to improve the full continuum of care for vulnerable children. For example, in Ethiopia, USAID is helping return 400 children from institutions to family care or foster care. We’re working with the Ethiopian Government to improve the oversight of all children in care. And the ideas discussed today, we hope, will turn these good ideas into policies. And I’m pleased that next month, USAID’s Secretariat for Orphans and Vulnerable Children will follow up on this event by hosting the first-ever Evidence Summit on Children Outside of Family Care.

Let’s improve coordination between different government programs. Let’s try to provide more support to families to be able to take in children who need kinship care. When separation is unavoidable, let’s promote early childhood development with local adoption foster care and, when desirable, inter-country adoption.
Clinton's last paragraph states the subsidiarity principle from the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption.  I like the emphasis of both conferences on strengthening existing families. Reactions?

Red Letter Day

A big day for Zoe today -- her first pointe shoes!  She approached it with excitement and trepidation, though the real fear won't come until her first class on pointe on January 15.   Of course, it isn't as magical and ethereal as it all looks -- she learned about toe pads and toe spacers and mesh bags to air out the shoes after sweating through class. But after 8 years of ballet, this is a true milestone for my biggest ballerina (Maya, three years behind Zoe, is so jealous!)!

But Maya did get her red letter day on Christmas day -- she finally managed the much-anticipated loss of her second front tooth so that she could sing "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!"

Yes, another thinly-disguised excuse to post cute pictures of my incredibly cute kids!

Failed Adoptions at Age 18

So reports the New York Times:
Lamar West has lost parents twice in his life. The first time was when he was 4; the second was a month before his 18th birthday. The circumstances differed, but the outcomes did not.
When Mr. West, 20, tries to remember his biological parents, his eyes close and his face goes still. He remembers his mother’s name, Rochelle Griffin. Then he recalls a place — a hallway, an office — and fragments of conversation. “Records. Drug abuse. Termination.”

At age 5, Mr. West was adopted from the Illinois child welfare system. His four siblings went elsewhere. Parental rights were terminated. His child welfare case was closed. His last name and birth certificate were changed, listing his adopter, Frankie Lee West, as his mother. He had a new family.
He lived in Ms. West’s Roseland home with her and her eight other children (six of them were adopted) for years. But in 2008, he went to stay nearby with a family friend for a few months because Ms. West’s new house on the Southwest Side had become too crowded. He remained in regular contact with her. Then, in January 2009, he went to her home and discovered it empty.

She had moved — “upped and went,” as Mr. West said — to Atlanta. It was a month before he turned 18, and a month before the checks she received from the child welfare system on behalf of Mr. West were scheduled to stop.
“I’ve never felt pain like that before,” Mr. West said of finding the empty house. “My heart was beating so fast. It was like someone was punching me from the inside of my chest.”

Mr. West is what caseworkers and providers refer to as a “failed adoption.” He is part of a growing group that is entering the local shelter system for homeless youths after their families vanish as quickly as the government checks attached to them do.       
This is a failed adoption, isn't it?  The idea isn't just to get the kid to 18, and then all bets are off, right?  Sure, there's no legal obligation for a parent to support a child past 18, but what does it say when the relationship ends as soon as the adoption subsidy checks do?

Poverty is no reason to take children from families

Oftentimes when we think of families losing children because of poverty we think of it as a third-world problem.  Consider this about Ethiopia from SOS Children's Villages:
The main issue facing countries like Ethiopia is extreme poverty.

When people see birth families benefitting from their choice to relinquish their child, she said, that can have a contagious effect in these communities. "It takes over a whole village very quickly. It's very dangerous stuff, playing with people's poverty, emotions, and needs in a way that's really quite profound."
But this commentary at the Detroit Free Press, by a law professor who works with children's rights cases, talks about poverty in Michigan separating children from their families:
A loving father sees a judge place his children in foster care because his Walmart job doesn't pay enough, and he and his child live with his sister.

Another father can't get his two boys out of foster care because he can't afford to buy them separate beds.

And a baby is removed from her parents' custody and placed with strangers simply because the family is homeless -- despite the parents' attempt to place the baby with family friends, instead.

All three Michigan families share a common denominator: poverty.

The foster care system exists to protect children from being abused by their parents. Yet, every day, children are separated from their families and placed in the system for no better reason than their parents' low income.

A short conversation with lawyers, caseworkers and judges bears this truth out. And in a state like Michigan, where the child poverty rate has increased by more than 60% in the last 10 years, recent cuts in public assistance and a staggering economy have only made things worse.

Fundraiser for a fellow NPN mom

Mama Jorje (pronounced George) is a friend, blogger and fellow writer on NPN. On the 26th, she gave birth to her first son and fourth child, Spencer. Spencer has Downs Syndrome, which they knew about before he was born. He is currently in the NICU and, although he is being a rock star, had to stay behind when his mother left the hospital. We are hosting a fundraiser for her family to help off set the costs of traveling to and from the NICU, possible hotel stay and all that goes with it.Currently, I do not know if they have a time line for when he will come home. For various reasons, money is quite tight for them at the moment.

If you wish to donate money to help them out, please visit Fine and Fair.  If you cannot donate, please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. It is very, very hard being away from your baby and no matter how muchyou visit, it's nothing like having them home!


A huge hit with the girls this Christmas was the toys my mom found for them -- Kimochis, tagline "toys with feelings inside."  Each doll has a story that describes its personality and characteristics, and each has a pocket in which to tuck little "feelings" pillows.  One pillow is happy, another cranky, proud, brave, etc.  The girls decided the feelings were a little limited, and want to make their own feelings pillows to tuck into the pockets. 

Each doll also comes with a book with tips for parents on talking feelings with their children, games to play to encourage communications, etc.  There's nothing adoption-specific about these dolls, but communicating about feelings in general is really helpful with adoption talk.  And I think it's quite doable to make adoption-specific feelings pillows if you want.

There are five Kimochis -- we have four:  Lovey Dove, Cat, Bug & Cloud.  We'll probably be getting the Huggtopus, too (Huggtopus seems tailor-made for a child with boundary problems, and that isn't a big one for my kids), just because it's so cute! 

Like Maya, Lovey Dove loves to cuddle, but sometimes has a problem in wanting to make everyone happy. And like Maya, Cat asks for exactly wants she wants, but can be a bit bossy.  Like Zoe, Cloud is a little moody and has a hard time controlling his emotions, but is very loveable.  And like Zoe, Bug can overthink things and become a bit paralyzed, but that's because they're both smart and thoughtful.

As you can see, the girls love the Kimochis!  They've made little beds for each one out of the boxes they came in, and Maya won't leave the house without Lovey Dove!  Big hit -- thanks, Mimi!

(not quite) 100 Days of Real Food/Unprocessed Food Challenge

(Enter the giveaway here!)

Over seven years ago, when Joseph was a baby who was just beginning solids, we made some major changes to our diets. I knew/know I wanted my kids to eat healthy and love fruits, veggies and whole grains. I also knew, first hand, how a child's diet can affect them in the classroom. That is, the kids who ate the worst tended to have the worst behavior and grades. NOT something I want/ed for my kid!

Much to Adam's chagrin, I switched us to whole wheat pasta and breads. Adam was a huge fan of things like Wonder white bread, Jiff PB and Kraft Mac and cheese. While I like those things (except for the Wonder White Bread!) I knew they were NOT the best thing to feed my baby. Sure, once in a while they wouldn't hurt, but all the time? No.

I began slowly, but making our pasta one part whole wheat to 3 parts white. I looked for "natural" peanut butters. At first, Adam gave a big fat NO to the "no stir" kind. Through trail and error, we found a natural, no stir style we liked; now, six years later, our taste buds have changed and we all like Trader Joe's natural PB. We cut out and way,way back on foods with HFCS. Thanks to migraine headaches, we don't have any "sugar free" items in the house save some diet soda. I discovered I can cook (not super well but I haven't killed anyone yet!) and invested in some nice kitchen appliances when our older ones died.

Our diet certainly isn't perfect. My kids know and love McDonald's. I know and love Chik Fil A. We will never be the type of family who drives to 12 different farmers for their foods. We aren't urban homesteaders and I don't can. I DO have a deep freezer and will make and freeze foods but canning is beyond me.

BUT for January, we are going to try to eat minimally processed foods. The blog, 100 Days of Real Food, has a set of rules but the Walden Herd is going to whip them up for our own purposes:

1. The children don't have to adhere to "real foods" at birthday parties and the like. I refuse to be that mother who totes her own treats to birthday parties and celebrations. One piece of Sam's Club cake won't ruin them. All things in moderation.

2. We can eat fresh or frozen fruits and veggies. Not canned. It's the dead of winter in the midwest and, as far as I know, no CSAs are running. There is an organic food delivery service but it is very expensive and very little of the food is local. I am trying to serve two kinds of veggies for dinner.

3. A budget of 175 a week for a family of six. This includes vitamins, toiletries and household items, like laundry soap, paper towels and diapers. (The little dudes are in disposables at night and G wears disposables to school.) It also includes eating out. I have doubled some recipes already and eating out of our freezer doesn't count against us.
4. Foods bought at the store must contain reasonable ingredients. Pretzels that are flour, salt, water, etc are fine. Salsa that is just seasonings and veggies is fine. No HFCS or artificial anythings. Anything that can't be found in the basic kitchen (a friend calls this the "kitchen test") is a no-no.

5. When we eat out, we need to make the best choices possible- no fried foods, no sugar loaded treats, etc.

6. Very little white flour and natural sugars, as much as possible.

7. I will continue to shop mostly at Trader Joe's, Aldi, Sam's and Wal Mart. The prices at Whole Foods are too high for us and I want to see if this can work WITHOUT shopping of tons of all natural or specialty stores.

While many people claim that low fat or non fat dairy products and animal fat ARE part of a healthy diet (and while I can see their point), I will continue to buy and use low fat dairy and to trim the fat off our meats, especially beef. Eating animal fats requires moderation, something I lack. Because I can see myself over eating all that, I can't yet bring myself to "allow" full fat dairy and meats. It's me, honestly, not you!

What am I giving up? Sonic happy hour, store bought bread, store bought coffee creamer, Starbucks, many bread product at store like (sob!) Panera, sneaking french fries off the kids' plates.... you get the idea.

So, what is on the menu? I just sat down and planned for the coming week and a half, which includes New Year's Day, my husband returning to work and the kids returning to school.

Pancakes (from a mix) and fruit. I will probably double the pancake recipe and freeze some for breakfast. When we use up the mixes I have, I'll make pancakes from scratch but currently most of the mixes we have are fairly natural.

slow cooker chicken tacos with toppings

Korean Slow Cooker ribs with brown rice and some sort of veggie side

out to eat at a local deli that has alot of organic, whole grain options

Baked Cheesburger Penne

Broccoli chickpea Penne

Slow cooker whole chicken with a salad and bread. I will make stock from the leftover chicken bone and bits and hopefully have enough meat for another dinner.

Spaghetti with sauce, either pesto, peanut or tomato

chicken enchiladas

I need to do some baking and use my new Kitchen Aide gadgets I got for Christmas!
Everyday whole wheat bread
rosemary olive oil bread

and possibly

whole wheat hamburger buns/rolls

Busy week ahead of us... let's see how this goes!

Estimating Age of International Adoptees

MedPage reports on an article in the journal Pediatrics:
International adoptees often arrive in the U.S. with an incomplete birth certificate and medical history, thus questions arise as to the child's accurate date of birth. As a result, pediatricians are often called upon to render an age determination based on standard measures, such as dental eruption and radiographic bone age.

When making an age determination, a difference of a few weeks or months will not matter as much in children under the age of 1. But for an older adoptee, age determination could influence placement in school, wrote Veronnie Jones, MD, PhD, and colleagues on the AAP Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care.
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Delaying any changes on the birth certificate more than a year after adoption allows for "catch-up growth" and extended observation of the child's physical and emotional development, they wrote in a clinical report in Pediatrics.
I've known parents who had their adopted child's age changed, some based on medical evidence that the given birth date is likely inaccurate and some based on an assessment that the child was developmentally delayed and needed to be thought of as younger to allow for catch-up.

That second reason strikes me as problematic, for once the child catches up, they are still physically older than their records indicate.  That would be an advantage in everything from Little League to behavior expectations in school.  And that added year may be a serious disadvantage, too, as this article (where an international adoptee is charged with statutory rape, and there's a question as to his actual age, which would make a difference in whether he is in fact guilty) illustrates.

I'm not generally in favor of changing anything in the child's history before adoption, it just creates a false history, and we already do plenty of that with fake birth certificates.  I see the role of adoptive parents as preserving that history, not altering it. But what if there's reason to believe that history prior to adoption has already been falsified?  Does that make a difference?

There's some uncertainty as to my children's actual birthdates.  Maya's birthdate was estimated in China, and the evidence that suggests Zoe's birthdate may have been fabricated. Still, it's likely that if their birthdates are off, they are only off by days, not months or years, so I think we're luckier than many. . . .

'It's not what you see. But how you see it'

This is a condensed version of an interview that appears in the January issue of BLOOM magazine. I don't think I've spoken to anyone who's made me stop and think the way Dr. BJ Miller (above) does. Louise

Dr. BJ Miller was a successful Princeton sophomore when he and his buddies decided, on a lark, to climb atop a parked commuter train; the lark turned dark when the train's electric voltage arced to his metal wristwatch, resulting in the loss of his legs below the knees and part of his left arm. As a triple amputee he went on to graduate and become a palliative-care doctor. He’s now executive director of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. "I learned so much, particularly about perspective,” he says. “It's not what you see but how you see it."

BLOOM: It sounds like you were someone who had everything – at least on the outside – before your accident. How did becoming an amputee change you?

Dr. BJ Miller: I was well aware that I was very fortunate in many ways when I was younger and while that was good, it was also tough. Whenever I worked hard or was proud of something, it was discounted. I couldn’t take any credit for any of my achievements – or my pain. It was a bit of a funny relief when I became an amputee because I finally had an external source of suffering. Finally people stopped treating me like the world had just been handed to me. It gave me access to humanity in a different way and that helped me. It didn’t feel this way every minute, but I worked towards it feeling like a source of good fortune. Of course it was also a source of a great deal of pain and anxiety too. I’ve had the full gamut of emotions but on balance, over the years, more good than bad has come from it.

BLOOM: What was the greatest challenge for you?

Dr. BJ Miller: In a nutshell, how to see things differently. By pulling me out of my anything-approaching ‘normal’ frame of reference it really helped me upend that endless cycle we humans engage in of constantly comparing ourselves with those around us. Am I smart enough, rich enough, skinny enough? Compared to what? That’s the question I got to open up. I was given a way to let myself off that hook and be my own frame of reference. That was extremely liberating for me and it gave me a way into self-actualization that was wonderful.

It’s still a great challenge to keep it up – to still be my own boss, to be my own gauge. As much as that’s the greatest gift, it remains the greatest challenge. A critical subtext for disability and for my palliative work comes to this issue of following one’s own gut and reconciling what the external world wants and thinks and needs from you with being true to yourself. There isn’t a pat answer to that.

When I talk to school kids they’ll say “Don’t you miss having two hands?” and I’ll invariably say “Yea, I do, but don’t you miss having three hands?” Because for me personally it’s as ludicrous to go around thinking about having two hands as it is for them to think about having three. “I don’t sit around missing them anymore than you sit around missing three,” I’ll say. This frame-of-reference issue is a powerful thing.

BLOOM: How hard was it to relearn how to do things as an amputee?

Dr. BJ Miller: It took five years of hard work before I felt truly in my body again and coordinated in a new way. I think the hardest thing remains the arm. Having two hands is way easier than one, and the hands are so important. Sure, I miss my feet, but they’re just like a platform. They’re easy to duplicate. I can get around on my prosthetic legs.

BLOOM: What did you learn about having a visible difference in our culture?

Dr. BJ Miller: I’ve learned a lot because I was suddenly snapped into being part of a minority, of being ‘the other.’ All of a sudden I embodied something that most people fear. I was very aware of this sort of repulsion that people felt. It was hard to see the terror on kids’ faces, or parents pulling their kids away from me. Or if I surprised someone, and I was wearing shorts, and they were horrified. Sometimes it took the guise of pity, which I knew from my mom was the enemy. Sometimes the pity felt nice because old women would come up and give me $20 – even when I was in medical school! It definitely was hard and I had to really concentrate on sticking my chin out when I walked out of my bedroom to face the day.

The fascinating part was that about two years after the accident I noticed people’s reactions got a little better. And after five years I noticed a big difference. I must have carried myself differently. At first, I’d drive like a mad man and get pulled over by the cops and they’d take one look at me and let me go. Or if I was flying, I’d be bumped up to first class every time and they’d sneak bottles of wine into my bag. But then that just stopped. Did I reach a new level that I didn’t trip up these responses in others or had society evolved?

BLOOM: How did you cope in the early days?

Dr. BJ Miller: I was full of pain and fear. But I can’t tell you how important it was having grown up with a disabled mother. For much of my mother’s life she used an electric wheelchair and being in the world with her, I vicariously learned a ton of the things we’re talking about. As a child I was sensitive and a little worried – ‘Gosh, I’m lucky in all these ways and could I even handle it if I had a disability?’

So I was coming from a different place when I became an amputee than most people. I loved my mother so much and was aware of the way the world treated her – and yet I didn’t want to collapse into hating life. These issues had been rumbling around in my head for a while. I didn’t wake up on day one and see my situation as a great challenge. But pretty soon I was aware that it was that – a great challenge. I knew that and I had to live it.

BLOOM: Do you have a personal philosophy that helps you see things with perspective?

Dr. BJ Miller: I’ve only read The Serenity Prayer a couple of times but I’d have to say that it registers with me. Teasing out what you can control from what you can’t control – I can’t think of a better skill to acquire as a human being than that. Because whether or not you qualify as disabled, life is full of pain and difficulty. Even if you have all the perfect circumstances, at some point Mother Nature will insist upon certain things from you, like your own death. You can’t change the things you’re looking at in so many ways, but if you’re going to use your energy, put it into how you see.

BLOOM: Why did you become a palliative-care specialist?

BJ Miller: Because all of the things I’ve learned to get through my day seem to have broader relevance for people dealing with various themes of suffering. Suffering is a unifying human bond and it comes in many stripes and colours. And even if you have a perfect life you still have to say goodbye to it at some point. I love finding and working from the common denominator – and suffering and mortality are the most thorough.

After med school I thought I would go into rehab medicine but when I did a rotation in that I was turned off. It seemed to be a very mechanical field, while a lot of what we’re talking about has to do with the transformational powers of coping with disability – that there’s this raw material for transformation and growth and interest.

The goal in rehab seemed to be to get back to where you were before the injury and that to me was fundamentally flawed. Generally it’s not possible, but more importantly, why undermine and cut yourself off from all the beautiful stuff that comes your way when you embrace differences? I’m sure there’s a balance to be struck with therapy, but overall, celebrating differences – especially the ones you can’t change – is a better way through, if you ask me.

Photo above by Brant Ward ran with a feature about BJ in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Swedish Adoption Agency Visits Orphans in Ruzhou

From China Daily:
Representatives of three Swedish adoption agencies recently visited Ruzhou Jingeng Hospital accompanied by officials of the provincial civil affairs department to extend their regards to brain paralysis orphans.
The three adoption agencies were Children's Friend, Adoption Center and Transnational Family Adoption Agency from Sweden. They have set up branches and charity projects across the world. Each year, they adopt over 100 Chinese orphans. In this trip to Ruzhou, the three Swedish adoption agencies made preparations to adopt brain paralysis orphans recently recovered in Jingeng Hospital.
I'm not quite sure what "brain paralysis" means in China; the children in the picture are standing and don't seem to be paralyzed. . . .

In Utah, Birth Fathers Can't Win -- or Anywhere Else for That Matter

I've posted before about the difficulty of birth father protecting his rights (if any) in an adoption case. While it's worse in Utah, it's not that great in other states, either, reports the Salt Lake Tribune:
Ramsey Shaud admits the circumstances were not perfect. He wasn’t even sure he loved Shasta B. Tew.

Still, when Shaud learned in 2009 that Tew was pregnant as a result of their casual relationship but didn’t want to be a mother, he stepped up.
Shaud told Tew he wanted to be a dad and would raise the child, with help from his family.
But Tew, then 19, apparently didn’t like that idea and, as she began pursuing adoptive parents for the coming baby, Shaud moved quickly to protect his parental rights. Shaud, who was 22, learned he needed to sign with the Putative Father Registry in Florida, their home state, so he would be notified of any proposed adoption. It turned out to be a simple process: He printed out a form he found online and sent it in, along with the $20 filing fee.
Five months later, Tew’s mother hand-delivered to Shaud a terse three-line note about his ex-girlfriend’s plan to visit Arizona and Utah for the holidays. Shaud feared — rightfully, he says — that the real intent of the trip west was to give birth in a state where he was less likely to be able to assert any claim to the child.
That same day, Shaud had no trouble finding a form for Arizona’s registry online; he printed it, filled it out and mailed it in. But despite hours spent dissecting the Utah Department of Health’s website, which he figured was the logical place to look, Shaud was unable to locate a similar form or information about what he needed to do here.
That’s because Utah, unlike most states with registries aimed at unmarried fathers, doesn’t make a form or directions on how to proceed available online. In fact, the phrase "putative father," used in state law to describe an unwed biological father, isn’t mentioned anywhere on the websites of the health department or Office of Vital Records and Statistics, the agency charged with maintaining Utah’s registry. Utah law requires that forms be made available through local health departments, but office policy is not to do so, according to Director Janice Houston.
"The state makes the form available at the [Utah] Department of Health, but you have to pick it up in person, which is impossible for a father who lives out of state," said Joshua Peterman, an attorney who has three active cases involving unmarried fathers.
Shaud, a resident of Crestview, Fla., is one of a string of men who say Utah intentionally makes it difficult to protect their rights when they oppose adoption.In fact, unmarried fathers face a hodgepodge of approaches across the country regarding their rights. A Salt Lake Tribune review found Utah is not the only state where determining how to protect those rights is difficult — a problem some experts say would be solved by creating a national putative-father registry.

Happy Holidays!

Best wishes of the season from our family to yours!  I hope you had as wonderful a day as we had.  As my dad would say, "I feel sorry for anyone who isn't me tonight!"

China's One-Child Policy: Cost & Benefit

AP has an interesting interactive feature today -- hear and watch video of two sets of parents "who have joined an increasingly defiant community of parents in China who have risked their jobs, savings and physical safety to have a forbidden second child."  And then click over and listen to 3 generations of Chinese women discuss how "the one-child policy [has] harmed women in many ways, but . . . has also opened up opportunities for some."  Finally, click over to check out an interactive chart to see how the number of women in China in the general population, in higher education, etc., has changed between 1980 and 2009 (while the percentage of women in the National People's Congress remains basically constant -- not too different from us).

Have a Merry and Blessed Holiday Season

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An International Adoption Reunion Story

OK, am I just imagining this trend?  In November, National Adoption Month, there are tons of happy-happy-joy-joy adoption stories.  And in December, there are tons of happy reunion stories. Hmmm.  Here's another one:
In 1952, Kantor was born in a small town in the Italian region of Bari, a southern region that partially borders the Adriatic Sea. She was born Nicoletta, a name that was changed when she and her older brother, Vito, were placed in an orphanage by her grandfather. Kantor was 3 1/2 and her brother was 5 1/2.

At 3 1/2, Kantor was old enough to remember her birthmother, a woman named Mery Marotta Pesce, and when she would cry out for her mother in the orphanage, she was comforted by the nuns. They showed her a picture of an Italian couple who had recently immigrated to the United States. Kantor and Vito had met them only once, but were told the picture showed their parents and they would soon be joining the couple in the United States.

And what of the woman, Mery, who Kantor remembered as her mother?

“I had a bond with my (birth) mother,” she said. “I missed her and they would lie to me in the orphanage.”

Kantor lived happily with her parents and brother until she was 18-years old when she learned the couple she considered her mother and father had adopted her from the Italian orphanage.

* * *

In 1984, a Catholic priest from Ohio was vacationing in Italy when he met a woman named Costanza. For 25 years, Costanza, her sister, Silva, and their mother Mery had been searching for a daughter and son who had been sent to America and adopted by another family. Their research suggested the siblings might live in Chicago, but they had gotten no closer.

The priest agreed to do what he could to help reunite the family. He called the telephone operator asking for any listings of Vito or Nicoletta Palazzo living in Chicago. His leads came up dead, but being persistent, he asked the operator to try again, this time connecting him to the Chicago suburbs, Kantor said.

Kantor’s name had been changed at the orphanage, then again once she was married, and her brother was unlisted, but the priest was connected to a cousin with the same name, Vito Palazzo.

* * *

Friends and family heard Kantor’s story and helped her travel to Italy to meet Costanza and Silvia. Vito also joined his sisters in Italy.

A few years after Kantor’s visit, a nephew let it slip to his grandmother that he met Zia Nicoletta. Kantor’s birthmother, who she chose not to meet in Italy, flew to Chicago and arrived unannounced at O’Hare Airport, determined to meet her biological daughter.

Kantor was surprised again last summer when Costanza and Silvia met a woman they would later discover is Kantor’s twin.

* * *

Now that she’s back, though, Kantor has a new perspective on her experience as well as the adoption process.

She considers herself a strong advocate for open adoption, and is keenly aware of the devastating effects lies and secrecy can have on adopted children and their parents, both adoptive and biological.

But her feelings about adoption haven’t stopped the bond from growing between Kantor and her biological family.
"The devastating effects lies and secrecy can have on adopted children and their parents."  Indeed.

Reddit Tracks Down Adoptee's Birth Family

At Gawker, another social-media-makes-reunion-possible story -- with a weird twist about naked sisters:
It's a holiday miracle: users of the popular nerd hive Reddit tracked down an adoptee's birth parents in a matter of hours. They also found and skeezed over his biological sister's topless pictures. Awkward.

Yesterday afternoon, Littleton, Colorado, Reddit user -steezy_wunda_bred- posted his cry for help on the Denver section of the site.

"So I'm looking for my birth family after nearly 24 years," he wrote. "My birthday is coming up this Tuesday and it always reminds me of my past, so I figured I'd do something about it."

He posted an old picture of his birth parents (above) and some basic details, including their first names and the ages they were when he was born. He knew his biological father played in a punk band in Littleton and that his mother Michelle worked at a local restaurant.

Less than five hours later, a user named Syllabelle had used the information and some impressive Google-fu to track down what appears to be Steezy's family. She posted a link to an adoption registry where a Littleton woman whose information matched his mother was looking for a son born on the same date he was. Sweet success.
I confess, I don't even know what Reddit is --  I barely get twitter and facebook!  But this story is another reminder that technology means that secrecy doesn't exist anymore, so why bother to keep adoptions closed and secret.

"Searchers" in Ethiopia finding "fraud, corruption and worse"

At the Atlantic, a story about searchers in Ethiopia looking for birth parents at the behest of adoptive families, and finding corruption, but also threats and violence against the searchers:
Adoption searchers -- specialized independent researchers working in a unique field that few outside the community of adoptive parents even know exists -- track down the birth families of children adopted from other counties. In Ethiopia, searching has arisen in response to a dramatic boom in international adoptions from the country in recent years. In 2010, Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the U.S. The number of Ethiopian children adopted into foreign families in the U.S., Canada, and Europe has risen from just a few hundred several years ago to several thousand last year. The increase has been so rapid -- and, for some, so lucrative -- that some locals have said adoption was "becoming the new export industry for our country."

That increase has also brought stories of corruption, child trafficking, and fraud. Parents began to publicize the stories their adopted children told them when they learned English: that they had parents and families at home, who sometimes thought they were going to the U.S. to receive an education and then return. Media investigations have found evidence that adoption agencies had recruited children from intact families. Ethiopia's government found that some children's paperwork had been doctored to list children who had been relinquished by living parents as orphans instead, which allowed the agencies to avoid lengthy court vetting procedures. 

* * *

But, in the past several years, it's become increasingly difficult to find a searcher in Ethiopia. Tasked with determining whether an adopted child is a "manufactured orphan," searchers have faced intense intimidation in Ethiopia as its adoption system boomed and then came under international scrutiny. It took months to find adoptive families willing to share the name or contact information for searchers they had used. The first several times I emailed or called Samuel, he responded with trepidation, confirming with me repeatedly that I was not associated with any adoption agencies working in Ethiopia and that I wouldn't pass on his name or information to any agencies.

He had good reason to be cautious. In August 2010, Samuel was jailed for 41 days in the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray, which shares a hostile border with neighboring Eritrea. He had traveled to the region to film two birth family interviews, one of which Samuel says he did pro bono out of his respect for the family, which had adopted an HIV-positive child. When Samuel met the birth sister of one of the children whose story he was tracking, the local director of a U.S. adoption agency came along, and began accusing Samuel of giving the agency a bad name. (Out of fear of further repercussions, Samuel requested that the agency not be named.) Shortly thereafter, Samuel and his crew were arrested. While in jail, he was told that the arrest was made at the request of the agency, which had accused him of performing illegal adoptions and of filming the "bad side" of Ethiopia to sell to the Eritrean government. An employee of the agency was also arrested -- it's still not clear why -- as well as three of Samuel's friends and a translator.
* * *
The role of searchers won't end any time soon, Samuel is certain. The thousands of Ethiopian children adopted by families in the U.S. and Europe over the last decade will grow up one day. They'll learn about the circumstances around adoption from Ethiopia in earlier years and will want to find out the truth of their background.

Kelly paid $900 in 2009 for her searcher and Samuel charges an average rate of $600. But Kelly has since heard that her searcher increased his rates, asking as much as $3000 to $4000 for a search. When rising demand and supply made adoption an important and rapidly growing source of money in a country that had little of it, even these investigators who are often at odds with agencies have found a place in the adoption economy.

Cambodian AdopteeTeen Talks About Life Before and After Adoption

From TeenInk, via HuffingtonPost:
I think my mom had seen me suffer enough. I’d had enough too! So, to make things easier, my mom sent my sister and one of my brothers to live with relatives in another village. People in Cambodia often take care of relatives’ children. I missed them but knew they were being cared for. I was the oldest, so I stayed; my mother needed me to take care of her and my baby brother, Long.

For a while it was just Long, my mother, and I. But then my brother, who was less than a year old, was very sick and skinny. One day I came home and Long wasn’t there. My mom said she had given him away to someone who said they could take care of him. He wasn’t coming back.

* * *

One afternoon, about a year after Long left, we ­received some good news. A man from the city came to our village and told us that a family in the United States had adopted my baby brother. He showed us pictures. My brother, now named Shane, was smiling, wearing nice clothes, and looking very healthy. Even though we missed him and life was hard for us, my mom and I were so happy to know that my brother was okay.

* * *

After my mother died, one of my aunts took me in. She was very poor, just like my mother. She was mean, and I think she was mad that she had to take care of me, but I had nowhere else to go.

One day the man who had brought the pictures of my baby brother came to visit again. It had taken him a long time to find us because I had moved. He was sad to hear that my mother had died. Then he gave me new clothes, a doll, and more pictures of my brother. My aunt asked him if the family who adopted my brother would want to adopt me too. The man turned to me and asked if I wanted to go live with my brother in the United States. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, I said yes. He said he would find out if it was possible. I waited for what seemed like forever. I started to think that maybe the American family did not want me.

But that wasn’t the case.

About a year later, the Americans who had adopted my brother finally came for me. As I now know, there is a lot of paperwork involved with adoption. They had to get permission from my family, the Cambodian government, and the United States government before they could come to get me.
Amazing story -- go read the whole thing!  Thanks to a commenter for the link. I posted another adoption piece from Teen Ink here, if you're interested.

Adopted Man Gets Box of Christmas Joy From Birth Mother

Wow, what a story:
A woman who gave her son up for adoption presented him with a box of Christmas ornaments she had been collecting since letting him go 44 years ago.

Ann Padmos purchased a new ornament every year and hung it on a Christmas tree in honor of her son, Jeff Quibell of Blue Springs, Mo., who she gave up for adoption in 1958.

* * *

When Quibell finally found Padmos, she presented her son with the box of 44 ornaments, each ornament representing a year they weren't together.

"I'm sitting here wanting to cry just thinking about it," Quibell said, "it was an evening of a lot of laughing and crying and hugging, oh wow, it was just amazing."
You can also watch a video and see the beautiful tree at the link above.

Untitled, Cause I Can't Think of One

How's this for silly?  I've wanted to blog about this for a few days, but I can't figure out a title, so I haven't!  So I'm just going to write for a while and see if a title comes to mind.

As we approached the last day of school, Maya started to ask if we could get a gift for her teacher.  I'd already contributed to the class gift, but that wasn't good enough for Maya.  Some of her friends were bringing in gifts for Ms. C, and Maya felt left out, I think.  She thought we should buy a pillow with a C on it, which was none too cheap, I might add.  I just had this vision of Ms. C, who is early in her teaching career, accumulating TONS of tchotchkes sporting the letter C over the course of a 30+ year career. . . .

I'm trying to do more donation-in-your-name gifts these days;  most everyone I know has WAAAY too much stuff.  Now, not surprisingly, most of my charitable giving since Zoe was adopted has been to family preservation and orphan care organizations.  So my first thought for Ms. C was maybe a donation to Love Without Boundaries.  They even helpfully suggest that gift cards are great "if you are shopping for family, friends, or teachers."

But I found myself reluctant, though I love the work the group does, I've supported it in the past -- even donating a photo for their art auction at their request, I plan to continue to support it, I've blogged about it. . . .

Why couldn't I do it? Why couldn't I make a donation as a teacher gift for Maya's beloved teacher?

It wasn't about the organization, I realized.

It was about the recipient.  And not really about the recipient, whom we love, but about the recipient's relationship with my child. It suddenly seemed to me that making a donation, in her teacher's name, to an orphan care organization in China, where my child was an orphan, highlighted that status.  I didn't want a "poor-thing" reaction from her teacher.  I didn't want Maya to look like a charity case.

So I'll make my annual donation to Love Without Boundaries.  But no one will be getting a card telling them the gift is in their name. And Ms. C got a card telling her that a child in Africa now has a desk, courtesy of her.

Nope, still no idea for a title. . . .