Thursday, March 31, 2011

Terminology

Firstly, thanks to everyone for your wonderful response - primarily through Facebook - to my news of our plans to build our family through adoption.  We're fortunate to have many wonderful friends in our lives, and it means a lot to me to know that we have your support. 

Secondly, I'm sorry for the long delay in posting something new.  I have much admiration (and a little bit of jealousy) of those who have the discipline to sit down and write - something, anything! - on a regular basis.  For me, the creative energy seems to come in fits and starts - hence the three postings in a row two weeks ago, followed by...deadly, reader-decreasing silence.  Truth be told, I've been feeling a bit "tapped out" lately, in the sense that we had been putting in so much effort into officially joining the list of waiting families that once it actually happened, I just needed a break for a bit. 

So, in coming back to the blog, I thought it might be helpful to perhaps explain a bit about how we got to where we are, not only documenting our process for myself as a creative outlet, but maybe also to provide a window into what it means to become an adoptive family - both from a logistical and emotional perspective.

As I said in my last posting, we've both wanted to be dads for as long as we can remember.  And over the past few years, we've taken steps to get to the "right" place to become dads.  From a purely material standpoint, that meant a house - because we wanted to more space and a backyard for our child - and working our way up our respective career ladders to a point where we feel stable in our jobs.  And though we had been researching it over the years, we hadn't taken any actual steps in kickstarting the adoption process until last year, when we said to ourselves - what are we waiting for?

We've been asked by some if we had considered surrogacy.  The simple answer is yes:  we considered it, and decided that it wasn't for us.  Adoption has always felt like it was the right path for us in building our family.  And domestic adoption is the only option that's available for male couples these days.  Many countries don't allow same-gender adoption, and regulations have been tightened around the world, making it more difficult (and lengthy) even for married straight couples to adopt internationally.

So, thanks to my partner's thorough research, we learned that there are three agencies in the Chicago area that work with same-gender families in domestic adoption situations.  Two of them each hosted an "open house," which I would recommend to anyone who is even remotely interested in adopting, domestically or internationally - just to get a sense of how the process works.  Our first session was with The Cradle in Evanston.  Truth be told, we immediately felt comfortable with the agency, even though we were there just for the first time.  The other agency, whose open house we attended a few weeks later, did not instill as much confidence in us, although we appreciated the speaker's candor about the emotional ups-and-downs that come with the waiting process.  And after experiencing these two (and liking The Cradle as much as we do), we didn't even bother trying to set up anything with the third agency.

And so we officially signed up to become Cradle clients.  It's a bit difficult to boil down a year's worth of effort into logical format (well, it's either that, or my brain is mush tonight), so I'm going frame it around some adoption terminology:

Adoptive family counselor:  As soon as we signed up, we were assigned an adoptive family counselor who guides families through the process of being prospective adoptive parents.  Over the course of the year, we met with our counselor several times, both jointly and individually, during which time she walked us through the process step-by-step, assessed our potential to be adoptive parents, and really helped us think through what it would mean to adopt as a same-gender, mixed-race couple.

Birthmother/birthparent:  I had always had in my mind that a birthmother might be on the younger side, so I was surprised to learn that while the typical age range for a birthmother is 18-26, they can range anywhere from early teens to late-thirties (or older), depending on her situation.  I was also surprised to learn that many birthmothers are already parenting.  Each birthmother who approaches our agency is assigned a counselor who helps guide her through the process of what it means to make an adoption plan for her child.  We learned that birthparent counselors need to be extremely mobile and flexible, as they have to meet birthmothers several times in what might be a wide geographic range. 

Open adoption:  Our hope is to have an open adoption, where our family would have an ongoing relationship with our child's birthmother (and/or birthfather), with regular contact.  Everything we've heard or read about open adoption has confirmed for us how important it is for an adopted child to have that connection to his/her birthfamily. We believe that knowing her birthparents will help our child know her background - medical, family or otherwise; our child will never have questions about where he came from, because he'll be able to ask his birthfamily.   But we also recognize that an open adoption might not be an option for us, depending on the circumstances.  And that's all part of the life-long journey of adoption.  An open adoption doesn't mean shared parenting, by any means.  The adoptive parents are the parents - there is never any question of that.  It just means that there are more people to love our child, and s/he will always know where s/he came from.

DCFS License:  Working with an agency is not only meant to help educate us about adoption, but also to get us licensed by the state's Department of Child and Family Services.  Because adoptions are not made official until at least six months after placement, any adoptive family has to be licensed by DCFS because you're technically taking an "unrelated child" into your home (even though the child is yours through placement by the adoption agency).  As part of the licensing process, we had to attend several hours/days of in-person classes and sessions (including infant/child CPR certification), several online courses, and a home study, in which our counselor came to our house and made sure that we had a safe environment with adequate space for a child.  (Which we do.  In case you were wondering.  And, as a point of pride, it's "immaculately clean," according to our write-up.)  To me, the most useful of the in-person classes was a session on what it might mean to parent a child that may have been exposed to several risk factors in utero.  I thought the presenter's advice was very helpful - for any parent.  For example, he said that babies sometimes need to "take a breather" from too much stimuli.  If you're constantly trying to get your baby's attention, s/he might start giving signs that it's too much - like averting his/her gaze elsewhere, coughing or sneezing, eventually escalating to crying - and that you just need to give your baby a moment to relax and regroup.  I would never have known...

Short profile:  Most birthmothers participate in the process of choosing an adoptive family for her child.  The first step is to look through the waiting family album, which is filled with two-page profiles of (licensed) families that meet her criteria (and vice versa).  She could be looking for a family that already has children, a same-gender family that lives in the city, a married couple that has no pets, or a family that sits down for a meal together every night - it's really all up to her.  And so part of our work was to compile this short profile as a way to introduce ourselves through words and photos - who we are as individuals and as a couple, and to provide a snapshot of our lives.  We don't know what might trigger in a birthmother that "connection" to us - she could have a gay best friend, or share my love of all things Buffy, or have a voracious sweet tooth like Matthew.  Regardless, we tried to tell our life story as authentically and as openly as we could.

Long profile:  After going through the family album, the birthmother will typically select five to six families about whom she wants to know more.  At this point, if we are lucky to be among this small group (whom I've nicknamed as "finalists"), we would be contacted by our counselor who would let us know more about the birthmother's circumstances and confirm if we wanted to have our long profile presented.  In our case, our long profile is a multi-page book that provides more detailed information and about 40 different photos that encapsulate who we are.  Our long profile took about three months to put together, although we had been working on the text and gathering photos even before then.  (My advice to anyone thinking about domestic adoption - start taking photos now.  Many, many photos, because the more you take, the more you have to choose for your profile as representative of your life together.)  And the long profile is how the birthmother makes her choice for an adoptive family - even before a face-to-face meeting.

There are many more steps and much more to tell, including what happens for us next, now that we're officially a waiting family, but I'll save that for the next posting.  If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments, and I'll answer as many of them to the best of my ability and (limited) knowledge.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Adoption

When I was a kid, I thought that I would be married with kids by the time I was 30.

I've since stopped trying to predict things for myself.

But I know that I've always wanted to be a dad.  Still, I find it hard to quantify exactly why I want to be a dad, so I'm going to try here:  to me, it's about being able to share our lives and love with a child, being depended upon, being able to nurture in a child the same values and beliefs that are important to me, and contributing to who he or she becomes as a person.  But it's also small things, like a happy smile or laugh, making snow angels in the backyard, a first ballet class or soccer game - just seeing the world through a child's eyes.  And maybe even being a grandparent, one day, some day.

Wanting to be a dad is something that my partner and I have had in common since we met, and, after many years of deciding how we were going to do it, last year we put the ball in motion to start the process.  And this week, we have officially become prospective adoptive parents.

I'll admit that it's been a long process.  A long process.  Clearly, this isn't something that we've thought about lightly.  To paraphrase Dan Savage, we didn't get drunk one night, wake up the next morning and decide to be parents.  Like anyone - gay or straight - who wants to become an adoptive parent, there's a mountain of paperwork to be completed, meetings and classes to attend, and much, much, much information seeking.  And while we probably could have moved faster through the whole process, we deliberately took our time to make sure that we were always putting our best foot forward.  And, until now, we haven't really told a lot of people about it because (a) we've wanted to wait until we were actually officially on the list; and (b) we knew that no matter how well-intentioned, we would have had to face questions of where we were in the process, and having to admit not having made as much progress as we would have liked.

So that big personal project I alluded to a few postings back?  The one that was keeping me up into the wee hours of the morning?  We were putting together the narrative and photos for a printed profile book by which a birthparent would be choosing us as an adoptive family.  How do you put into words who you really are, or the parent you'll be?  How do you capture who you are as a couple?  How you do show in pictures the type of family you want to be?  All I can say is I'm happy that I'm a pseudo-writer by occupation, and that I inherited my father's snap-happy finger, because we had a good number of photos from which to choose.

How do I feel about becoming a dad?  Nervous.  Terrified.  Excited!  Who isn't?  I think I'm more nervous about the process of waiting to find out if we're chosen by a birthmother or birthparents than I am about actually being a dad.  I come from good stock, so I'm pretty confident that I'll be pretty good at it.  I know it will be a tremendous life adjustment - for the rest of our lives - but we can't wait to have a child to raise.  Yes, even through those sometimes-challenging teen years we hear so much about...

Now the really hard part begins - the wait.  Or rather, the stuff we're going to do while we wait.  We need to spread the word, and be active.  We've heard that a good percentage of matches between birthparents and adoptive parents are made through personal connections.

So, sometime in the very near future, gentle readers (especially those of you on this side of the Atlantic, and south of the 42nd parallel), I hope to enlist your help in spreading the word about our plans to adopt.  We're fully licensed to adopt a newborn child, and - through our agency - we can work with a birthmother in any state that allows same-gender adoption (which rules out Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah - but not that I really wanted to visit those states anyway).  We're still trying to figure out how we're going to get the word out - at the very least, a Facebook page - so please check back here for updates.

In a sense, it's a bit of a relief to have "outed" myself as a prospective adoptive parent.  While many of our friends know, for a fair number, this is the first time you may be hearing of our plans.  And there's so much that I've been wanting to say about this experience, but that I haven't felt ready to share until now.  So expect more adoption-related posts in the future.  Many, many more.

Because we really, really want to be dads.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Painfree

So I know last night's post was perhaps a bit sentimental, but it really felt great to get it down on paper, per se.  It's stuff I've been meaning to write about for a long time, so it was - as with most of my writing - cathartic.  But it also prompted me to look back at the letters my grandfather wrote to me, and I came across the last gift he bought for me - a Princess Diana memorial coin, of all things.  It was great to look back at the years of correspondence that I've saved, and honor his memory, especially on the occasion of his birthday.

That being said, tonight I'm going to lighten the mood a bit, beginning with....


...plus...


...plus... 


...equals...


Okay, well, not quite Happy Feet, but darn near close. 

I've been an on-and-off-again runner over the years, but in recent years I've been tending through a cycle of running, experiencing pain (shin splints, in particular), needing to take a few months off, gaining weight, and then trying to get back into running again to feel better about myself.

So in October last year, when I was going through somewhat of an existential crisis that prompted me to start this blog and a valiant attempt to take better control of my health, I kickstarted the running after several months off from the last shin-split debacle, only to experience pain again.  A colleague of mine had had a video gait assessment (where they record you while walking and running) to diagnose some pain issues she was experiencing, so I thought I would give it a shot as well.  The diagnosis for me was severely pronated ankles, i.e. I'm tragically flat-footed, which was causing the shin splints. I would never have thought the two would be connected, but hey! that's the human body for ya.

So after a visit to my doctor, who referred me to a podiatrist, who took a cast of the pasty white feet you see above, I got my very own pair of customized orthotics - the blue "inserts."  I've never had orthotics before, and they are like Walking. On. Air.  Which is surprising, because the base of the orthotic is actually a very hard fiberglass, topped with a cushioned sole.  Still, they are amazing, and I can definitely feel the support under my arch, and from not having my ankles roll in when I take a step.


Plus I gain about a quarter-inch of height whenever I have them in my shoes.  Yes, I'm the new Kim Jong Il.  Just minus the perm.  And the dictatorship.

The podiatrist also referred me to physical therapy, which I've been faithfully attending for the past three months, and working through a series of strengthening exercises and ultrasound (to reduce any inflammation).  And for the past three weeks, I've been able to actually start running again, although it's mostly a combination of walking and a light jog for now, and only for 30 minutes at a time.  Still - I've been painfree, which is simply amazing.  And even though every fiber of my being is aching to run faster and longer, I've had to keep it in check to ensure that I don't push myself into injury again.  Baby steps.

So while I think my goal of running a marathon this year will probably have to be shelved until I feel more confident about my legs' ability to handle it, I feel so much better in finally getting a diagnosis for what was wrong, and actually being able to do something about (thank you, health insurance!).  And even though I'm having to take it slow, I'm just glad to be rocking out with Celine again in the morning. 

Onward and upward.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grandpa

When I was talking to my mom over the weekend, she reminded me that it was my grandfather's birthday last Friday.  And in honor of his birthday, my grandmother cooked dinner for the family - a smorgasbord, as is her custom - on Saturday. 

I'm sure he would have loved it. 

I'm a bit embarassed to admit that I forgot his birthday, since he's the only grandfather I've ever known.  He didn't have more than an eighth-grade education, but he was smart as a whip, and, together with my grandmother, he ran a general store that put my mother and her four siblings through college.  And that entrepreneurial spirit never left him, because years after selling the business, he found himself running a makeshift "snack store" out of his mailroom office, with soda cans, chips and chocolate bars marked with Post-it notes that he would put into a book with a running tab for each of his colleagues.  And at every payday, he would make the rounds to collect.

My grandfather was very plain-spoken.  Perhaps...cantankerous at times.  But I always knew that family was so important to him.  Like when we needed a place to stay because our new home wasn't ready, my grandparents took us in for four months - nine people under one roof - because they knew that that's what family does for each other.  And I always knew how proud he was of me.  Looking back, I only wish that I had helped him more, even though I hated mowing his lawn, especially all the way up that steep incline that ran alongside their house.  Or picked more of those cherries from the tree in their backyard.  (I used to hate cherries - but now I can't get enough of them.)  Or called or wrote more often, especially after I moved away from home. 

I've kept all the letters that he ever wrote to me, many of them written on lightweight "airmail" paper that people used many moons ago.  A few choice lines from his letters over the years:
  • "Your grandmother is like a jumping bean.  Can't sit still.  She always manages to find something to do."  (Which was absolutely true.)
  • "Isn't it nice to get an unexpected letter?"  (Hint, hint...)
  • "Writing letters like talking to someone.  You say what comes in your head at that moment.  It is not necessary to be grammatically correct, as long as you express yourself.  Take my letters, for instance.  I am sure my grammar is terrible (it wasn't), but the least one should do is spell correctly.  In your letter, there are some careless unnecessary mistakes in spelling.  Remember at exam time, these small careless mistakes can be the difference between coming 1st or 2nd.  I hope you will not be cross with me for picking out your mistakes, and stop writing to me.  Remember, we learn from our mistakes."  (Just another of his many life lessons he would impart by letter.)
  • "You are my favorite, most favorite grandson in Toronto."  (I was the only grandson in Toronto, but I knew what he meant.)
  • "How's your piggy bank?  If you are short, let me know."  (I never did tell him, but he always found a way to "accidentally" leave something for me.)
I visit the mausoleum where his ashes are interred about once a year.  It's normally cold, or rainy, because it's typically around the holidays.  And I get teary-eyed every time, even 12 years since his passing.  But it's not so much because he's gone, because I know he's in a better place, but rather for those he left behind.  Like my grandmother, who still misses him terribly, or my youngest cousin, who never got to meet him.  Like my partner, whom I know he would have loved.  And me, because I don't think I told him often enough how much I loved him.

Happy Birthday, Goong-Goong.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Closing

I stopped in a Borders store last week, one of the many that are closing for good, now that the company has entered bankruptcy.  It was a sad state of affairs - just a bunch of people, like me, aimlessly looking for bargains on disorganized shelves, with no comfy chairs, no bathrooms, and no cafe.  Signs everywhere point to discounts and final sales, and indicate that even the fixtures will be for sale soon.  How different a sight from the good ol' days, when a store would be bustling, and it would be hard to find a (clean) table at the cafe.  And when we could finally pry a table away from our fellow cafe squatters, we would spend a few hours with a hot drink and a bakery treat, several books that we wanted to explore, and - of course - my favorite graphic novels.  It was one of our favorite ways to pass a quiet Sunday afternoon.

It's a bit ironic, after all, since Borders was seen as driving many of the smaller, independent bookstores out of business, only now to be driven out of business itself by online vendors and now e-readers.  And I'll admit to being one of those people who probably spent far too much time reading and browsing at Borders, and not buying.  Frankly, I can't remember the last time I actually bought a book at Borders, because, like everyone else apparently, I could find it on Amazon for a better price.  And it would be delivered to my door.

But I'm sorry that people will be losing their jobs, especially students for whom this gig represented much-needed income, and that it's because their corporate honchos couldn't keep up with the changing tide of the public's interest in books and e-readers.  I'm sorry that we've lost a place that we can regularly stop in on a winter's afternoon to leaf through a few pages of People/U.S. Weekly/In Touch serious investigative journals.  And I'm sorry we'll now be faced with the blight of large, empty stores that had once anchored retail malls across the country (although an Indiana-based electronics retailer is apparently eyeing many of the soon-to-be-shuttered Borders locations as a means to expand to Illinois).

Still, rather than actually spending any money, I was a bit surprised at how heartless I was in the sad, disorganized, discounted store the other day, because the first thing that went through my head was: "Only 20% off list price?  Come on, I can still get it cheaper online."

Ah, capitalism.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tech

I consider myself moderately decent when it comes to technology.  I'm certainly not among the "early adopter" crowd, and I don't own any fruit-symbol-engraved equipment, because I keep thinking that they're going to come out with a newer, better, lighter, brighter, running-on-sunshine version that will also pick up my drycleaning for me and - bam! - they do.  But when it comes to our household, I usually take care of the tech stuff.  And this includes setting up multiple TVs, two computers, two networked printers, two Rokus (for Netflix), a new Blu-ray player, and managing the wireless signal and router.  And I can usually get everything to work, but not without an extraordinary amount of teeth gnashing, cursing, general tantrum throwing, and curling up into the fetal position to avoid being battered about by the ungodly miles of cables that I've unleashed around me.

The home computer system is a mix of old and new.  We've got a new desktop that's operating on Windows 7 after its seven-year-old predecessor hit the electronics graveyard with the blue screen of death; a six-year-old laptop running on Windows XP that doesn't project through the speakers anymore because of a design flaw that severed the speaker wire that's located in the laptop hinge (thanks for nothing, Dell); an eleven-year-old Brother laser printer, which is our stalwart workhorse and shows no signs of giving up the ghost; and a one-year-old multi-function Canon printer that I love having because I can scan everything and release myself from under the mountain of paper that comes cross my desk every week.  And all of these are connected wirelessly, although because the Brother printer (a gift from my parents when I moved to Chicago and got rid of the old dot-matrix printer that had seen me through college) is as old as it is, it has a parallel port connection, so several years ago I bought a Netgear PS101 print server to connect it to the router at the time. 

We've had DSL and a wireless network for several years.  After experiencing some "range" issues since moving to a larger space, and connection speeds that felt like dial-up dipped in molasses when several of our bandwidth-hogging devices are connected at the same time, I finally decided to upgrade us to a router with a (supposedly) wider broadcast signal and dual bandwidth to keep up with our burgeoning wireless needs, and opted for a torture device Netgear WNDR3700 router. 
Netgear Range Max Dual Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router WNDR3700-100UKS
But you know that game Jenga? 

Jenga (EA) - 4793XXXX

The one where you have to take out blocks from the bottom and put them on the top, without the whole stack coming down?  That's kinda how I felt when trying to install the new router yesterday, because it never seems to be as simple as just plugging something in and pushing the "on" button.  Nope, just like Jenga, it's one teeny-tiny move away from all crashing down.  At least that's how it felt to me.  And since all of our networked paraphernalia were working, you're probably wondering why I would have bothered with a new router and possibly upset the networking cart.  Well...I've been asking myself the same question since last night.  Is faster internet speed really worth it?  You can guess where this is going.

While it was easy enough to physically unpack and set up the new router with its requisite cables, it wasn't until several hours laters (including an hour on the phone with Netgear support) that I was actually able to get a decent wireless signal that wouldn't keep bumping me offline, because I had simply downloaded a newer version of the router firmware (as prompted by the router).  And after changing IPs and subgateways and IMGs and drivers and ports and god-knows-how-many-other settings (that I had to get from the support guy and not from the hopelessly unhelpful installation guide), I believe I have finally gotten the new router to work, and have gone around the house changing all the wireless settings on our myriad bandwidth-hogging devices.

Except - I cannot seem to print wirelessly from the laptop.  And because the PS101 is an "end-of-life" (i.e. discontinued) product, they don't offer any tech support on it.  The weird thing is that the laser printer is working from the desktop, but not from the laptop, so clearly the PS101 is still working.  I'm sure I just need to tweak the IP from the laptop or something, but right now I'm exhausted by the whole thing, so I'm going to give up for now.  If we need to print anything in the coming week, well, it'll have to be from the desktop until I have renewed patience.

But at least the internet is working.  Otherwise, how else would I get to tell you this lovely tale?