The name game

Amazing how much a name invokes all kinds of emotions.  A. & I have discussed names, whether or not to name our future child, what kind of name, and yes, our child will have our last names . . . A. grew up as Allen though his given name was Alexander. No one ever explained to him why that was so. As a seven-year-old, A. was finally reunited with his parents, and no one explained to him that they were actually his birth parents, not the grandparents who’d fostered and raised him. In the States permanently, he eventually figured out that at home they would call him Allen, and at school he would be known as his full given name, Alexander.

As we await our toddler match, many have asked us if we plan on giving our child a name. Some argue that giving our child a new name would bring her/him additional trauma and establish an unnecessary colonial dominance, especially since we’re adopting an older child. Others say that perhaps it might bring about feelings of hope and a new start for the child who may have ugly memories with which to wrestle as well as give the adoptive parents an opportunity to “claim” their new daughter/son as a member of their family. And even others might advise that it’s acceptable to keep the child’s birth name along with a new given name – whether that’s a new name plus birth name or birth name first and given name as the middle name – and see what s/he decides to be called. We’re taking a wait-and-see attitude.

A recent NYT Magazine article discusses some hard realities about adoption, especially among older kids.  As I watch the documentary Wo Ai Ni (I love you, Mommy) by Stephanie Wang-Breal, I am overcome by the feelings of strangeness that “Faith” experiences as she grows to learn to be with her new American family and struggles in missing her Guangzhou family too. I wonder how challenging the adjustment will be for our toddler who will have to leave her/his orphanage and possibly own foster families. No doubt, wrought with obstacles though we will not be a transracial family (unless our child happens to be multiracial). Adoption for an older child into a new family is difficult enough given unknown history, distant and not-so-distant memories, unfamiliar new family, and our anticipation of being first-time parents.  The comforting reality is that A. is very familiar with having to adjust to a new family and new surroundings, and no doubt he will apply his personal adoptee experience to parenting as we wait . . . to grow our own family.

Mahal kita, Anak
this love engulfs me
you may ask,
because we wanted to love a child
and you needed a family
let our love soothe and cuddle you
We love you already, Child


The road to home

This week, my second CCC site visit took me to Covenant House New York. Approximate 3,800 youth are homeless in New York City. Young people who are unable to find youth homeless shelters do not feel safe in adult city shelters and end up on the streets or prostitute themselves for a night’s warm bed in someone’s apartment while others engage in delinquent behaviors to stay alive.  Many youth become homeless due to poverty, conflicts within their foster homes, families unable to cope with mental health or LGBTQ issues. Many are not in school and not in the labor force, nor do they have high school diplomas. Many are survivors of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. In one year, Covenant House provides a home to as many as 3300 youth in crisis and has to turn away 100 youth on any given night because there isn’t enough space. 

As I spent half the day learning about homeless youth in New York City, I had to restrain myself from becoming too overwhelmed as I listened to N. share individual youths’ stories about how they arrive at Covenant House and whether or not they make it out – successfully. One is an account of a young woman who was trafficked into the United States and held captive and prostituted for five years to be raped 30 times a day. She was able to run away from her captor and seek sanctuary at Covenant House. Another is the reality of foster care families gone bad, and a youth sees running away as his only way out. This is not uncommon.

I can already tell that this course will have an incredible impact on my worldview as I learn more about advocacy, especially for children. While some mothers-to-be may be shopping for the hippest maternity wear, this most nurturing experience comes at a time when I find myself thoughtfully tussling with work-life balance, quality of life and the anticipation of being an effective and loving disciplinarian as we wait for our child referral. It takes me the next couple of days after class to decompress, and I, an adoptive mama-in-waiting, struggle with how resources, especially social services, in the United States compare with those abroad in Africa, Latin America or Asia. In the States, people have the means to pull themselves out of tremendously difficult and traumatic situations with the assistance of government infrastructures. Not necessarily so in other parts of the world. Sadly, not necessarily so.

Still, all children deserve to be healthy, housed, educated and safe.  On my daily commute in and out of Port Authority, I can see Covenant House on 41st Street and 10th Avenue . . . and now be all the more aware.  


Waiting in the wisdom pool

Last night, I got together for dinner with two of my sistah-friends, R. & L.  Despite our professional and personal schedules, we meet up a few times a year to catch up and offer compassionate support to each other.  I've known both R. & L. since my graduate school days at NYU, where each of them played a significant role in my coming-of-age as a twenty-something woman.  L. showed me the ropes in my first professional student affairs position, and R. was alongside me as we both worked with students who were committed to bringing Asian American Studies and support services to the NYU community. 

Back then, NYU goers admired L.'s lofty locks as they hung elegantly and anchored her, so indicative of the confidence and intelligence she shared with students.  And. R.?  Her whipping enthusiasm and just-do-it! attitude was contagious. 

Sixteen years later, each of us is on our own individual path to welcoming a child into our families through adoption.  I am waiting for a referral from the Philippines.  L. is gathering her dossier documents, so that she can become a mother to a child in her native Jamaica.  And R. will be starting her adoption process to bring home a child from China.  As I devoured my chopped salad dressed with grilled shrimp in a champagne vinaigrette, I couldn't help but daydream about future feasts, where we will most likely be joined by younger ones.  I hope our celebrations won't end.

What a blessing it is to be waiting in the wisdom pool with women who reflect the values I so desire to pass along to my child.  Mahalo to L. & R. for years of generous comraderie and sageness.  And a most happy birthday to L.


My course to advocacy

I just started my community leadership course with NYC's Citizens' Committee for Children, which primarily advocates on behalf of children and families.  My first class was a simulation in poverty.  It was maddening.  In a matter of minutes, I was a 30-year-old woman whose husband had just deserted her with two kids, ages 9 and 11, one of whom had suddenly become ill.  I hadn't worked since I'd had my eldest daughter, and my husband left me with a bank loan of $120/month in addition to monthly living expenses of $1600.  An out-of-town family member inconveniently decided to live with us in our home in Brooklyn, which I was unable to hang onto given that I had no income.  I was forced to navigate the city's array of social services for public assistance, temporary housing and any job that I could get.  My welfare check wasn't coming in for another two weeks, and I hadn't gotten around to cashing in my food stamps quite yet so that I could feed my family.  My daughter was failing math, and I had no extra cash for a tutor.  I pawned what I thought was $400 worth of furnishings and jewelry and only received $100.  As much as I tried to hold them off, the police, landlord and utilities collector were constantly on my back -- literally.  And every time I had to travel to another resource in another borough because no one told me I needed this or that referral, it cost me a transit ticket.  Insanely maddening.   

I failed.

I thought, I can't do this.  What choice do I have?  I have to give up my kids, so that someone better can take care of them.  I am such a failure.  

That is, by the end of the two-hour exercise, I hadn't secured shelter, food or safety for my kids.  This was just a taste of what millions of New Yorkers in poverty experience on a daily basis.

Even more disturbing was that as an adoptive mama-to-be, in the simulation I, a single mom in NYC, could so easily choose what I thought would be a better life for my kids.  What kind of woman/mother am I?  Though I suspect, choosing adoption for a child in the Philippines may be a little different than choosing foster care or adoption for a child in New York City.  The possibilities and results surely vary.

While I work at ESS and every so often meet clients who have experienced tremendous trauma or hear a story or two about how they may or may not have broken through some hardship of abuse, my first class at CCC drove home that I really have nothing about which to complain.  So when family or friends -- who have jobs and live in their lovely homes with their hardwood floors, french doors and fabulous scenic views with household incomes above $18,000 (myself included, of course) -- tell me, "Oh, we're poor . . ." and go on to say, "We can't afford that . . ." 

Well, not so much.  Really.  You're (we're) not poor.  We're not a family of four living on $18,300 a month.  That would be the poverty line.  Others, like Oprah, have argued that poverty abroad is much more serious than in the States where Americans have access and the means to pick themselves up and navigate successfully through social services and public assistance.  Not so for our fellow global citizens abroad where cultural boundaries and government infrastructures are so restraining that upward financial mobility and the creation of a sustainable living come with incredible challenges.

Still, that doesn't negate the experience of NYC's two million children, many of whom live in poverty among terrible emotional and physical damage and need caring individuals to advocate on their behalf.  And so begins my course to more educated advocacy.  


The practice of Karma Yoga

I am blessed to run in a circle with those who practice karma yoga, the path of selfless action and selfless service, on a daily basis.  A close friend, A., in Seattle plants trees regularly.  Cousin K. engages in front yard farming as a means of sustainable living.  The moms and dads in my life make extra efforts to be engaged in their school communities.  My colleagues at ESS work around the clock to make sure kids are safely supported by their birth or foster families.  Among our fundraising staff, the newest additions are three recent college graduates who have chosen to do their domestic peace corps assignments through one year's service with ESS before embarking on their careers.  These everyday examples of karma yoga do not go unnoticed.

As another 9/11 annivesary passed this weekend, I couldn't help but reflect on the importance of community -- beyond our immediate families whether it's as a town, nation or heritage.  A. has frequently challenged my understanding of "community" and the exhilirating feelings that move communities.  In fact, he is stunned by the genuine friendliness at a smaller church we've been visiting, where folks get out of their pews and go up to each other individually as well as across aisles to wish each other peace . . . a simple act of karma yoga. 

A.'s coming around though as he gears up for the 2010 Heart Walk in Long Branch on October 3.  He's been super concerned about whether or not he'll be able to last a 5K walk.  No doubt he will!  It'll be our third health awareness event that we've participated in since May, and each has had significant meaning in our lives.  We supported our physical therapist friend who specializes in hemophilia.  In June, we honored Dad's memory by doing the Run for Dad and raised funds for prostate cancer research.  And in just three weeks, we'll celebrate A.'s 4th healthy heart anniversary as we stand up and walk for healthier hearts. 

Karma yoga doesn't have to be back bendingly strenuous.  It can be fun, especially when we're practicing alongside friends and family and even those we don't know.

Thank you, Great Spirit, for the blessing of community -- being with those we don't know but with whom we might share a familiar experience.  Teach us grace, so that we might live a more charmed existence.  Help us to go beyond our comfort zones so that we might learn the value of true fellowship.


Curb our enthusiasm

It's official.  PSB has just informed us that as of 09/02/10, we are !finally! eligible to be matched with a three-to-five-year-old child.  PSB has corrected me in that we are not necessarily in match mode as there need to be three-to-five-year-olds who need families.  Of course, back in December, ICAB members told us there were such children and that our openness to such a child would mean less waiting time.  If our referral does not come in before our immigration application expires (06/2011), we will have to pay more fees for an updated homestudy, medical and criminal clearances.  Nice.

A. & I know in our heads that the adoption process is a test of extreme patience in what can seem a majorly dramatic waiting game (just like a typical Filipino teleseries), and we work with the deepest restraint to curb our enthusiasm.  This past August marked a year since we submitted our initial application to PSB.  No doubt more bumps ahead as we make our way to our future child.  Guess that's to be expected in any parental journey.

A. & I have not yet started preparing a room in our home for our child though we've casually thrown out possible themes.  Perhaps the transition into the fall season will inspire us to begin to process the reality that we are parents-in-waiting.  Somewhere in the Philippines, a 20-hour plane ride away, our child is waiting to come home . . . to us.

With guarded eagerness, we look forward to the next step -- the moment we receive our referral.  Could be another 12-18 months.  Hoping it's less. 



Being a surivor has weighed heavily on my mind as we marked my Dad's second death anniversary and reflected on the memory of his memorial service.  Dad passed away Labor Day Weekend, so every Labor Day weekend following that brings some annual meditation.  At the same time, we continue to patiently wait for word from PSB about any udpate regarding the status of our adoption paperwork and child match process as I read about loss from the perspectives of adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents.  In all of these,  loss is loss.  And the experience of survival from each point of view is most profound.  As a survivor, I will hopefully be able to empathize and support my future child's loss too.

Moving forward
Any time a family member passes from an illness, those living speak about how he survived with the illness as long as he did.  Rarely do they discuss how those living -- friends and family -- continue to survive the day-to-day immediately following death or year-after-year as they courageously note each passing birthday, holiday, wedding or death anniversary without the one who has died. 

When someone comes through a medical trauma, she has survived.  When someone comes through such a hurdle, the one alongside her has survived too.  And when someone unfortuantely has given her all to survive whatever complications only to finally give into something greater than the physical world, the ones alongside her are left to survive. 

Not everyone is fortunate to have someone by his side at that moment's last breath.  Those who are left behind survive that little detail. 

Survivorship among the living can be much more challenging.  To get through each day . . . Not a day goes by without thinking of his beloved partner, wife, her dear husband, her most cherished mother, father, child or pet even . . . before one is delighted by the next flashback. 

That is survivorship. 

[Just received UNofficial word from PSB via Mr. R. that our dossier has been finally approved by ICAB.  Waiting for official ICAB notification.  Then we can finally be in the match process.  Moving forward.  With caution.]


Aloha violets

aloha . . .
a promise to love till the end of time
she watches from ancestors' rooftop gardens
a billow of the palest violets is her meditation cushion
like unripened blueberries
from where she breathes and channels --
aloha . . .
to her cherishings -- husband, daughter and son
who will evermore miss her radiance