Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Few Notes on the Christmas Pageant

[J]

My brother-in-law and I are directing the Christmas pageant again this year. It's year two for us. Before last year, my mother was responsible for about 143 years (give or take...) of Christmas pageants, without a break. Each year, she'd invent, devise, adapt, or plagiarize a new script for the first half of the Christmas eve pageant. (The second half featured pretty much the same nativity story each time, with a few variations.) Each December, under her forceful direction, hundreds of milling, mewling children would transform into thespians straight out of the Old Vic.

The original (more or less) scripts that she'd write each year allowed her to add something new to the nativity story, and to explore or invent new tales of Christmas. There are extant scripts featuring a cobbler, a juggler, talking animals, Saint Nicholas (the real one, not Santa Claus!), Saint Francis, and a wide variety of characters. Often she'd find an existing story to adapt, like the story "Why the Chimes Rang." (That's the script that my brother-in-law and I have resurrected for this year's pageant. It was originally performed in 1992. We have so many of Mom's old scripts that we could go on for the next decade just recycling the good ones.)

Before her death, Mom had actually begun revising her pageant scripts and notes with vague ideas of publishing them. I wish she had gotten further with that project. I especially wish that she had recorded her many memories of the unseen events and backstage stories of pageants over the years. At some point in the 1980s, Mom began using real adult parents with their own infant to play the holy family... rather than squirelly kids and a plastic baby doll. This occasionally created some competition among the church families who had babies born in late summer. (A good solid five-month-old makes an excellent baby Jesus... big enough to wave and coo and gurgle cutely, but not yet mobile or unrealistically large.) Of course, a live baby Jesus can be unpredictable. Some sleep, some scream, some spit up. And occasionally the other members of the holy family can add complications. One year, the father who was to play Joseph walked out on his wife and child on Christmas eve. Mary and the baby Jesus showed up at the church that evening and another father ended up playing Joseph.

My mother's involvement as writer and director of so many pageants also provided her with many opportunities for nepotism. I was drafted into every possible role at some point or other, both onstage and backstage. I grumbled about this as a teen, but it's now so much a part of my Christmas memories that I can't imagine a Christmas eve without the pageant. And I wouldn't know how to just sit and watch. E. and I have, of course, played our roles as an exceptionally lovely holy family (with baby B. as Jesus). Mom had no qualms about roping potential sons- and daughters-in-law into the pageant. While E. and I were engaged, Mom persuaded E. to narrate the Christmas pageant with me. That was E.'s first pageant experience... and she didn't flee screaming into the night.

Last year, the first Christmas after Mom's death, my siblings and their spouses and E. and I all agreed that we weren't ready to let the pageant pass to new hands. And so we revised one of Mom's old scripts and my brother-in-law and I directed, and my sister and I narrated. This year, no one else seemed to volunteer, and here we are again. I can tell that we are teetering on a dangerous edge... either we must announce that it's time for someone else to take on the pageant and let go of the whole thing (assuming someone can be found who wants it)... or we are committing ourselves to an open-ended run as pageant-masters.

Anyway, this year eldest daugher is a shepherd, with TM as a sheep and D as a billy goat (his leftover Halloween costume). B is "little brother" from the "Why the Chimes Rang" portion of the script. And A and P sing in the angel choir. And, of course, E is children's choir director. At least no one is left out.

And really, despite all of the hurly-burly and logistical challenges, the pageant is for me (as I think it was for my mother) a profound act of worship. It's not just cute kids in bathrobes (heck, we don't even use bathrobes!); it is a gift of praise to the Christ-child, God with us, our Savior.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Where were we...?

Why was it so easy to keep up the blog while we travelled? Why has it been two months since our last post? Certainly the technological challenges were greater in Viet Nam. Getting and keeping a connection felt like a real accomplishment. Back home, you'd think we could post something mildly interesting at least every week. -- But, of course, when we were travelling, there was nothing else to do. The entire world had contracted to just me and E and TM and our little corner of Viet Nam. When the boy was finally asleep after a harrowing day of getting from one meal to another, and through one meal after another, and through one great big noisy fit (GBNF) after another, it seemed easy to pour out the day's adventures to the waiting hordes back home. -- Now... not so much.

Oddly, I was compelled to peck out these thoughts by two things: (1) the current GBNF being thrown by TM just across the room, firmly pinned in E's arms... and (2) reading the current adventures of Mrs. Broccoli Guy as they wend their way through the adoption maze in HaNoi as we sit here (http://mrsbroccoliguy.blogspot.com/).

We haven't had many GBNFs or rages by TM over the last two months. He's really adjusting remarkably well. But every now and then, like this evening, we get a mild taste of our Viet Nam experience. Very mild. But enough. -- And poor Mrs. Broccoli Guy and family are having a more challenging time in Viet Nam than we had, I think. -- Over the past few months at home, TM has settled in well, and life has gone on normally. So normally, that it's hard to figure out what to report in the blog. So much happens, and yet it seems as if there's so little to say about it all.

So, here we are. What's new to report?

(a) We have flesh-eating beetles in the basement. Eldest daughter ordered them from a science catalog in an effort to remove the flesh from a frog skeleton. (The frog in question was a former pet who had passed on to the great lilypad in the sky. Daughter briefly mourned, and then began planning for how to mount the skeleton.) -- For those playing along at home, we discovered that frog skeletons are too delicate, and the beetles (actually larvae, to be accurate) consume the connective tissue, too, so we're left with a pile of tiny bones mixed into a lotta wood chips and other organic matter. -- Now we're not sure what to do with the larvae/beetles. Eldest daughter has mentioned that we could keep a sharp eye out for larger roadkill....

(b) The raccoons still live in the attic. (Don't ask.) I shot at one with a bow and arrow. I think I might have bruised him/her. That'll larn 'im.

(c) Life is one long round of songs from the musical Oliver. The homeschool theater group (Thin Ice Theater) is doing Oliver, and every Monday the chorus is here singing. Even D and TM have learned quite a few of the songs, after their fashion. They're good on the melody, but they tend to make up syllables where they don't know the words. Our family is deeply involved.... Various of us are playing Oliver, orphan/pickpocket, Mrs. Sowerberry, and Fagin... and choral director.

(d) We travelled briefly to Pennsylvania to visit my 105-year-old grandmother. She is a remarkable woman, at any age. This is someone who, when asked on her 105th birthday what she was doing 100 years ago to the day, needed only a short pause to recall that she had gotten a new kitten for her birthday, dressed it in her doll clothes, and pushed it around in her doll buggy. How's that? And I bet you aren't sure what you were doing last Monday.

(e) Hmmm.... See? Can't think of a thing. I know we're busy, because we can often be heard to comment, "Gee, we're awfully busy." But what is there to say about it?

Maybe we'll think of more later.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In Rememberance...

(E)

Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of the death of J's mother. A year seems both too long and too short for how it feels. She can't have been gone for just a year. The pain is still too raw and the ache of missing her hasn't seemed to abate all that much. But, has it really been just a year that we last talked together? It feels as though it has been forever since we have spoken.

The best testament I can give about her is her own words. She wrote this is response to a friend's unbelief in God.

WHY I BELIEVE
Mrs. F. K. W. C.
How do I know -- KNOW-- that there is a God? And why do I believe with every breath I draw that He has planned a life beyond this short, entrancing, sometimes brutish, often frustrating one that humans are given?
Man has always worshipped. We know by all the traces of tribes and civilizations which existed before our history that humans have had a need for ritual and for order. At times of greatest sorrow in the collective life of a primitive tribe, when a leader died, he was buried with rituals which indicate a belief that his life would go on somehow, somewhere. There are other traces of ritual which we cannot understand , lost in the unspeaking past: cave paintings, dances and ceremonies, secret places to which only a few were admitted, ancestor worship. None of this would have existed absent the shadowy universal notion that Someone was watching and would care about what humans were doing.
All the Stonehenges, all the mounds I know of from Ireland to Central America which seem to be set up as calendars or clocks of the seasons, point to the need for order in human minds. Will the sun come up again? O the longest day of the year, where will the first sunray strike? Can it be known when to plant and to reap, and when that most frightening of celestial events, an eclipse, would next occur?
No groups of animals do these things. All groups of humans have done them. We decide that ancient traces of habitation were human by these indications of burial customs and primitive inquiries into the great "whys" of the way the universe works.
From what we know of most primitive religions, buttressed by what we know of religion in recorded history, the gods who were worshipped were fearsome and needed to be propitiated, not just for what they could do to humans in this life (send sickness, drought, and so forth) but for the control they had over life after death. Hades or Valhalla, doom or eternal bliss, rest or a ghostly restlessness were the choices man could see; rarely was there simply nothingness after death. Something in us requires us to posit a going on , a renewal, as happens in nature when a plant dies but a seed from it grows. If this were a hope born of vanity or desperation, would it be so universal? Even the Buddhist or Hindu idea of release into nirvana is a continuation, a culmination, a going on.
Look around the world and you will see a record of architecture attesting to man's worship. You will find writings of all kinds attempting to describe what God wants from us and how to achieve it. You will find the vast majority of all humankind leaning up and out for the Presence we know must be.
You also will find humans, particularly in these latter days, who claim to "know" that there is no such Presence, no Creator, or who will say that it matters to them so little that they need not expend any thought in wondering. And yet most of these same atheists and agnostics claim to have a clear concept of what is "good"or "right" and what is "wrong." If there is no Judge of us all, if there is no intelligence in the universe outside ourselves, if death ends it all, what place can "good" and "evil" have? Why should we hold ourselves to any standard of righteousness?
If caring for people we love makes us happy, fine; but why should we care what happens to anyone we do not "like"? Where do the concepts of "right" and "wrong" come from?
Both believers and unbelievers long for justice, for a greater good than any one of us is apt to find on his own. Children are born looking for justice. "That's not fair!" is the universal aggrieved cry of childhood. Even teenagers will accept punishment with reasonable calm if -- but only if -- they think it is deserved; that it is fair. In a world that is patently, inescapably unfair, unjust, giving riches to some and worse than poverty to others, filled with cruelty and inexplicable tragedy, why on earth do we look for justice? For fairness? Could it be that God has put into us the knowledge of a state of justice and peace under which we long to live; could we instinctively know that this is the higher good which is waiting for us, when we transcend our difficult human state and live in a world ordered as He ordained? "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee," is how the great Augustine put it, and there is a great and simple truth in that.
This world is a beautiful place and we fortunate humans have the capacity to respond to its beauty. Certain animals seem to enjoy what they know of their world beyond its capacity to sustain their lives and allow them to reproduce, the chief biological aim of most species. Dolphins and penguins and otters play, even as adults. Most baby animals play, in order to develop and sharpen skills which will be useful or necessary to sustain adult life. Enjoyment by many species of a dust bath, a wallow, a particular food, or the social life of a tribe of animals is evident. But it is difficult -- impossible -- to find animals who are breathtaken at the sight of a sunset or a view, just as it is difficult to find animals who attempt to create beautiful objects, which humans do whenever time and energy are available after basic needs are met. The Native American woman using found objects from feathers to quills to laboriously decorate the garment she has sewn, the installer of mosaics, in complex designs in ancient Pompeii, the decorators of pottery around the world for thousands of years, and the frontier settler carving a knick-knack shelf for his wife -- all are sponding to a need to create and an appreciation of beauty.
Cannot this creation of beauty, of art, be construed to be an imitation of the Creator of the universe, who placed in us a desire to be like Him? In our little ways, we are trying to recreate the beauty we long to see and live with.
Given all this history, given this inborn need to look out and away from ourselves to search for beauty, truth, justice, and a power greater than ourselves, can any one of us truly believe that we "know better" than the vast weight of experience coming to us from our ancestors? The hubris necessary to contradict the long-felt convictions of virtually all mankind and the highest thought of some of the greatest thinkers ever to exist is utterly breathtaking. Surely one must concede that far more people have believed in a Divine Power than have not throughout the centuries.
So one takes a deep breath and acknowledges a Creator, God, the Ruler, who brought all this into being and gave us the breath of life.
Does He love us? The single most memorable human being ever born, Jesus Christ, tells us that He does. The world has been changed by Jesus in ways greater than any other person in history, and one of those ways was His teaching that God wants us to turn to Him as our Father who loves us. As C. S. Lewis said, if you read what Jesus said about himself -- reiterated in accounts written by four separate men and attested to by countless others -- you can say that He was a fool, or a madman, or you can say that He is the living God incarnate. You cannot dismiss Him as a great teacher or philosopher or a clever psychologist, because in His own words He said otherwise. He was with God from the beginning, sent by Him and returning to Him; you cannot ignore His claim to be the Christ, the image of God unless you are willing to throw the entire history of Christianity into a dustbin of delusion.
Why is the world so harsh? Why are there mosquitos, disease, earthquakes, floods, children born damaged, wars and bitter animosities? The Judeo-Christian Bible tells us, and it is the answer that has survived and satisfied believers for close to four thousand years, that God created a perfect world and put into it humans with free choice. We have not chosen to live in obedience as His beloved children. The answers to many of what we call "natural disasters" may be available to scientists some day. Why some humans choose to do evil we may never know. Meanwhile, for most humans, trouble serves to turn us to God and to the real purpose of our life on earth, which is to prepare us for the Life to come. Helping our fellow creatures survive and thrive is part of that purpose, and our true mission.
Jesus tells us to love one another, to care for each other, as He cares for us (and he gave His life for us). Knowing that to love someone is to open oneself up to grief and unbearable separation in this life, since we all die and we cannot know when that will happen, how cruel God would be to instill in us this need to love, this capacity to cleave to others with affection as great as for ourselves. Would it not be less hurtful to shut oneself off from love, to take care of number one and shun attachment ot others? What husband and wife have not hoped to die at the same moment rather than suffer loss of each other? When a baby is born and parental love sweeps into the equation, who is not terrified at the idea of losing the child?
Yet we will, sooner or later, be torn apart by death. Husband from wife, parent from child, friend from friend -- as life progresses so does loss. Can any concept of a loving God include his willingness for us to suffer such inexorable loss? It is absolutely necessary that God provide a culmination for love that continues past death, if He is all Good and all Powerful. (And if He is not, He is not God.)
And He has. All the deathbed epiphanies, all the near-death experiences which have been reported bear out Jesus' claim that "I go to prepare a place for you." We can trust Him that such a place is there: He is completely trustworthy. We cannot know what it will be like, because, for one thing, our brains are programmed to function in linear time and life after death is in "Eternity."
We are not made for linear time; we are not comfortable in it. Some moments fly by too fast and we cannot hold on to the fleeting joy. Some times we are "bored" and wish time to hurry up. We don't know where the time has gone, we wish we had more time, we need to organize our time, we waste it, we spend it, and then our time is up.
Anticipation turns out to be more pleasurable than the event awaited. Memory is bittersweet since we cannot recapture the golden times we remember. We are not made comfortable by time.
Eternity, on the other hand, will be where we feel at home. Babyhood, youth adulthood and age will exist simultaneously, in some way that we cannot possibly understand now. There will be no chronology -- we will not be a particular age, but we will know each other. Our God created us as unique personalities and has no intention of ruining His creation by making us all alike in His eternal realm. Our gifts, our experiences will join together to add to the joy of Heaven. Whatever flaws the world has given us will be turned into His perfect creation.
"Father, Thy will be done on Earth as it is done in Heaven": what a joyous concept. This world is beautiful, but it also contains ugliness. It is joyful, but it is desperately sad. None of us wants to leave it -- but we are promised the world perfected, as God created it, and therefore more beautiful than the earthly world, more holy, full of pure joy, where tears are wiped away and sorrow is unknown.
Praise our God, our Creator, our Father, our Savior, for His inalienable promises.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

You Would Think I Would Learn

(E)

A few days ago it was time to sit down and work on the checkbook and pay some bills. This is never my favorite thing to do and usually the children give me a wide berth while I am doing this. I was feeling grumpier than usual about the bills this time. I haven't taught any piano lessons all summer and because of all of our travelling, J. hasn't been doing any over-load teaching. All combined, it makes for a slightly slimmer paycheck than we usually have. So I started thinking about that and the fact that the property tax bill which was higher than I was anticipating and the recent discovery that 5 out of the 6 children need both sneakers and dress shoes and the eye appointments which will undoubtedly lead to new lenses and the orthodontist....well, you get the idea. So money was seeming to be a very scarce commodity. I often read about people who receive checks in the mail just when they need it, but I couldn't think why we would be getting money from anyone. To sum it all up, I was in an ugly, ungrateful mood and definitely suffering from a severe lack of faith. This explains, but does not excuse, my rather tetchy prayer which went something along the lines of: "Well, God, I'm not sure how You're going to make this turn out alright."

Deciding to balance the checkbook first, to avoid actually writing checks, I got to work. Not more than three items down the statement, as I'm checking them off in the register, I realized I can't find the second July paycheck written in my checkbook. I looked several times to double check... but apparently I had never recorded the direct deposit of an entire paycheck. This meant that my estimate of how little money we had was significantly low. We had much more money than I had realized, and it suddenly seemed possible to pay the bills that were giving me terrible squinty looks from my desk.

While at first glance this missing paycheck may seem nothing more than a serendipitous piece of forgetfulness, I believe it was nothing less than the hand of God. In our house, we live pretty much paycheck to paycheck; we pay our bills and buy groceries, but there is very little left over after that is done. We paid all of our bills and fulfulled all of our obligations for the month of July on only one paycheck. I'm still not sure how we were able to manage but we did. I wonder if the loaves and fishes was similar...there was enough, but no one could explain the mechanics of it. When the realization hit that we had enough...more than enough, actually...to pay the taxes and buy shoes and such, I was overcome with such remorse for my previous bad attitude and felt so loved and cared for all at the same time that all I could do was sit and weep at my desk for a while. This is not the first time that God has provided in generous ways for me and one would think that I would get better at trusting Him after every occasion of His provision. But I'm afraid this is a lesson that I'm still working on.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Joy

(E)

We just returned from a weekend spent with J's aunt and uncle at their beach house along with J's sister and her family. We always have a wonderful time when we are there, but this past weekend was particularly joyful. It is joy to see T.M. follow along with his brothers and sisters and not just watch them. It is joy to hear T.M. laugh... a lot. These are not the little laughs that never touched his eyes in Vietnam. These are great belly laughs that radiate happiness from every facial feature. It is joy to watch T.M. and D. holding hands as they follow A. out into the water. It is joy to be roused from sleep at 5 am by two little boys who had come to find Mommy and Daddy together. It is joy to see D.'s exuberant personality returning after the trauma of Mommy and Daddy leaving for 3 weeks and bringing home a rival for the toys. (Admittedly, this took the form of D. running upstairs where no less than 7 children were sleeping and shouting "Boo!") It is joy to look at T.M. and think of him as one of the kids. It is joy to be greeted with a hug in the morning by a little boy who didn't want to look at me a month ago. It is joy to watch T.M. get to know some of his cousins and aunts and uncles. It is joy to run with T.M. on the beach when not very long ago he wouldn't walk five feet without asking to be carried. It is joy to have T. M. ask to hold my hand when before I had to make him hold it when we were walking. It is joy to hear T.M. cry like a real three year old when he is hurt instead of not seeming to notice pain. It is joy to notice the care and love that A. shows to T.M. It is joy to be able to comfort T.M. when he is scared or upset. It is joy to have T.M. need to hold my hand in order to fall asleep. It is joy to have this new addition to our family.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Teasing the Frog

[J]

So... A. and P. have discovered that they can tease M.'s pet African Clawed Frog by holding a finger up against the tank where the frog can see it and then wiggling the finger. This makes the frog leap about trying to catch what it thinks is a worm.

Who would've thought that on otherwise mostly inert aquatic pet could be so much fun?

M., of course, protests strongly against such teasing of her beloved frog. (Or one of her beloved frogs.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hundreds of Doctors, Thousands of Doctors, Millions, and Billions, and Trillions of Doctors (and some bugs)

(E)

I'm feeling just a bit giddy over the number of appointments we have this month with various medical professionals...pediatricians, orthodontists, dentists, opthamalogists, etc. It is a result of having put off various appointments because we were a little distracted earlier this summer, the appointments we already had, plus the new child who needs to be checked out. And since I want to get them all done in August so we can avoid September's own unique nuttiness, it makes one feel slightly light-headed. I will admit that keeping track of and going to all of the necessary doctor's appointments is a downside to a large family. There is something to be said, though, for office staff knowing who one is. Visiting often makes one a real person and not just a name on a file, which is particularly nice if one needs to phone in a question. On the other hand, each visit seems to offer the doctors a new opportunity to squeeze a bit more income from the Currys. And, although we're quite a healthy crew, our children show a tendency toward near-sightedness and crooked, crowded teeth... inherited from both parents. We'll see if Minh manages to break this trend... or if the environment exerts an overriding influence.

In other homefront news, our pet tally has risen by two frogs since our trip to Lake Geneva. That brings us to 3 frogs (one aquatic and two Northern Leopard Frogs, or so I'm told), 5 gerbils (until Monday when 3 of them go home), and 1 turtle. As you can see our children favor the reptile and amphibian varieties. For the most part this isn't a bad thing. Turtles and frogs require no house-training, never chew shoes left lying around, and the kennel fees during vacations are whatever you pay the parents of unsuspecting friends who agree to watch them. But what most people don't realize is that your children get "two for the price of one" when dealing with these cold-blooded creatures. You see, unlike your garden-variety labrador who eats whatever kibble is poured into his dog dish, these lovable pets eat insects... and depending on the creature, the insect has to be moving or else it is snubbed and ignored by the discriminating frog. This leads to interesting situations in parenting. Senario 1: Eldest daughter schemes how to earn money to pay for the crickets and cricket food and cricket house that are required to feed the pet frogs. At 10 cents a cricket and the frogs eating 2-4 crickets a day, this adds up for a 13 year olds meager earnings. Which leads to senario 2: because of the high cost of crickets, other insects are actively sought to feed the insatiable froggy appetites. But digging and searching and catching insects is only half the fun. The best part comes when the newly found insects are brought into the house to proudly show Mother. I can't tell you how many times I have turned around today because M. has said, "Mommy, look at this!" only to have a container of live insects shoved into my face. My least favorite insects are the ones who jump.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Home Again, Again

[J]

So, now we're back home again. -- Five days after our return from Vietnam, we had to pack up the whole family for a quick trip to Wisconsin, where J. was scheduled to teach an Elderhostel class for a week. Normally, this trip is an excellent (and free) five-day vacation for the whole family. J. teaches his class for a couple of hours each day, and the rest of the time, we are free to swim, boat, take walks, hang out, play games... with room and board provided as part of the remuneration for teaching. (And our eldest son loves the fact that the dining is all buffet-style, so that he can eat as much as he likes.) We really enjoy it.

But this year, coming on the heels of our return from Vietnam, it was a little overwhelming. Poor Minh was baffled by yet another round of travel to yet another inexplicable place. Seeing suitcases makes him a bit jumpy. It's hard to develop a stable sense of home when one is moved from place to place so rapidly. -- Nevertheless, he did well this week, and we all survived.

We were given adjoining rooms, and so the kids were all in one room, so that little ones could go to bed, while older ones could stay up and read in our room. Once everyone was in bed, we kept the door between the rooms open so that we could hear any cries or rustlings. -- Late one night, at about 2am, I woke up and thought I heard some noises. I lay in bed for a while, trying to decide if the noises were from our rooms, or from elsewhere. Finally, I got up to check. At first, I thought everyone was asleep in bed, since it was pitch dark, but then I discovered Minh coming out of the bathroom of the kids' room. He's pretty darn self-sufficient when it comes to the toilet, so he must have taken himself to the bathroom... but he occasionally misses, so I thought I'd check both him and the bathroom floor before tucking him back in. His pajamas felt a bit damp, and when I turned on the bathroom light, I discovered that he had apparently filled the entire toilet bowl with approximately two rolls of toilet paper. The floor was also damp. -- My best guess is that the toilet may have backed up on him during his first flush (perhaps an overuse of toilet paper), and he then diligently mopped the floor with the rest of the toilet paper. (He is extremely careful about cleaning, and eager to help wash, put things away, etc. He has a strong antipathy for messes.) -- In any case, the poor little guy tried to take care of it all on his own in the middle of the night... not yet understanding that he has a mother and father to whom he can come... or for whom he can call.

So as not to leave you in suspense... the next morning, I was able to clear out the bulk of the toilet paper, and the toilet was returned to operation.

There was a moment this past week when I realized that much of the stress we are currently facing is not necessarily related to adoption and attachment/adjustment.... The problem is that we now have two three-year-old boys. Two three-year-old boys! What were we thinking?! -- However, there is a real benefit to having both D. and Minh be so close in age. D. can serve as our control group... our benchmark... to provide a reality-check when we begin to worry excessively about Minh's behavior. Sometimes, we have to be reminded, a three-year-old is just a three-year-old.

(Note: We're finally adding some more pictures to the Photobucket album.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Great is Thy Faithfulness

(E)

When D. was a small baby, I would rock and nurse him in the rocking chair in his room. Many times while doing this, a sadness would come over me for a little boy somewhere, who wasn't being rocked by his mother. I didn't know who or where this boy was. It was not much after this that we seriously began to look into adoption.

So now, Minh and I sit and rock in that same chair. He doesn't like to nap, but needs some quiet time and he only slows down when he is being held, and so we rock. Not that he is always on board with this plan. But after the raging comes calmness. The raging, I might add, is a mere shadow of the rage we saw that first week in Danang.

Minh also loves to be sung to as he falls asleep. My lullaby repetoire is somewhat limited, so I sing the old standard hymns which I memorized long ago. (I hope that I'm not building some Pavlovian response that causes him to immediately fall asleep in church everytime Amazing Grace is sung.) As I sing, I'm reminded that God is faithful. He has brought me the little boy who burdened my heart before I even knew he existed. We are working on getting to know each other. Just like each of my newborns and I had to learn each other's faces and likes and dislikes, so Minh and I have to learn each of those things. But with a three year old, there is just so much more to learn.

I know that Minh is still very confused and uncertain about what has happened to him. He was playing very nicely the other morning, and at one point found his plastic knapsack which holds a building toy we bought for him in Vietnam. He was disturbed that it didn't shut anymore because the zipper had broken, so tried to put all the pieces in the tote bag which Cathay Airlines had given to him. Well, that didn't work because the velcro flap wouldn't fit over. A. had an extra, empty bin which she gave to him. He was quite happy that everything fit and that the lid closed. But then he showed me the bin and wanted to know where to put it. He obviously had an opinion about this and finally I convinced him to show me. He took me to our room where the suitcases are still on the floor and showed me that he wanted to keep the bin of his toys inside the suitcase. It was clear that he thought that this would be the safest place to store anything that he wanted to keep. How do you explain to a 3 yo who doesn't speak English that he lives here now? We went back to his room and I showed him his bed. He seemed to understand that it was Minh's bed. Then I showed him that his bin would fit under his bed. That seemed to make him happy, but I'm just not sure he gets what's going on.

****

I've been doing some thinking about what, if anything, would have made that first week any easier. I did immense amounts of reading on adoption and attachment and thought that I was prepared. While I'm glad I had done the reading, what stuck in my head and helped me to get through were people's actual stories of their own adoption experiences...and the more unvarnished the better. It was extremely comforting to know that other people had experienced the same thing that I was, and they had not only just survived, but loved their child. So, for any of you reading this who are waiting for your turn to bring your child home, here is what I wish someone had told me.

I knew that newly adopted children don't always accept the new parents right away. But I was unprepared for the reality of what that looks like. For us, it was more than not accepting, it was closer to outright hate. It is a sheer act of will to love a child who runs from you, screams at you, acts as if your touch is painful, and if you do get him in your arms, tries to injure you...often successfully. I had no idea how painful this would be, both emotionally and physically, and my own emotional response was as suprising to me as Minh's behavior. On the day we heard that his passport was going to take longer than expected and there was the possibility that our trip would be extended, I just wanted to go home. Not only did I want to go home, I wanted to go home without Minh and be with my children who loved me. It was very difficult to confront this realization. We had worked and waited so hard and so long for this child, and here I was wishing I could turn back the clock and change what we had done. I was shocked at myself and desperate to escape the situation at the same time.

Well, moving to a larger hotel room, having a loving husband, and receiving supportive emails from friends and family helped to put things back in perspective. We kept moving forward, both of us making little bits of progress at a time. I had the image of driving over long roads of those parking lot exiting devices with the spikes where you can only go one way or you puncture your tires. In writing this, I can't believe it was only three weeks ago. We have both come so far. Two nights ago as I was tucking Minh into bed, he reached up and wrapped his arms around my neck. He has begun to come to me if he has hurt himself and will now sit in my lap and look at books. For my other children, these are commonplace occurances which I barely stop to appreciate most of the time. But coming from Minh they are mighty achievements deserving of acclamation.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chapter 16: A Touching Reunion -- In which one big happy family is restored to one big ugly house

[J]

For a while there, it looked as if American Airlines might succeed in keeping us from making it back. We've done a lot more flying in the last few weeks than we usually do, and our experiences on most of those flights were quite good... Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific were excellent. However, American Airlines seemed determined to botch our attempts to travel between LA and Chicago both ways. Faithful reader, you will recall our initial attempt to get out of Chicago and fly to LA, which was stymied by American Airlines first delaying the flight several times and then finally cancelling it altogether (when the captain apparently did not show up). Well, our return flight took us from Hong Kong to LA, where we were to connect to a flight to Chicago on American. Our original itinerary allowed for more than two hours for that connection, but the flight from Hong Kong was a bit delayed, and then customs took a long time, and so we found ourselves with only 30 minutes to get us and our luggage onto the flight to Chicago. You can picture us at about 11pm sprinting (well, as close to sprinting as we could come after 18 hours of travel from Hanoi and hauling three suitcases and three carry-ons) from the LAX international terminal to terminal 4. When we finally found the American counter to check our luggage and get our boarding passes, the supervisor who helped us seemed to believe that we had arrived late and in a panic solely to annoy her and ruin her evening. She told us, "Your flight leaves in twenty minutes. There's no way I can get you on it. What did you expect showing up so late?" (Those were nearly her exact words.) Naturally, we apologized abjectly and crawled back under our rocks. -- Well, truthfully, we were so bushwhacked, that we couldn't say much, and we allowed her to put us on a flight the next morning at 9am. And she gave us a discount voucher at a nearby motel. (She pointed out that since Cathay was responsible for getting us to LAX late, perhaps they would spring for the whole motel bill. But it was after midnight, and we did not have the energy to drag ourselves back to the international terminal to find the Cathay counter to ask about that.) But nary a word of sympathy or kindness passed her lips.

We took the shuttle bus to the motel and passed an uneasy night of about 3 hours of sleep. Fortunately, Minh had slept quite a bit on the flight from Hong Kong to LA. All in all, he was a trooper, and behaved far better than we had any right to expect... though he had his moments.... The next morning, though, offered more hair-raising events. We missed the earlier shuttle to the airport, so we were already running a bit later than we had hoped. And when we arrived at LAX, we decided to do the curbside check-in, since we already had boarding passes. However, we accidentally got in the wrong line... the line for the TSA screening. It took us about 10 minutes to figure that out and run to one of the regular check-in lines... but then, when we made it to the head of the line, the AA gentleman who was checking folks in and taking their bags pointed out that all three of our boarding passes were flagged with "SSSS", which means that we had been selected for extra special treatment by Homeland Security. The AA gentleman (who was indeed one of the nicest AA employees we met) said that we would have to go inside to have our bags checked. At this point, we were close enough to missing a second flight that E. produced Disney-sized tears welling in her big blue eyes, and with a quaver in her voice, begged him to help us. And, reader, he did. He ran inside himself and somehow got our bags checked in, and sent us running toward the gate. We tipped him well.

This brings us to the source of our feeling that if we ever pass through LAX again, it will be too soon. The LAX procedures for getting people through security and to their gates make O'Hare seem positively efficient and streamlined by comparison. We had to stand in three different lines and be checked three different times even before reaching security. And there, when they saw the big "SSSS" on our boarding passes, they shunted us into a special cattle run to be prodded and patted while they rummaged all our carry-on luggage. I suggested that they might want to pat down Minh, too, but they politely declined. In fairness, the TSA people weren't that bad, but we made it to our plane with only moments to spare. And, naturally, American Airlines had decided that we really didn't need to eat anything on the nearly four hour flight from LA to Chicago.

Footnote: We are left wondering whether the rude and easily annoyed AA supervisor who had "helped" us the night before could have vindictively flagged us for the security check. I asked tha gate agent when we boarded how those "SSSS" flags get assigned, and she said that it was randomly assigned by the TSA... but she also said that a child should never have been flagged. So... did she do it to us on purpose? We'll never know. But we'll also be avoiding American Airlines when next we fly. (Though we fly so infrequently that I'm sure AA won't miss us.)

Second Footnote: Special message to the unpleasant man whose sport coat I accidentally squished when placing my bag in the overhead compartment on the flight out of LA:
"Just wanted you to know that I did it on purpose, and I'll do it again if I ever see you on another flight."

It was all worthwhile, though, when we finally walked into the baggage claim area at O'Hare with Minh and saw all of our other kids running toward us with outstretched arms. If you had seen it in a movie, you would have dismissed it as unbelievably sweet and touching. And so it was. (Of course, D. took a header as he tried to run toward us, bashing his chin on the floor, but he bounced up and kept coming.)

We realize that Minh is probably baffled by these changes, though he's seen pictures of the kids and seen them on the computer screen. But he's been remarkably quick to play with them and laugh at their antics. He seems to really like having other kids around, and our other kids have been really good so far at wrapping him into the gang. We're all still getting used to being back and together and integrating this new member, but all is well.

This evening, as were getting ready for dinner, though, there was a large "bang" in the backyard, and when we looked out, we saw what looked like fireworks. A second glance, though, revealed that a power transformer on the utility pole next to our garage had exploded and bright blue flames were leaping up with a frightening sort of sizzling sound, while showers of sparked rained down into the yard. Our power went out briefly with the first explosion, but then came back on. I quickly dialed 911 (the first time I've ever done so, I think!) and they sent fire trucks... though the fire trucks didn't really do anything but wait for ComEd to shut off the power and stop the arcing electricity. In the meantime, a neighbor advised me to shut off our main breaker to avoid any power surges. In the end, it was a great deal of sound and fury, but very little signification. The garage didn't even burn down. -- E.'s mom was happy that it had not happened while we were gone, though. -- And Minh and D. really enjoyed seeing fire engines. A bonding experience for them, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Chapter 15: Counting Down Again -- In which we appear to see journey's end... though it is the start of the next

[J]

Having worked out the kinks in our out-of-town run, we've decided that it's time to take the show on the road. We'll shortly be offering a one-night-only abbreviated performance in Hong Kong, followed by an extended run over the Pacific Ocean, then a photo op in LA, and at last into our long-term engagement back in Chicago. -- We can't wait to get home.

This will, of course, be one more confusing change for Minh. He's had some very good days, and he has grown used to our rooms here at the Somerset. As we get ready to pack, he seems to be aware that something's up, and that means anxiety and fear for him. The plane flight could be a challenge for all three of us... though we've invested in a case of the coconut snack cakes that Minh loves so much, and we are ready to bribe our way across the ocean.

We cannot emphasize how clear it has become to us that in any adoption (and considering all that could happen, we've had a pretty easy time of it so far) the attachment of the parent to the child is as great a struggle as the attachment of the child to the parent. No adoptive parent (I hope) would expect a child of any age to immediately and eagerly become fully attached to her/his adoptive parent... and in the same way, I hope that no adoptive parent expects that he or she will immediately and without qualms or doubts become fully attached to an adopted child. -- In fact, this is probably true for children acquired by biological birth, as well... and it's probably true for marriage.... All of these sudden, new, and irrevocable relationships will face moments of doubt, dislike, and "buyer's remorse" (pardon the phrase)... or I am much deceived.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Chapter 14: Into the Home Stretch? -- In which bureaucracy redeems itself

[J]

Bad connection with the hotel WiFi (for which, I must add, we have to pay) kept us from updates over the last 48 hours. But much has been happening... and very encouraging it is, too.

Minh's passport arrived from Danang very swiftly, with the help of the excellent Holt staff. This meant that we were able to have the visa interview yesterday (Thursday)... and the visa may be ready today (Friday--it's about 8:30am now). This could mean that we might be able to return home in the next few days... depending on rearranging plane tickets. I don't think we are tired of Vietnam, by any stretch, though seeing the sights with Minh is a bit more challenging than the average tourist experience. I'm certain that we want to return, both to Danang and to Hanoi... and we'd love to actually see Ho Chi Minh City. But that trip will need to (a) include the whole family and (b) occur when the youngest and most rambunctious members of the family are a bit older and more sedate. -- Ideally, I'd find a way to persuade the university at which I am employed to foot the bill for some sort of intercountry educational program development fact-finding mission. For me and my family of "research assistants."

We cannot praise Holt and its staff enough! They have accompanied us to the US embassy and other offices for every visit and they have picked up important documents for us from various offices. Yesterday, at the embassy, we met two families adopting infants through other agencies. They had been sent by their agencies to the US embassy without anyone to assist them in navigating the interviews. -- And the Holt staff members have gone out of their way to help us with things not related to the adoption! One of the staff members arranged to take us out for a morning... to the Museum of Ethnology and shopping and lunch. -- Obviously, we don't really have experience with other agencies, but we can say with certainty that Holt is both caring and ethical.

One of the highlights of the visit to the Museum of Ethnology (which would have been great for adults or older kids... though there were enough videos and dioramas to keep Minh interested for most of the time) was after we had left the museum building. On the large grounds around the museum are some reconstructions of village houses from various regions of Vietnam, as well as areas where craftspeople can show their skills... and there is also a water puppet theater. We discovered the water puppet theater just as a show was beginning, and so for a small extra ticket fee, we watched nearly the whole show, and it was wonderful. The puppets were fascinating and entertaining, even for those of us who didn't understand the lyrics of the folksongs. Minh was entranced by the show.

The swimming pool remains a good entertainment for the afternoon, when the building provides some shade. Yesterday's swim was cut short by torrential rain, which meant that we had to scrap our plans to go out to dinner. We ate instead at the restaurant here in the Somerset, which was good, though a bit pricey by comparison. -- We also got out the Play Doh yesterday, and it was a big hit. Minh spent an hour making balls of Play Doh and then cutting them into little chunks with a kitchen knife. He loves to play at cooking and has been entertaining himself with a pot and ladle from the kitchen here in our "serviced apartment."

There are still times of rage... a few long spells yesterday. We can watch him get more and more wound up, at times, which usually ends up with some behavior that seems purposefully to test our boundaries, and when we step in to pick him up, the battle begins. He resists snuggling with us much of the time, though this morning he crawled out of his bed and into ours and snuggled with E. We just hold him through his rage (with enough firmness to keep him from biting, hitting, kicking, clawing, pulling hair, etc.--all of which he attempts... and sometimes succeeds) until he finally allows us to snuggle him into calmness. This can take a while, though. And he appears to have superhuman strength... or at least an ample supply of adreneline. He provides us with a physical, as well as emotional and spiritual, workout!

E. probably does the majority of the holding during these rages, but Minh and I have also had our wrestling matches. Much of the attachment information emphasizes the need for the mother alone to provide all holding, care, feeding, etc. for an extended period. This makes sense for children who have never formed proper attachment to a parent, since those children need to be regressed (if that's the right term) back to an infant attachment phase. Minh, however, seems to have been well attached to his foster parents, and his attachment anxiety seems to be less extreme than many of the cases about which we've read. Rather than being unable to attach to us, we think that he is really fighting the grief over leaving his foster parents. -- In any case, we simply try to follow our instincts, keeping in mind what we've read and been told by others. Our goal, as with all of our children, is that Minh can experience the peace of knowing that he has parents who will protect him (even from himself) and who will never leave him or stop loving him, regardless of how unlovable he might try to make himself at moments. -- Of course, arriving home to the rest of the kids will create new challenges, and we are more than ready to visit an attachment therapist if necessary.

But this morning has been fine. He's been busy, but not manically busy. He's now playing with Play Doh, as we try to decide what the plan is for the morning. We will probably go off in search of more gifts. Minh has the most difficulty with transitions between activities and with times of inactive waiting... such as waiting for interviews at the embassy... or waiting in shops while we browse... or waiting in restaurants for food to arrive. He does enjoy going places and looking at things... but he'd prefer that we don't stop or dawdle for too long.

If we can get the WiFi connection a bit more stable, we'll download more pictures to the Photobucket album. I tried to do so yesterday, but the connection wouldn't stay connected long enough!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Chapter 13: Waiting in Hanoi -- In which E. plays in the pool and likes it

[J]

We've found a routine, I think, that works... if two days can constitute a routine. (Footnote: any typos in this entry are the result of strange commercials on the Malaysian TV channel.) Anyway, yesterday afternoon and today we've been doing okay. Yesterday morning we had Minh's check-up at the SOS clinic, and then in the afternoon we had the I-600 interview. The check-up was okay, but there was a lot of waiting around before and after, and that was just too much for Minh... and we faced a meltdown of mammoth proportions afterward.

But the interview at the embassy went reasonably well! We were more than a little nervous about how Minh might handle that, and what it might entail. After waiting for a long time in a large and empty waiting room (we were early), we were finally invited to enter a small conference room. The three of us were on one side of a large bullet-proof glass window, and on the other side were two US embassy employees. The foreign service person who appeared to be in charge was a very nice older woman from the US, while her assistant was a Vietnamese national. The interview was pretty straightforward, and they already had most of the answers to their questions in the documents that the Holt staff had given them. We got the sense that the older woman was more of a figurehead... and her assistant seemed to be the one who understood how to work the computer. In any case, Minh was pretty good. He colored with crayons and made some noise, but didn't meltdown at all. Toward the end of the interview, he got off my lap and explored the room a bit. When I turned around to check on him, I discovered that he had found a wooden ruler with a brass straightedge, and he was busily extracting the brass strip from the edge of the ruler. He only had about two inches to go. It's like living with a a tiny wrecking crew. But we made a good impression overall.

After we got back to the hotel, we put on our swimming suits and headed to the outdoor pool. It's pretty nice, and there are two smaller pools for kids, one about 18 inches deep and the other about 3 feet deep. Minh loves playing in the water. We both took turns splashing with him in the medium-sized pool. It's just about the ideal activity... it gets us out of the room, but we don't have to wander the streets of Hanoi... it's good physical exercise for the boy... and us... and it seems like a good bonding-type activity, since we are holding him close to us as we play together.

The pool is on a large outside deck off the 4th floor, and there is also an outdoor play area with a sandbox. So, after swimming, we headed for the play area. Minh had a wonderful time playing in the sandbox. There are communal shovels, buckets, and other sand toys that live in the sandbox, and he would probably sit there for hours, filling buckets, transferring sand, separating rocks, etc. -- The Somerset, about which I had been thinking hard thoughts, has now risen in my estimation.

Today (Tuesday) we went out again in the morning (the history museum first... not so good for 3-year-olds... and then some shopping and lunch), had a short rest, and then played in the pool and sandbox in the afternoon. No major rages today... just minor angry battles at moments of transition... but nothing that escalated.

There seem to be many families from different countried living here in the Somerset. They may be here for extended business reasons, I suppose. Anyway, we see kids around, and the Somerset has daycare and kids activities, as well as adult classes, etc. Today when we came out to the pool, there seemed to be a large group of younger children, all under 5, I'd guess, being taken care of by three 20-something-types... an Australian guy and two Vietnamese women. They left shortly after we arrived, but a girl of about 6 remained hanging around with us. We finally decided that she must belong to a man snoozing on a lounge chair across the pool. We guessed that she might be Russian. She and Minh ended up playing together for a long time in the water, though he was a bit wary of her splashiness, and then she followed us over to the play area and sandbox when we went. Eventually her father must have awakened and wondered where his daughter had gone, because he came looking for her after a while. However, once he found her, he wandered off again. Frankly, she seemed starved for affection and companionship, judging from how she attached herself to us and Minh.

We've also bumped into a very nice older Vietnamese nanny who is caring for a little Taiwanese boy whose parents do who-knows-what. But the nanny speaks only Vietnamese and French. Our Vietnamese is not useful for speaking to adults (unless they want to talk about eating ice cream, cake, or bananas), so we chat with her in French... or at least E. does. I nod and smile, catching a word here and there.

We've eaten in some fairly nice restaurants for dinner the past two nights. Last night was traditional northern Vietnamese food. E. wanted to tell Maureen that we had the pickled cucumber salad, like at Cozy, but better... with more kick to it. Minh did pretty well, until he threw my (empty) beer can at E. Fortuantely, we were about done and I took him out while E. paid. Tonight we ate at a French restaurant which is part of a not-for-profit school that trains young Vietnamese people to work in the food service business. It was quite good, though, again, a bit rushed due to our somewhat unpredictable dining companion. -- When we are out in restaurants, museums, or other similar public spaces, we both find ourselves tensed for action, knowing that at any moment we may have to contend with some sort of explosion. -- With me, Minh's favorite trick when he's mad is to grab my glasses and heave them as far as he can. The lenses have picked up a few scratches, but he has yet to throw them under a bus or out of a window.

All we wait for now is for Minh's passport to arrive from Danang, on Thursday, we hope, and then we can have the visa interview.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Chapter whatever: some short notes

[J]

It's Monday morning, and we're feeling a bit blah here in Hanoi. Minh's rages continue apace, and they really take it out of us. It's not just the current fit of rage, but the knowledge that there will almost certainly be another one coming down the pike. We find ourselves learning that attachment works both ways. Just as Minh must struggle to accept us as parents, so we must struggle to accept him as our child, most especially in the moments when he is working his hardest to avoid that attachment. We are learning that love is an act of will and faith, not an emotion. I don't have the energy to pursue the theological implications of this right now, but this experience is a startling lesson in the infinite love of God. I see myself as a child adopted into God's family, irrevocably a child of God as a result of my surrender to Christ, but a child who often struggles against full attachment, full bonding, with my true father. If Minh's rages against us are painful and frustrating, how much more panful and frustrating to God are my battles against his infinite love. And yet his love does not abate and I do not cease to be his child.

*****************
There are a lot more stoplights here in Hanoi... but fortunately they are mainly optional. If the light has turned red and you still want to drive your scooter through the intersection, you need only create aprotective bubble around yourself by speeding up and blowing your horn as loudly as possible. And if you accidentally did stop at a red light, there's no need to stay there until it turns green, unless you feel like it.

*****************
We learned recently that Paul Anka, Tom Jones, and Barbra Streisand are all considered the epitome of modern music here in Vietnam. And the theme song for our soundtrack is now the theme from Love Story. We seem to hear muzak version of it in every restaurant. In fact, in Danang, all public facilities seem to have been issued the same identical muzak CD, suitable for any occasion or location.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Chapter 11: New City, New Taxbracket -- Wherein the three travellers travel a bit further

[J]

Dateline Hanoi.
We made it to the big city, and it is a lot bigger than Danang. We're at the very fancy Somerset Grand Hanoi Serviced Apartments. (That's right: it's NOT a hotel.) Actually, the little Elegant Hotel in Danang had a lot more charm than this big, fancy, expensive Hanoi hotel. At the Elegant, we got free breakfast and free WiFi. Here at the Somerset, we must pay for both, and through the nose. Of course, the Somerset does have a swimming pool and indoor and outdoor play areas for kids... so that helps. And here we have more space and a little kitchen (with clothes washing machine), so that will save on eating out.

For those considering a trip to Vietnam, I would really recommend starting in Danang. We were just about the only westerners there, and I think we got a much more realistic sense of the place and the people. Danang seemed like a bustling metropolis, full of scooters and people... but Hanoi is insanely busy, in comparison. The people in Danang were all so nice to us, though curious. One has to be prepared to answer questions that might seem a bit personal in some other cultural context. Hanoi, though, is full of tourists (or so it seems after about 12 hours). -- But I'm sure that we'll enjoy this leg of the trip, too. It's just different, and I'm glad we saw Danang first.

Yesterday, we spent our final afternoon in Danang driving up to the Hai Van Pass and then down to Lang Co beach and resorts. The beachfront resorts in Lang Co looked much more charming than the larger ones on China Beach. Maybe next time....

The road up to the Hai Van Pass is quite treacherous, but the vendors at the top of the pass are even more so. As soon as we got out, we were swarmed. It takes great willpower to keep saying, "No, thank you," when you are surrounded by aggressive vendors. We ended up buying some bracelets (which we had wanted anyway), but that sort of made it worse, since all of the vendors from whom we had NOT bought anything simply redoubled their efforts... practically throwing their goods at us. With a bit more exposure, I think I could get good at dealing with vendors and bartering effectively, but one has to be mentally prepared for the onslaught.

We have not really had much contact with remnants of the American War (aka the Vietnam War, to those of you playing at home), but there are some crumbling US bunkers at the top of the Hai Van Pass. And, more disturbing, our hotel in Hanoi is right next door to the "Hanoi Hilton" -- that's the Hoa Lo Prison, used by the French to imprison and torture Vietnamese Nationalists, and then later used by the Viet Cong for American PoWs.

We are fairly certain that Minh's foster parents (or others) had told him about flying on an airplane... and we think that he must have connected that airplane flight to his real separation from his foster parents. We flew from Danang to Hanoi first thing this morning, and today was a hard day for him. He had quite a marathon tantrum this afternoon... partly a result of just being overtired (we couldn't get into our room until after 2:30, and he should have been napping around noon), but also (we think) related to his growing realization that something permanent is happening. He thrashed in E's arms for about 40 minutes, going full fury for the whole time. And then, tonight, he seemed to switch gears from rage to deep, deep grief. At bedtime, he was washed up and pajama-ed, and he and E were on his bed singing "Old MacDonald." (This is one of his favorite things to do, and he can practically sing the whole thing, especially the "e-i-e-i-o" parts. He was being very good and cute... and then we turned out the lights and lay down with him to help put him to sleep... as we have every night. He fussed and fidgeted and talked to himself for a long while, and then he began to whimper, and the whimper turned into a long bout of real sobbing. He cried and cried, not the raging tears that we've had at least once every day, but just sad, pathetic tears.

We do not imagine that we won't face the raging Minh again. He'll be back! But this very sad Minh is a new side that we really had not seen. We can only think that he is realizing, and mourning, the loss of his beloved foster parents. It seems so tragic that we must take him away from truly loving foster parents in order to give him a family. But we know that they could not adopt him, and there was no guarantee that he would have been able to stay with those foster parents, even if we were not adopting him. Still, it feels as if we are partly responsible for the incomprehensible grief faced by this little boy.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is a free day. And then on Monday it's off to the US Embassy to see if we can't get something started!

Thank you for your emails. We haven't been able to reply to everyone, but we truly appreciate the support. -- Also, we are finally able to view our own blog! This means that we just had a chance to read the various comments that had been posted. -- Aunt Ginny: I hope you figured out how to get to the Photobucket Album. If not, look under the heading "Links" on the left of this page for a link to it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Chapter 10: For Every Down An Up -- In which some fun is had by all.

[J]

Well, Minh's passport is still going to take more time than anyone expected, but it looks as if that may not slow our schedule or change the original timeline. We leave for Ha noi tomorrow morning, and we can file the I-600 form with the US embassy even though we won't yet have Minh's passport. The passport will follow us on Thursday. At least because of having to submit the I-600 here, rather than in Chicago, we had already planned for an extended trip. If that were not the case, we would now be scrambling to make other arrangements for extending our stay in Ha noi.

Yesterday afternoon Minh had a good long nap and then we went to the beach and swam in the South China Sea. It was lovely, perfect waves for playing. We went to My Khe Beach (China Beach), but a bit further south from the really crowded area nearest Danang. It's only a couple of km from the city, but a bit too far to walk, so we took a cab. (I was all for renting a scooter, but the hotel staff thought that would be a bad idea, especially with Minh, and so I relented.)

When we got to the beach, at about 3:30, it was pretty empty, but all the folding chairs and umbrellas were set up, so we got a good spot in front. At first, Minh was very cautious about approaching the water, but that only lasted about 20 minutes. Soon, he was running in and out of the waves, screaming with the fun of fleeing from the waves as they rushed up the beach. Once he'd gotten over that hurdle, he let us pick him up and carry him out into waist-deep water, where the waves were even more fun to play in. In fact, when my arms began to tire, he made it clear that he didn't want to get out of the water.

Starting a little after 4:00pm, people began flocking onto the sand, and some beach guards appeared with whistles. They were not life guards, since they rarely even looked at the water. There job seemed to be to keep people from straying further south down the beach... perhaps to keep the riff-raff away from the very fancy Furama resort which was just to the south. However, we also read that there can be strong riptides along the beach, and so that may have been part of the motivation.

Eventually, many, many families were there... and with them, many, many vendors selling all sorts of food and drink. Lots of families also brought food and seemed to make a dinner of it on the beach. We would have done so, too, but we had told our cab driver to come back for us at a set time so that we could go to a restaurant up the beach on the way back to Danang. As it was, we bought some delicious steamed buns filled with meat, egg, and vegetables, some sauteed snails (with hot peppers), orange Fanta, and a slice of pineapple. The whole snack probably set us back about $2.50 (38,000 dong), with another $1.25 for our beach chair rental. (I don't think we were treated to a tourist mark-up, since all the vendors were selling mainly to locals. We were the only westerners there... and we did attract attention.)

I also got a free nip from a nice older gentleman's bottle of something strong. He stopped by our chairs while I was eating the spicy snails... poking them out of their shells with a toothpick... and offered me a water bottle (Aquafina, I think). I declined, since we already had our orange soda, but he poured a little bit into a small ceramic cup and offered it to me. To be polite I took it, still thinking it was water, and took a swig. Instead, it was something quite potent. I'm not sure if it was homebrewed or what, but it took me by surprise, which he seemed to think was quite amusing. He gave me a thumbs up, finished the remainder in the cup himself, and wandered off.

We went to My Hanh restaurant for seafood. It had been recommended by the hotel staff. There were tanks and tanks of all sorts of lobsters, crabs, shrimp, fish, snails, etc. Most of them had probably been swimming in the sea less than 8 hours before. We ended up not being able to finish our dinner of grilled shrimp (huge and delicious -- heads on) and grilled cuttlefish (a bit too chewy, but tentacles good). But Minh was good and let E. feed him quite a lot of fish and rice soup. And he ate quite a few salted peanuts. Then we went home, had a bath, and (we cannot thank God enough for this) yet another good night's sleep.

This morning, Minh had a nice long tantrum before breakfast, but then we went out and did some shopping at the large Han market. On the way back, we stopped for drinks and chatted with a nice family, at least the mother, older daughter, and 3-year-old son. And when I say chatted, you may imagine a lot of smiling and nodding. The daughter (about 11) did a little translating for her mother, but she really wanted to know which team I supported for the World Cup. I took a gamble and said "Italy," and she seemed to think that was okay.

*************
A few random notes:
  • Apart from some governmental type buildings and a kind of haphazard approach to infrastructure, one doesn't see much in Danang that screams, "You are in a (nominally) communist country!" There's a heck of a lot more entrepreneurship going on per square foot in Danang than in most US cities. However, I have noticed what appear to be government issue wastebaskets with catchy slogans and odd pictures. They all bear the perky suggestion: "Happiness to everybody!" The one in our bathroom says, "Challenge," and has a picture of a horse and jockey harness-racing. The one I saw in Hoi An said, "Bravery." I've also seen one that says, "Courage." I'll try to get some pictures of them....
  • Most people have no trouble pronouncing or understanding E's name, but they aren't sure what to make of mine.
  • The words "larger" and "lager" seem to have become oddly fused here in Vietnam. In one restaurant, you could order mineral water in two sizes: smaller and "lager"... though, of course, it was water, not beer. On the other hand, I've seen billboards advertising "Bia--Larger." (Bia=beer... consumed daily by men, not women, apparently, in the countless street stalls on every block.) I'm pretty sure that the signs weren't promoting a particular size of beer, though. -- BTW, most men drink their beer on ice, since the bottles are not usually refrigerated. Somehow, these street stalls manage to have ice to put in everyone's glasses, and there's always someone circulating through the chairs checking which glasses need more ice.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chapter 9: Staggering about Punch-Drunk--In which we observe the highs and lows of the roller-coaster

[J]

First, the bad news.
This morning (Thursday) Mr. V. and a CWC staff person took us to the police station to work out the details of getting Minh's passport. We had thought that the CWC director would be able to do this without our needing to go anywhere, but there have been changes to the bureaucracy, apparently. And bureaucratic changes can only mean one thing: delays.

It now appears that Min's passport will take 4 or 5 days longer than expected here in Danang. We're not entirely sure what this does to our whole timeline, though. We think that we can still travel to Hanoi on Saturday (July 8)... and that the passport, when ready, will follow us there. However, because the Chicago office of the US CIS did not allow us to file the I-600 form while we were still in the US, we must file that at the US embassy in Hanoi. We need to get that started as quickly as possible, and we can only hope that we are allowed to start the US embassy paperwork without Minh's passport. Our hope of leaving Vietnam as early as July 14 is fading fast, and even July 21 is looking potentially iffy.

Right now, it feels as if we've been riding this roller-coaster for too long already, and the next week... or two... stretches like infinity before us. We are trying to get over the emotional sucker-punch of finding another hurdle in the way.

But there are some pleasant things, too.
Yesterday, we hired a car and driver to take us to the Marble Mountains and Hoi An. Both spots are beautiful... and far more touristy than Danang. We felt swarmed by westerners yesterday, in comparison to the few we've seen here in Danang.

I'll omit extended descriptions of these two locations. They are well described in Vietnam guidebooks! -- Instead, I'll just say that in both places, the sales pressure on tourists is relentless. Every third step, especially in Hoi An, there's someone else offering something for sale. One strategy for the salespeople with good English is to engage the tourist in conversation about the surroundings, asking where they are from, etc., as the salesperson walks along. Slowly, the tourist realizes that the aimless stroll that they thought they were taking has been diverted into a guided tour back to this salesperson's family's shop. If the tourists try to balk at this point, the cheerful calesperson assures them that they can just look. Of course, once back at the shop, it would be rude not to buy something.

With Minh in tow, we attracted even more attention and interest. Some people were purely curious, but others saw it as a chance to sell us something for Minh. It's especially sneaky to hand the child a toy or snack, and then expect the parents to pay for it.

It was quite hot yesterday, and the museums and old houses of Hoi An are not really aimed at 3-year-olds, so Minh didn't enjoy that part of the trip quite as much. However, at lunch, he attracted the attention of the 3 or 4 young women working in the restaurant. They clustered around, and when he showed some concern with one of his toenails, one of them whipped out nail clippers and gave him a mini-pedicure. I dare you to see that in your local Denny's.

Later, we stopped for iced coffee and ice cream, and Minh nearly cheated himself out of his chocolate ice cream by refusing to allow E. to feed him the first few bites. We were the only customers in the cafe, and the 5 or 6 employees (again, mainly young women) were all sitting about 15 feet away watching his little tantrum and refusal to be fed. I hope we provided them with something to discuss for the rest of the afternoon. -- Finally, when the ice cream had melted, he relented and allowed E. to hold him on her lap while he drank the ice cream through a straw.

Our driver for the day, Mr. H., was extremely nice. He was very willing to chat with Minh about all of the cars and trucks on the road. Mr. H. translated much of Minh's babble for us, and pointed out at some spots that he couldn't really make out what Minh was saying! This confirms that the running monologues of 3-year-olds are sometimes incomprehensible in any language. At one point, Minh tried to convince Mr. H. that a passing truck was an army tank. Minh was determined to see an army tank, apparently.

Now we face the question of how to pass today. Staying in the hotel room ensures some tantrums... though they are becoming briefer... maybe.

Anyone looking for a way to pass free time might do so by praying that the passport be processed quickly and the US embassy process move smoothly and quickly.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Chapter 8: Bright Spots

[J]

It's Wednesday, July 5, at 8am. (Happy Birthday, Lindley!) We've had some nice moments since yesterday afternoon. For dinner, we went to the Cool Spot restaurant... with a little trepidation. Our meals in the hotel restaurant had been a bit tense. This is partly because the woman who runs the hotel restaurant is just so nice. Sadly, her very niceness was the problem. She was so eager to appease Minh and jolly him up that it sort of made our job harder in getting him to sit and eat, especially since E. is trying to be very consistent about having him take food from her. -- Anyway, we walked maybe a km to the restaurant, with E. carrying M. in the hip carrier. And we had a fairly relaxed dinner! M. ate mainly baguette and steamed rice (he likes his starch!), but, hey, he ate it from E.'s hands. The boy won't starve, and we can work on varying the diet later. (According to his foster father, Minh likes only soft foods, not many fruits or vegetables, and won't eat meat unless it is chopped very small and mixed into rice. And he definitely has a sweet tooth. One of his favorite snacks, apparently, is dry powdered milk mixed with sugar and eaten straight with a spoon! He also seems to like salt.)

But dinner was a reasonably calm affair, and the walk back was nice. He walked part of the way himself. We certainly attract plenty of attention when the three of us are out together. I'm afraid we may cause an accident... so many of the people on motorbikes turn to stare at us. -- Then Minh had a bath, "read" some stories, and went to bed for another full night's sleep. Whew. Breakfast today was also calm, with Minh eating more baguette and some rice congee with beef... fed to him by E. -- Now we are killing time until we leave for a day of touristing. We've hired a car and driver to take us to the Marble Mountains and Hoi An. Things seem to go better if we aren't trapped in the room, going stir crazy.

Yesterday, during a walk to the Han market, we stopped into a large store on Bach Dang street, where the hotel is, and discovered many children's books, including some with English and Vietnamese. We bought quite a few, most of which we can't read... but we'll make up the story line. (One seems to be about a monkey who plays with matches and sets his stuffed bear on fire, burning himself... could be a good lesson for our little fellow who likes to disassemble whatever he gets his hands on.)

Minh is quite a mimic, already repeating English phrases and words back to us. He also can make the funniest faces you've ever seen... much like our youngest, D. The two of them will be a comical tour de force. -- He likes to pick up and clean, too. He seems to like washing his hands... and he enjoys picking things up off the floor and putting them "away." As a result, we must check each drawer and cubby inb the room before we check out... all sorts of things have been stored in all sorts of places. (But it doesn't seem to be "hoarding" behavior.)

Meanwhile, life at home seems to be okay... except that we got an email that our dog died. This is sad, but not tragic. She was quite old and incontinent, and we had struggled with whether we ought to have her put to sleep before leaving for Vietnam... but I guess nature took its course. We feel terrible, though, about leaving E.'s mother to deal with it. We owe you, Caroline! Thank you. -- We were able to call the kids via MSN messenger last night, but during a second call to other friends, we lost our connection. Connectivity seems to be a bit wonky here.

And now we need to get this boy out and about, before he goes into overdrive in the room.

Chapter 7: The First 24 Hours

[J]

Thanh Minh is now with us and is our son... "irrevocably," as Mr. V., our Holt Agency contact person and translator, put it. Minh spent last night with us here in the hotel room, and we've now just passed the 24-hour mark of our lives together.

Yesterday (Monday) was about the most emotionally draining days I can recall... since the death of my mother. We arrived at the orphanage bright and early for the "farewell party," which was a fairly brief and ceremonial affair. We had to distribute the customary gifts to everyone involved at the Child Welfare Center and speak eloquently about our happiness. Then (I thought) we would be able to take Minh back with us until the government ceremony at the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), which is next door to our hotel. However, it turned out that we could not take him... so we ended up hanging out at the CWC with Minh and the other kids. To complicate matters, though, as we were all sort of moping around in the courtyard, an older couple came up to the fence by the street and got my attention. I was carrying Minh and walked toward them, and they were clearly saying something about Minh. Suddenly, Minh started wailing and shrieking. At that moment, a woman from the CWC (who seems to be in charge of childcare) rushed over and pulled us back inside, while also shooing away the couple at the gate. Minh was inconsolable for quite a while, and we slowly realized that the couple at the fence must have been Minh's foster parents.

We had very briefly met the foster parents when we first arrived at the CWC. We had just arrived Friday morning after many airplane flights, and they (we think) were just dropping minh off at the CWC. Over the weekend, while we were visiting with Minh and other children at the CWC, Minh was living there. The confusion of having been dropped off at the CWC by the foster parents with whom he had been living for over a year, followed by meeting the new "American mother" ("me My") and "American father" ("ba My"), followed by suddenly seeing his foster parents through the fence must have been terribly confusing. For the rest of the morning, Minh was a wreck. And even more so when we had to leave at 11:30 (naptime). We went back to the hotel room and paced until 2:45.

Then at 3:00pm, we were back to the CWC for a hurried meeting with Minh's birthmother, which was emotional. She lives out in a rural area, and works in a cement making factory. She and her two older sons live in significant poverty, and she worked in a neighbor woman's rice fields for two days in exchange for a motorbike ride to Danang for yesterday's meetings.

Then we rushed to the DOJ with the birthmother, the director of the CWC, Mr. V., Minh, etc. for the official giving and receiving ceremony and paper signing. This took place in a small meeting room which held a long table and about 12 chairs and a large sign board on which were spelled out our names and Minh's name and the date, etc. Against one wall was a red curtain and a large bust of Ho Chi Minh gazing down at us benevolently. Minh was pretty wigged out by this time, and he nearly wrecked the place. He spilled water, shoved chairs, screamed, partially broke the large signboard, spilling the letters of his name onto the floor, and he shorted out the air conditioner by grabbing the circuit breaker over my shoulder as I tried to hold him out of trouble. I was afraid he was going to knock the pillar and bust of Ho Chi Minh right over onto the table, possibly injuring the government official who stopped in briefly to make it all official. That would have not looked so good.

After we staggered out of the DOJ, we made it back to the hotel room, wanting to collapse. But first, we gave Minh a bath so we could change him into a new outfit. However, we were about to enter the battle of the underpants.

In his young life thus far, Minh has not been used to wearing underpants, apparently. I'm not sure whether he associates them with babies, or whether there is some other philosophical objection to them, but when we tried to put him in a nice pair of Spiderman briefs, he rebelled. This turned into an extended screaming, flailing fit. He and I lay on the bed for what felt like a couple of days, until he had exhausted himself. Eventually, we reached calmness, and we were able to go upstairs to the restaurant for dinner. -- Fortunately, at the other end of the spectrum, Minh slept solidly last night from about 9:00pm to 7:00am. It was much easier to face today having slept.

In general, things are going as well as we can hope. There have been a couple more tantrums today. Minh seems much more willing to respond to me than to E. He shows pretty recognizable signs of attachment avoidance with E., and so she is making a point of holding him more and feeding him. As a result, he didn't eat much lunch today, since he refused to take food from E. However, he is now napping in E.'s arms. There are enough moments of peace to balance the minutes of rage and grief of our poor bewildered son.

As a last note, at every turn we discover how bright this little boy is. There is nothing that he can't figure out. Unfortunately, he has the self-control of someone a lot younger... which is a bad combination. He can be sweet and he can be devilish. Pray for us... all three of us.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chapter 6: Counting Down again

So much about this adoption process seems to involve counting down toward some new deadline or phase in the process. Most recently, we were counting down until we left for Vietnam... then counting down until our first meeting with Thanh Minh... and now we are in the final countdown to the moment when he becomes (officially) our son. In about an hour or so, we will go to the Child Welfare Center for Minh's going away party with the caregivers and the other children. And then, at 2pm, we have the Giving and Receiving Ceremony, after which he is ours.

And so we're entering yet another phase. I guess our next countdown will be looking toward the trip from Danang to Hanoi... followed by the countdown until we fly home.

***************
Note on Potty Children:
No, they are not strapped onto their potty buckets. Their little bottoms just sit down in the chamber pots with their kness hanging over the edge so that their feet reach the ground.

And we should mention that, while the potty children are comical, all of the children at the CWC seem very well cared for. They are clean, well-fed, and they seem to all get along with each other. But they need families to love them. Holt in Vietnam places a high priority on reuniting birth families whenever possible, and placing infants in domestic adoption whenever possible, but these older children and the ones with special needs are not likely to be that lucky. They are so loving and lovable that it's very hard not to be able to take them all home. There must be other families out there who could love these children as they yearn to be loved.

Chapter 5: Miscellanea -- Wherein otherwise unrecorded incidents and information are recounted...

[J]

The network demons have been appeased, and (for the moment) we are connected via the laptop in the hotel room! That's a relief. (Though even if the laptop ended up as dead weight for the rest of the trip, it would have earned its passage in that first bad night when we had to revise all flight plans. Without email, we would have been up a creek.)

************
When we visited the Cham museum on Saturday afternoon, we were given a guided tour by a genuine Danang character, and he had the book to prove it. The museum itself is a pretty casual affair, without much in the way of information. It's essentially an open air building (as so many of the buildings are in Danang), with the occasional lizard scuttling across the floor between exhibits. We entered one of the first rooms off the courtyard, and suddenly, out of nowhere, popped a small, elderly man who offered us (in very formal but partially incomprehensible English) a private tour. He began by showing us his card and a page from a tattered copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook to Vietnam in which several sentences were highlighted. These sentences recommended him by name as a guide to the Cham exhibits, and said that he spoke "excellent French and reasonably good English." We probably should have gone with the French, because the English was a challenge. Nevertheless, he knew quite a bit about the Cham history and religion, and he took us on a whirlwind tour of the many statues and other stone carvings. He was keen to point out the popular breast motif used in much Cham art. At the end of the tour, he very subtly mentioned that he had to ask us for some reimbursement, and as he spoke, he idly flipped through his guide book and paused at a place where there were a number of Vietnamese Dong (currency) tucked into the book. I happily offered him 20,000 Dong (about the cost of a light lunch), but he insisted that he had to ask us for 100,000 Dong. So I paid him that amount, but I admit that I felt as if I had been stiffed. -- However, on reflection, I realized that 100,000 Dong equals about $6.50... and so I really can't complain.

******************
Potty training happens early here, and the method (as we observed it at the CWC) produces a very amusing subset of children that we've been calling the "potty children." Essentially, rather than put the toddlers in diapers (we didn't see any diapers at all), the tiny toddlers are placed on plastic chamber pots for certain periods of the day. The caregivers of the CWC put the children out in a back courtyard on their little potty seats, where they sit for an hour or so at a time. But they don't just sit in one spot. They scoot around the courtyard on their little buckets, playing with toys, following one another, rearranging the plastic furniture... we even saw two potty children playing tug-o-war with a small plastic table... the winner ended up dragging the table back across the courtyard. All of this while seated on their plastic potty buckets. In fact, if you stand in one spot too long, you have to be careful about moving, because the potty children shift positions and cluster around your legs, and there's always the danger of tripping over one. Occasionally, one will tip over, and this can result in a mess, but the general attitude is pretty laissez-faire when it comes to elimination. Everything -- kids, plastic furniture, potty buckets, concrete floor -- gets rinsed off pretty regularly.

On a related note, Minh is certainly potty trained... in the sense that he doesn't wet himself. But when he does need to go, his approach is that one place is as good as another for a quick pee. This could require some retraining when we return home. But, since this also seems to be the approach for men in general (based on our observations as we walk the streets of Danang), it's easy to understand Minh's position. -- We'll have to keep an eye on him while we're on the plane home....

****************
For dinner this evening, I had sea slug soup and sauteed eel. Both were actually quite mild and tasty, not fishy at all. The eel, though, had a lot of backbone in it, which was hard to eat around.

****************
There are a million motor scooters on every street, and a few cars (mainly cabs). The rules of the road seem to be pretty simple: drive wherever you need to drive at whatever speed you prefer, and honk regularly to let others know that you exist. These apply to everything from large trucks to bicycles. The key seems to be to pick your line and just go for it. That's true when you cross the street, too. There are no gaps in traffic (on some streets) and no stoplights or stop signs (at least none that mean anything), and so it would be foolish to wait for an opportunity to cross. So pedestrians just step out on faith and keep moving. Usually, the scooters and cars go around you, and you end up on the other side of the street. But don't look up at the drivers, because that might give them the idea that you see them coming. As long as you don't look them in the eye, it's their job to miss you.

That said, we did almost get creamed by a cab this afternoon. He must have been going pretty fast, because neither of us had seen him when we started across. But we survived!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Chapter 4: Humans Doing Well, Technology Not So Good--In which we learn why the quantity of news has been low...

[J]

It's Sunday at noon, and we've had several wonderful visits to the Child Welfare Center here in Danang, spending time with Minh and a cadre of small friends. Thus far, we've been to the CWC twice our first day, once during the second day, and once this morning (day 3). Each visit has been several hours long, and a bit exhausting. Our first visit was with Minh only in the director's office, but each subsequent visit has included the half dozen older kids living at the CWC. (There are also about 6 babies there, too.) I'm a little concerned that they ALL expect to leave with us on Monday. Juggling and blowing bubbles have been a big hit.

Minh calls us Me and Ba (mommy and daddy), which is wonderful, and he is happy to let us hold him. In fact, he will take steps to dislodge other kids when we pick them up, so that he can monopolize us. This seems like a good thing, in general. We've been there over lunch the last two days, so we've fed Minh his food. In general the older kids sit and feed themselves, but E.'s research suggests that feeding a child can be an important step in bonding. The CWC staff have a firm "eat-it-all" policy, and every kid seems well-nourished. Minh, however, is quite dramatic about having a tummyache and not wanting to eat... and a little power struggle over food ensues. Eventually, though, a CWC caregiver intervenes and quickly shovels the food into him. Those caregivers take no guff... but we do feel that it makes us look a bit incompetent. I'm sure that they won't be too sorry to see us go, since we probably throw their whole schedule and routine right off.

So everything with the Minh is going about as well as we can expect. Each time that we've left, Minh has made it very clear that he wants to know why we don't take him along. It's quite heartbreaking to have to leave him there each time. Tomorrow, though, he'll come abck with us to the hotel, and a whole new phase will start.

The technology, though, has failed me for the moment. I'm typing this on the lobby computer in the hotel, because our laptop's ability to connect to the hotel wireless system has gone on the fritz. It worked fine the first 48 hours; we even called the kids at home with video MSM messenger. But yesterday afternoon, something stopped working. According to the laptop, we get connected to the wireless network, with excellent signal strength, but then we can't get any actual connection out to the web. I don't know much about troubleshooting wireless networks, and I don't know if the problem is in the hotel network or in our laptop. I tried asking at the desk whether they had experienced any network problems, but the answered seemed to be no. -- If anyone (Craig... are you reading this?) has suggestions, email them to us at biguglyhouse@sbcglobal.net . We can still check email here in the lobby.

(The other technology issue is that we cannot seem to view our blog site from any computer, though we can add and edit... I think. I won't speculate about why none of the computers we've tried here in Danang seem able to view the blog site. Maureen or Maggie, if you read this entry, send us an email to confirm that you saw it!)

Well, it's back to the CWC this afternoon, at about 3pm. If we can get internet access, we have more pictures to add to photobucket.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Chapter 3 addendum re pictures

We are having a heck of a time trying to post pictures to this blog (as well as emailing them) due to extremely slow download times, but we have been able to get some pictures downloaded to photobucket. Therefore, we have made our photobucket album available without password. Go there and see us and Minh (photos at top of album are most recent).
http://s30.photobucket.com/albums/c320/lzbthcurry/

(We also cannot view our blog pages currently, though we can add to and edit them... so we're just trusting that these entries get out there.)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Chapter 3: First Encounters -- In which our travellers reach their destination, which is (as they knew it would be) only the start of a longer trip...

[J]

The tribulations of our tript from Chicago to Danang are already fading into the dim past. We made it to Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday night where a hotel room awaited us, thanks to Ann Tours, only to discover that our luggage would not be joining us. When American Airlines put us on the new flight to Tokyo, we were assured that an order would be placed to move our luggage from the cursed plan to LA. And when we checked in for the flight to Tokyo, we were assured that the order had been placed to move the baggage. But the baggage was not moved... and so it is winging its way to Hong Kong and may join us here in Danang in a day or two. (And I should note that both the AA booking agent on the phone Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and the check-in agent at the counter on Wednesday morning were wonderful, nice, helpful people.)

Anyway, we got the HCMC hotel at about 12:30am, and we slept until 4:30am, since we needed to catch a cab back to the HCMC airport at 5am. It was awfully nice to fly business class from HCMC to Danang, though... even if the flight was only an hour.

Sleep log thus far: get to O'Hare airport at about 6:30pm Tuesday; slept from 3am to 7:30am Wednesday morning; flew to Tokyo, dozing a bit; flew to HCMC, dozing a bit; slept from 1am to 4:30am Friday morning. Now here it is Friday at noon, and we're dragging a bit. (Of course, since we crossed the international date line, we lost a day in there, so we were not actually up for the full 41 hours +/- that it appears.)

Now the important stuff....
We were met in Danang by our Holt representative, who is very kind and helpful, and he took us to the Child Welfare Center where we spent the morning with Minh (as everyone calls him)! It was very exciting, and a bit overwhelming. Minh has a cold and wasn't feeling great, and when we first got there, he seemed to be having a little tantrum. We first talked to the woman who is the director of the Child Welfare Center, with our Holt representative as translator. Then, after a little while, one of the caregivers brought Minh in, and he sat on the couch next to us. He was eating a little cake in a foil wrapper, and he concentrated very hard on it, ignoring us. He even gave us terrible squinty looks (like McDuff gives the baby in the Rosemary Wells book) every now and then. But E. got out the toy cars and the M&Ms and a sticker book, and slowly Minh became interested in us, and began to play and smile. Then, after he got a bit more comfortable, he started to get a little rambunctious... throwing the cars and even trying to hit us both once or twice (when we attempted to discourage his rowdiness). As he did, though, he had a sort of sly smile on his face, as if he was testing us. We anticipate more such power struggles. But he is a smart little boy, and he quickly figured out which way the wind was blowing.

(As evidence of general smartness, we were taking pictures with the digital camera and then showing them to Minh, and he seemed to like that. In fact, he later picked up the camera and quickly figured out how to make the pictures change. He enjoyed holding down the arrow so that the pictures would cycle quickly through... until the batteries died.)

He had a bag of his own candy with him, and we gave him M&Ms, and then it was time for his lunch. They brought in a bowl of rice, cabbage, and fish soup, so that we could feed him. That went fine, until he threw up! A combination of too much candy and his cold (or whatever), I think. Anyway, we got him cleaned up (he was pretty tidy about the whole vomiting process, much like our oldest, and easily motion sick, daughter was at that age), and then he snuggled on our laps for a little. Then it was time for his nap, and we went back to the hotel.

All in all, a good start! But clearly just a start. We have a lot to learn about Minh, and he has a lot to learn about us. And the whole thing is, as I said, fairly overwhelming.
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