Saturday, December 29, 2012

In Which We're Home

We're home!  I'll be blogging from coffee shops over the next couple of days until our Internet is back online (network providers merging is always fun).  When I left the house, I could see Jer and Ellen curled up with a couple of books in the library chairs next to our Christmas tree.  I think this girl's going to fit right in.

I'm exhausted, so I'll write a longer post tomorrow.  But I just wanted to let you all know that we made it in safely and we're so, so glad to be home.

Welcome to America, daughter of mine!

~Jess

Friday, December 28, 2012

In Which We're Heading Home

So our bags are pretty much packed now, and we're ready for one last dinner out with friends.  Then we'll catch a few hours of sleep before flying out way, way too early in the morning. 

We spent our last day shopping, which seems to be a bit of a national pastime here.  We got Ellen a pair of jeans and a couple of long-sleeved shirts.  We also bought a Thai-English keyboard (for six bucks-- really), which has been a huge hit since she can now talk to her friends on Facebook without having to either type everything on an online Thai-English keyboard and copy it in, or use her relatively limited English vocabulary. 

I couldn't believe the sheer amount of stuff we've managed to accumulate in the past three weeks-- it's pretty amazing just how much we had.  Ellen brought a completely full suitcase, several bags of gifts and a ukulele with her when she came, and if you count the carry-ons and personal items we've got eight pieces of luggage to wrangle.  Hopefully this time it will all make it home and no one will steal anything.  I'd hate to have to go underwear shopping again.

Connor has apparently come down with a bit of a cold, I'm sorry to say.  And it looks like I might be coming down with a bit of an ear infection, which I'm sure will be tons of fun on the plane.  Oh well.  At least if I'm going to get sick I'm doing it at the end of our trip rather than in the middle.  Thus far we haven't had any issues with food poisoning or other infections though, which is nice. 

I have no doubt that we'll visit Thailand again as soon as we're able too-- there's so much more we haven't had the chance to see!  And of course we want to visit Ellen's many loved ones here as well.  We don't feel like we're finished growing our family either, so maybe someday we'll be heading back here for another adoption!  We're not planning to have a miniature United Nations, so we'll either adopt from America or from Thailand again.  That's a few years off yet, so we'll just have to see. 

In the meantime, we'll focus on settling in with our girl and seeing the two kids together for the first time.  Can't wait to see what adventures we'll get up to next!

~Jess

~Jess

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In Which We're Doing Well

We successfully picked up Ellen's visa on Wednesday, so it looks like we'll be getting on a plane for sure on Saturday to head back home!  While we were sad to be away from the little guy and the rest of our family for Christmas, if we have to be away for the holiday trust me when I say that Thailand is not a bad place to be. 

The extra days have given us the opportunity to see a lot that we would otherwise have missed.  We've had the chance to visit a floating market, take an amazing dinner cruise, see the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, the Victory Monument, and the Dusit Zoo, as well as to visit many of the close friends and caretakers Ellen has had over the years and to make some new friends as well. 

We're starting to develop our own inside family jokes, figure out each other's likes and dislikes and enjoy some good-natured teasing-- it really feels like Ellen has been a member of the family forever.

Anyway, just wanted to pop in and let you all know how we're doing-- I'll write a longer update tomorrow.  But right now Jer and Ellen both say it's bedtime, so I've got to go!

~Jess

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In Which We Wish You A Merrry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Hope you all had a joyous holiday.

~Jess

Monday, December 24, 2012

In Which It's Almost Christmas

Yesterday we had a very busy day!  In the morning, we went shopping for a winter coat for Ellen.  It's the coolest, driest month in Thailand currently and it's about 90 degrees here, so the weather in Washington state is going to be a bit of a shock for her.  It took us a while to find something, because our child is a serious tomboy.  She's got a major punk rock edge to her-- she likes to wear distressed jeans, graphic t-shirts, and black, black and more black.  In Thailand, where the majority of clothing for women seems to be super feminine, this was a tall order to fill.  But after a bit of searching we finally found a black sporty jacket with a hood that was warm enough and that she really liked. 

We also found her a Christmas present while we were out, since all of our presents for her are currently at home and completely inaccessible.  We had to do a bit of maneuvering to be in a position where we could get her a present without her finding out we were buying it and also to figure out what the heck we should get her, because really this is the most laid-back kid ever (except if you try to buy her things that are pink and frilly).  But we managed, and her present is now safely wrapped and waiting for tomorrow.

Then in the evening, we met some family friends who took us out on a dinner cruise down the Chayo Praya river.  I'd made the mistake of leaving my camera behind in the hotel room, and I was very sad I did because the views were absolutely breathtaking; all of the gilded roofs of the palaces and temples sparkled with thousands of reflected lights and the sheer size and beauty of the massive bridges we passed under left us breathless.  We ate an enormous amount of food-- including a whole fish sizzling over a miniature charcoal fire-- and enjoyed the lovely company.  We all had an absolutely marvelous time; I think it's one of the best things we've done here so far.

We came home fairly late and today was of course Christmas Eve, so we slept in and then took things fairly easy.  We did go out shopping this morning to find Ellen another pair of new shoes, as she has already worn down the toes on the first pair we got her.  She drags her feet when she walks, and on the badly broken pavement of Thailand's streets this means that her shoes take quite the beating.  So we found her a new, more sturdy pair (in black, of course) and then stopped into a music shop to find her a beginner's course for her ukulele.  After that we came home and spent pretty much the rest of the evening just enjoying each other's company. 

It was an odd Christmas Eve for us; here Christmas is pretty much just a commercial holiday and so it was business as usual for everyone else.  We have no stockings here in our hotel room and no Christmas tree.  Normally I would be reading Connor the Christmas story before kissing him goodnight, and then Jer and I would wait until the little guy was asleep, fix some hot apple cider, and fill the stockings.  Then we would set the table with our best china for our breakfast the next morning and leave a Christmas cracker at each place setting before heading off to bed. 

But instead we're celebrating Christmas with our family on two continents.  For me, Christmas has always been more than a religious holiday-- it's always been about family.  So it's very difficult knowing that we're so far away from not just Connor, but the rest of our loved ones too.

I'm sure we'll have another Christmas when we come home in a little less than a week.  And if we have to be so far away, I'm so glad that it's for the best possible reason.  And I think that spending Christmas in Thailand with Ellen will mean that she doesn't associate it with loss or the confusion of an overwhelming and potentially terrifying new place, but with the celebration of a new adventure.  We don't know what she'll think of America (though we suspect she'll plunge right in with her characteristic relish for life) but right now she's having a ball. 

So an early Merry Christmas to everyone.  Much love to you all!

~Jess

Saturday, December 22, 2012

In Which We Visit The Zoo

Yesterday we slept in for a little while, and then called a taxi and headed off to the Dusit Zoo.

We spent about four hours there.  It was a lot of fun, though towards the end of our visit it was starting to really heat up so the animals were all dozing.  But they were pretty active in the morning, so it was fun to see them. 

On the trip to the floating market, I think we saw more European and American people than we saw Thai people.  At the Dusit zoo, I'm pretty sure Jer and I were literally the only people in the park who weren't Thai.  So that was pretty interesting!  We got a lot of very strange looks as people would try and figure out what our relationship to Ellen is.  One guy was staring at us so hard he almost fell off his bike!  Oh well-- we still really enjoyed ourselves.

We watched the seal show, and me and the girl next to me got pooped on by an enormous pigeon, which put somewhat of a damper on the occasion.  Otherwise the seal show was really neat; the seals balanced balls on their heads, jumped through hoops, and played Frisbee and basketball.  Their trainers obviously had a lot of affection for them, and the seals seemed to be enjoying themselves (and the tasty treats they were getting for the tricks).  One seal clapped his hands after every single trick even though he wasn't given a cue.  I think he just liked the applause.

The zoo had many different kinds of monkeys, which are Ellen's favorites.  They also had some adorable Asian bears, marmosets, lots of birds, and some animals you wouldn't see in a zoo in the states, like cows, guinea pigs and hamsters.  One of the bears had a raven friend who rode around on his back picking off bugs.  So that was pretty neat.

Then we all went back to the room, got cooled down and I walked down to the street in front of our hotel to find us some lunch.  For about two dollars and fifty cents I got us a huge piece of the most amazing fried chicken ever created with a bag of chili-garlic sauce to dip it in, a skewer each of squid, scallop and pork rice balls grilled over a charcoal fire while I watched, and a large perfectly ripe mango.  And it was all delicious.  I swear it's a good thing Jeremy and I don't live in Thailand, or we would both be about three hundred pounds.  The only thing missing from our meal was the sticky rice, and that was because it was two in the afternoon and everyone was out of it.

After that we all changed into our swimsuits and rode the elevator up to the hotel's swimming pool, which is an outdoor pool that juts out over the city about halfway up the hotel.  We really enjoyed swimming, and Jer surprised Ellen because we'd told her that he was totally going to drown and then he executed a perfect forward crawl.  So she thought that was pretty hilarious.  We splashed around in the pool for a couple of hours and then I introduced Ellen to the cedar sauna they had in the women's dressing room, which was a huge hit. 

We ended the evening out at a local restaurant, eating more ridiculously good food at ridiculously low prices.  So all in all it was a great day!

~Jess

Friday, December 21, 2012

In Which We Take The Air

Today was such a fun day!

We got up bright and early to get to the visa office first thing in the morning.  That part was not particularly fun.  But after we turned in Ellen's old visa and received the appointment card for her new visa (which we will pick up on Wednesday) we hopped back in the van with Miss Oh and her very nice driver and headed off to one of the floating markets south of Bangkok.

As a side note, I don't normally make recommendations on here but if you are adopting from Thailand I highly suggest you hire Miss Oh to help you in country.  She knows the ins and outs of the adoption process here extremely well and has been absolutely invaluable to us here.  We'd probably be in big trouble right now without her help, since our process has been much more complicated than we anticipated.

Anyway, so the floating market was pretty amazing.  This is perhaps the first truly touristy thing we've done in Thailand, and I think we saw more Caucasian people there than we've seen in all of our travels through the country so far!  We didn't buy anything on the tour because everything was pretty expensive (and we could find the souvenirs cheaper in Bangkok) but we really enjoyed seeing all of the shops and the beautiful boats.  The river shops were so picturesque they almost looked fake; it was nearly impossible to get a bad photograph there.  I would love to see what a real photographer could do with the location!

After that we drove another fifteen minutes or so down the road to an area where they were offering elephant rides!  They were a bit pricey-- about twenty dollars a person for a twenty minute ride-- so Jer and Ellen went on one together and I waited back at the loading area.  Apparently the ride was quite lovely; they went through a river, saw some very sleepy monkeys and a small monitor lizard, and just enjoyed the beautiful plantations and scenery. 

So we got back to the hotel around one in the afternoon, and relaxed for a while.  Then we went out to dinner with a friend.  All in all I'd say it was a very nice day!  I think we're going to really enjoy ourselves tomorrow too-- it will be a very laid back day for us. 

We might even sleep in!

~Jess

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Which We'll Be Having A Tropical Christmas

Well today was a rather frustrating day.

It looks like we'll be spending Christmas here in Thailand, as our stay will be extended by a few days as we work through some visa issues with Ellen.  Apparently since she went to a swimming competition in the USA last summer, she still has a valid visitor's visa.  So we need to turn in that visa before we can be issued her new one. 

We'll be turning in her old visa and passport early tomorrow morning, and then we should be issued her new visa on Wednesday afternoon.  So if all goes well we'll be flying out early on Thursday morning.

So we're changing our flights and extending our hotel stay.  We let our parents know so that they can also change their flights and change hotel and rental car reservations.  It's tough to be away from Connor this long, and it will be expensive to make all these last minute changes.  But we're absolutely not leaving without our girl, so we'll do what necessary to make it happen and get her home!

So after we turn in Ellen's old visa tomorrow morning, we'll basically be free until next Wednesday, as all of the rest of her paperwork is finished.  So I think we're going to take the opportunity to do a bit more sightseeing and maybe get out of Bangkok for a day trip or two.  We're going to go to a floating market tomorrow, which I think will be a lot of fun!  I think we're also going to try and see the Dusit zoo this weekend.  I'm not sure what else we'll get up to, but I think exploring this beautiful country will be a great way to take our minds off the fact that we won't be spending the holidays all together as a family.

Our daughter continues to amaze us with her brave spirit and her fiesty personality; already it seems like she's been part of our family forever.  She's weathered a lot of changes in a short time extremely well, and we're enjoying getting to know her likes and dislikes and learning everything we can about her.  Every day brings new revelations, and while we've all made a few mistakes with each other we're overall doing extremely well.  It's funny-- I didn't ever expect things to feel this easy.  I may look back on that sentence in a few months and laugh at myself, but right now that's really how it is. 

So glad she's our girl!

~Jess

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Which We're A Family Of Four

Yesterday we had our board meeting, and I am thrilled to say that we are now Ellen's official legal guardians! 

We waited a couple of hours to see the board, which made perfect sense considering that the vast majority of the others there had toddler-age children, who weren't about to wait as patiently.  All of us dressed up (Jer even wore a tie) though I had my walking shoes on instead of my heels because they didn't make the trip over.  I tried to find some heels on a shopping trip the night before and discovered that they don't make my size in Thailand-- my feet are too big.  I was shopping for a nice outfit for Ellen too, and every time went in a store and held up something to look at it the sales clerk would look me up and down dubiously and say "You know that's a size small, right?"  Whee!

Anyway, so I was a complete bundle of nerves before the meeting, but the board members were very nice.  They were obviously very familiar with Ellen's file and asked specific questions regarding our adoption.  I think that the fact that Ellen said emphatically that she wanted to be adopted by us and travel to the USA helped, and also that she was so obviously comfortable with us.  So the interview lasted about half an hour, and then another twenty minutes or so later we walked out with the papers giving us official custody of Ellen until we finalize her adoption in America six months from now.  I swear if we didn't have to turn that paper in to someone else I would frame it and hang it on the wall!

So today we'll have Ellen's last two vaccinations done and then rush over to the US Embassy to see if we'll be able to get her visa before the Christmas holiday.  This meeting will determine for sure whether or not we'll be staying four extra days here.  Apparently Connor has been having some seizures, so I'm anxious to get home to him.  This is the longest I've ever been away from him, and it's hard to not be able to kiss him goodnight. 

And I can't wait for our new family of four to all be together for the first time!

~Jess

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In Which We Have A Long Day

Today was an incredibly hectic day.  We received Ellen's passport today, but we're still up in the air as far as whether or not we'll be able to leave before Christmas.  We spent nearly five hours at the hospital working on her medical paperwork, and we still won't have it done before her visa appointment.  So we're hoping to be able to do the visa interview first, rush to the hospital, pick up the rest of her medical paperwork and get her last two vaccinations, and then race back to the visa office to turn everything in. 

Then we just have to hope that we can rush her visa-- normally they like to have three business days to do everything.  Of course in our case because this corresponds with the Christmas holiday we would end up staying four extra days instead of just one.  So we're really hoping this works out, as not only would this mean four more days away from Connor, but also it would be very expensive.  And of course there's Jer's military clearance for travel we'd need to coordinate too.  So we're hoping to be able to avoid this if we can.

Poor Ellen had to have five vaccinations since we didn't have her latest shot records, along with a TB skin test.  They gave her three shots today, and they'll give her the last two on Thursday.  I'm really hoping we'll be able to get in and out of the hospital rather than spending another five hours there like we did today! 

Connor is apparently doing well; we haven't been able to Skype for a couple of days because the Internet is being touchy in the house, but we have been able to e-mail and it sounds like he's missing us but enjoying all the attention from his grandparents. 

Anyway, I'm exhausted-- I had to go out right after we got back from the hospital to find Ellen some nice clothes, and you all know how I feel about shopping.  So it's bed time now.  Hopefully the board meeting tomorrow will go well!

~Jess

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Which Jer Arrives And There Is Much Rejoicing

Jer is here!  Hooray!

Ellen instantly took to him-- no hesitation at all.  They compared scars from surgery (Ellen has had a double tendon release) and decided Jer was the winner.  From then on they've been thick as thieves.

We spent quite a bit of time at the hotel today, which is where she's most comfortable.  I don't think she'd spent a lot of time out in the city before this, so the streets of Bangkok are pretty overwhelming for her.  But now that Jer's here she seems a bit more confident about trying new things. 

So this morning while the two of them bonded over Ellen's ukulele (I told you this kid was awesome), I ventured out to try and do some laundry.  Bangkok has this permeating smell that gets into your clothes very quickly, and so you really can't wear things more than once.  And also I had several pairs of my underwear stolen out of my checked bag on the flight over, so I was running a bit low.  I didn't want to have the laundry done at the hotel room as it's extremely expensive there, so a friend found us a laundry mat within walking distance and I set off to try and navigate my first transaction almost completely in Thai.  It actually wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be; I was surprised at just how much I understood.

Ellen has been a big help in boosting my Thai vocabulary; she's able to correct my pronunciation and help me out with what I'm trying to say.  She thinks Jer's attempts at Thai are hilarious.  Since he's been in school or studying about 70 hours a week, he hasn't been able to learn more than a couple of phrases.  He can say "Hello," "Thank you," and sort of count to ten-- we're still working on that.  His attempts to learn more have prompted a whole lot of giggling.  It's really great to see them getting along so well!

Tomorrow we're hopefully going to have Ellen's passport, and we'll be getting her medical testing done for her visa.  Keep your fingers crossed that we'll be able to get the results back in time to have her visa before Christmas!

~Jess

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Which We Wait For Daddy

We had another lovely day today as we explored our new world together.  Ellen is a real trooper and is putting up with her new mom's mistakes quite well; like this morning when I didn't check what time the mall opened and managed to get us there two hours early.  Whoops.

Ellen and I did a bit of shopping; she found some books for the trip home, which was good, and I found her a travel book on Seattle (though unfortunately in English) and also a book that explains English idioms.  English has some of the weirdest sayings-- particularly in the south where Jer and I are from-- and so I figure this book is going to seriously come in handy once Ellen gets a little more comfortable with her English.

She's so excited about Jer coming into town tonight that she's been talking about him all day.  I think she's going to be a bit of a daddy's girl.  In a lot of ways their personalities are very similar, so I think they'll get along well.  She tends to be very quiet in new situations and spends some time just taking it all in.  Jeremy likes to do the same thing. 

She's had a lot of new experiences in the last few days, and she's been weathering the changes like a champ.  I'm quickly learning a lot about her likes and dislikes, what her expressions mean and when she needs to take a break. 

I can't wait to see her interact with Jer once he gets here!

~Jess

Friday, December 14, 2012

In Which Everything Is Wonderful

As I'm writing this, Ellen is getting ready for the day.  I can't believe after all this time she's finally here.  And to be honest with you, she is so much more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.  I was told that oftentimes with adoption it takes a while for those first feelings of love for a child to bloom, but already I feel the same sort of fierce protective love for her that I do for Connor.  She already feels like my daughter in my heart.

And what a fantastic girl she is!  Yesterday morning we met at the passport office to get her picture taken.  I got there a few minutes before her, and was sitting in a large group of French couples with their newly adopted small children, also waiting to have their passport photos taken.  Since I know a little Thai, it was the first time in this country I've been surrounded by people talking that I couldn't understand at all, and it was a very isolating feeling.  So I was so happy when I finally saw Ellen and her caretakers round the corner.  A whole group of them had come to see her off.

Ellen was dressed to the nines, in a bluejean jacket and some very cool shoes.  We did her passport photos, collected her things from the car (she brought a large suitcase of clothes and many presents with her from her friends and family at the orphanage, her school and her swimming team) and then it was time for her to say her goodbyes to her caretakers.  It was a very emotional leavetaking and I did my best not to cry too. 

I want to make sure she knows that we won't make her choose between her Thai loved ones and her new family in America.  In my opinion, the more people who love her, the better.  She's had so many wonderful people care for her over the years, and I'm so grateful to them for not only loving her for so long, but for having the strength to see her off with grace.  We'll be keeping in close touch with them once we return to America so that they are able to see how she is doing and know that she is safe and loved.  And I'm sure we will return to Thailand in the future to visit them. 

Ellen knows quite a bit of English, and between that and my rather poor Thai we haven't really had to use the translator.  She's been studying her English very hard in preparation for our arrival.  I think she'll pick it up very quickly once we get back to the states.

Yesterday afternoon we visited Siam Ocean World, a very large aquarium located in a mall a few stops down the skytrain from where we are staying.  Then we went out to dinner with a friend, who took us to eat some street food.  We ate a ton of food-- I think we had six or seven different dishes and it was all absolutely delicious.  Then we went out for ice cream at Swenson's, which is really big over here.  I don't think I'll be losing any weight in Thailand!

I can't post any public pictures of her where you can see her face until the adoption is finalized, but here we are at Siam Ocean World.  I'm loving every second I spend with her, and I can't wait to see what adventures we'll get up to next!

~Jess

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Which I Meet Ellen

Hi all,

Well it's been a whirlwind couple of days!  Yesterday I got the chance to meet Ellen for the first time and spend the day with her at her orphanage.  She's a lovely girl, and she's definitely a teenager!  I think she's very excited about moving to America, but realizes that she'll miss her friends.  I'm not sure she thought much of me, though.  I probably didn't make a good impression because I was smiling and laughing so much.

In America, we wear our hearts on our sleeves, and so we tend to be loud, use large gestures and show our emotions on our faces.  In Thailand this is not considered polite.  However, I'm a nervous laugher, and of course I was shaking in my boots.  So even though I knew I shouldn't, I was laughing a lot.  I don't like being the center of attention at all, and so not only was I nervous about meeting my daughter, but I had to give an interview in front of many of the orphanage staff and I was much the center of attention.  So I think I gave the impression that I was not a very polite person.  Oh well. 

I was really wishing Jeremy was there for support, and to see the orphanage.  I probably would have been able to tone it down a lot better with him there.  But what's done is done.  Hopefully I can correct that impression later on. 

And Jer will get here on Sunday, so that's okay.  It will be much easier with him here.  I also suspect that Ellen will bond much more quickly with him than with me.  Ellen has a lot of female role models that she's very close with, which is a great thing because it's obvious she is very loved and has good relationships with a lot of people.  But it also means I've probably got a bit of competition in her heart.

So more about Ellen: she's even prettier in person than she is in her photos.  She's self assured and isn't afraid to express her opinion.  She's obviously popular at the orphanage and has a lot of friends there.  Her hands and my hands are almost exactly the same size, and they fit well together.  She was nervous with me, which was understandable, but watching her interact with the people she knows well and loves makes me see all over again what a wonderful girl she is.  I can't wait to get to know her better.

The orphanage was run extremely well and the people there were very, very nice.  It's obvious that they love the children very much and that they do their very best for them.  I'm so glad that Ellen has had so many people in her life that care for her so much.

I brought the iPad to the orphanage for Ellen to see photos of our house and our family, and that proved to be a huge hit.  She figured it out in about five minutes and was using it to talk to me shortly thereafter.  I let her keep it overnight so that she could show her friends her photos. 

Ellen may be released to me today, though I'm not entirely sure.  We'll just have to see; hopefully she'll be ready to come with me.  If not we might do one more visit.

We've run into a bit of a snag with Ellen's passport, which we're trying to work around.  It's not ready yet, and we have to have it before we can go to get Ellen's medical paperwork filled and her visa.  Miss Oh, our adoption facilitator here, has been wonderful about helping us fix things.  It means our timeline has been pushed back quite a bit, but hopefully we'll get things figured out. 

Wish us luck!

~Jess

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Which I Have A Few Points Of Note

I'm really, really tired as I've got some serious jet-lag, but here are some quick impressions that stood out today:

--I'm never complaining about Seattle traffic again.  Ever.  Also I'm glad to know that even though I'm jet-lagged, my reflexes are still good enough to jump out of the way of a moped speeding down the opposite way of traffic on the sidewalk.  Also the Child Adoption Board is less than ten miles away from the hotel and it could take us up to an hour to get there.  Wow.

--Bangkok somehow manages to be really polluted and really clean all at the same time.  It's got a permanent smoggy haze over it, and yet the streets are spotless.  Case in point-- I saw a sanitation woman fishing trash out of the individual slots of a street grate with a pair of chopsticks.  Now that's dedication to a job. 

--I still hate shopping, even if it's in another country and is way cooler and much cheaper than shopping at home would be.  Also I'm bad at it.  I spent nearly three hours at MBK, where I went to buy gift wrap, scissors and tape, and I walked out with a stuffed cat for Connor, some newspapers for my Thai class at home, a notebook, pen, and a bunch of bananas.  So now I have no gift wrap for tomorrow.  Hooray.  Of course, being seriously jet-lagged and running on four hours of sleep might have had something to do with it.  But the shopkeeper who sold me the stuffed cat gave me a 150 baht discount off the sticker price because I spoke Thai to him, so at least there's that.

And my brain is, um, done.  So I'm turning in now.  The big, big day is tomorrow.  Can't wait!

~Jess



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Which I'm Here!

The view from our room.
Sawatdee-ka!

I’m a little jet-lagged right now, so forgive me if I’m not the most coherent person in the world.  My plane was delayed for a couple of hours in Tokyo, so I didn’t end up getting to my hotel last night until nearly four in the morning.  Apparently a plane coming in from New York and making our connection was late, so they just kept pushing the boarding time back for us by twenty minute intervals.  That’s probably why they didn’t update the delay on the airport website—the very gracious friend who came to pick me up had to wait at the airport nearly three hours for me by the time I got through customs.  I’m very glad she was there, because I didn’t do a lot of sleeping on the plane so by the time I got in I wasn’t very functional.  Hiring a taxi would have been an interesting experience to say the least.
Even though I got up and walked around at least once every couple of hours on the plane, by the time I got to the hotel my feet were so swollen that my ankles looked like part of my calves.  But after a few hours sleep I feel much better and don’t have to squeeze my feet into my shoes.  All in all I think I was about twenty-two hours in transit.  Whew!  Luckily I had some lovely seatmates who were interesting travel companions.  I had an aisle seat too, so I could stretch out a bit, which was lovely.

So I’m here now, and ready to do a bit of exploring before I go to the orphanage tomorrow to meet Ellen.  Jer won’t arrive until later in the week because of his school finals, so I’ll be on my own in the big city for a few days. 

The hotel we’re staying at is very nice—much nicer than what we where we would usually stay in the United States.  We did get bumped from our triple room since I got in so late, but we’re in a room that’s the same price and they’ll set up a bed for Ellen once she’s here.  It should fit just fine—the room is more than spacious enough.  I got stuck on the elevator for a little bit because I didn’t realize you had to swipe your key card to go to your room, but I’ve got it down now.

I’ll be trying to update at least once a day if I can, and I’ll also be checking my e-mail.  I can’t believe tomorrow’s the big day!  Surprisingly I’m not feeling nervous when I think about it right now, but I'll probably be shaking in my boots by tomorrow morning. 
I can't believe I'm finally here!
~Jess

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In Which I'm Setting Off Tomorrow

So this is it!  Tomorrow, after two years of waiting, I'll finally be stepping on a plane for Thailand.

I'm so very excited and terrified, all at the same time.

I'm going to do my very best to post regular updates on here as we travel through Thailand. I won't be able to blog tomorrow evening as I'll be over an ocean somewhere (it's a long flight), but hopefully after that I'll be able to find some Internet access and a power converter, and I'll keep you posted if I can.  If I'm not able to blog, I'll try and pass along information through my family. 

If this was a Lifetime movie and not reality, in just a few days Ellen would run into Jeremy and my arms while sappy music played, Connor would magically show up from somewhere stage left despite actually being on another continent, and then we'd all walk off into the sunset together.  But things don't happen that way in real life.

Real life is messy.  Real life is heartbreaking and wonderful and confusing all at the same time.  And there's no simple happy ending to this story.  Life doesn't like neat, tidy packages, and Ellen isn't going to magically fit into a slot in our family like she's always been here.  We know there will be some bumps along the way. 

But that's okay.  Because while life is messy and complicated and tragic sometimes, it's also filled with moments that make it worthwhile-- moments that are more awe inspiring and incredible than we ever could have imagined.  And while this adoption-- or any adoption, for that matter-- will probably not be easy by any stretch of the imagination, I also think it's going to bring us some of the very best moments of our lives. 

We aren't going to fit her into a neat slot in our family.  Instead, I hope that we'll all grow into one another, stretching and bending and giving each other grace until gradually we all find a new place together.  And we'll give Ellen time to find her way to us, and not be disappointed if it takes a little while.  We'll leave our hearts wide open and the porch lights on.  When she's ready, she'll step inside.

Welcome home, daughter.  We'll see you soon.

~Jess



In Which I'm Packing!

My Internet was down last night, so just a quick drop-in.  We're all well and I'm packing my bags to go!  Jer will join me when his school's final week is over.  I can't believe I get on the plane TOMORROW!

Longer blog tonight, provided my Internet decides to actually cooperate.  Little guy is asking to get up right now, so it's time for me to go!

~Jess

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Which My Dreams Are Weird

So I woke up this morning to discover that I have a giant zit right in the exact center of my forehead.

This may be because of all the stress, or hormones, or because I've basically eaten my way through the entire chocolate aisle of the grocery store in the last week.  At any rate, this is not fair because I am thirty years old, for pete's sake, and apparently for me being an adult means I get to enjoy both gray hair and acne.  Basically it's like adolescence and old age are conducting an epic land war on my face. 

Hooray.

So of course my brain, which likes to throw out ridiculous scenarios, is now incorporating this into my dreams.  I took a short nap after I dropped off Connor at school this morning and dreamed that the DSDW board rejected our adoption request due to "mother's poor personal hygiene." 

My brain has been throwing out these sort of half-hysterical nocturnal scenarios for a while now, which is what it tends to do whenever I throw some sort of upcoming stressful or exciting event at it.  I then have to, in the dream, figure out a solution for whatever the ridiculous scenario is.  This is why, for example, I know exactly what I would do if I was being attacked by an angry monkey.*  This is apparently a possibility in Thailand, as my travel doctor specifically warned me about the diseases I could pick up from monkey bites. 

The funny thing is, they aren't nightmares.  There isn't generally a sense of urgency or danger around the whole "cancel the adoption due to lack of showering" or "imminent monkey mauling"-- instead my brain kind of freezes the frame, backtracks and works through various solutions until the dream comes out the best possible way-- with a successful adoption and/or no angry monkeys. 

I'm expecting I'll have some more odd dreams leading up to the adoption, as I don't think my stress level will exactly be going down over the next few days.  Maybe it's my mind's way of letting off some steam.  Oh well! 

I'm sure the real journey will be way more crazy and wonderful than anything my brain could ever cook up.

~Jess




*The solution my brain found for the monkey problem was this: I would throw a banana at the slowest person within the monkey's line of vision and then run away.  Apparently my unconscious mind has a good sense of self-preservation and very loose morals.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In Which All Of The Sudden It's Christmas

We put our Christmas tree up today!  A good friend brought his truck over, so we didn't have to try and strap the tree to the top of a car this time, which was very nice.

So Connor spent a good portion of the evening staring at the lights, when he wasn't protesting my musical choice for the event.  I was insisting we listen to Christmas music by Nat "King" Cole, and he demanded we listen to Les Misérables instead.  Because clearly we need more prostitutes dying of tuberculosis singing about their hallucinations to put us in the Christmas spirit about here. 

I vetoed his selection, so he pouted.  Oh well-- he got over it once I spent a few minutes blinking the lights on and off like his own personal disco to make him laugh.

It's looking a whole lot like Christmas around here!

~Jess

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Which I Continue Preparing And The Cats Help

Five days and counting!

Connor had a quick little seizure today, but otherwise he was fine.  He hung out with me while I ran errands, got a much-needed massage and continued to check things off my list.  He seems to be taking our out-of-routine days pretty well.

The cats are not adjusting nearly as comfortably to me hauling stuff around, going through drawers and working on my packing.  Loki and Cricket are creatures of habit, and when I change stuff on them they react by trying to kill everything. 

At least I did laundry today, so Cricket had a place to relax when she ran out of juice after bolting around the house for half an hour with her pupils the size of marbles while I was trying to clean off the laundry room table.  Apparently she believes that my laundry isn't really finished unless it has a liberal coat of cat hair to provide the proper lived-in effect.  I'm just glad that I could provide such lovely turndown service for her.  I try to run a reputable establishment around here, though I draw the line at leaving mint-shaped catnip treats on her chosen pillow.

Crazy cat.

~Jess




Tuesday, December 4, 2012

In Which The Countdown Continues

I spent today doing checking lots of little things off our list, like registering us in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and checking in with the folks we know in Thailand to update them on our travel plans.  I also cleaned out the fridge and organized the pantry. 

Connor had a two minute long seizure at school today; he didn't need oxygen at all though, which was nice.  If he's going to have seizures I'd rather he get them out of the way before I leave.  No seizures allowed while we're gone! 

Otherwise he had a good day; he hung out with me while I organized my many, many containers of tea, did some standing, and played with one of his drawing apps on the iPad.  He was a bit disgruntled because we did a meet-and-greet this evening with a new respite care worker, who it turns out works full time in our doctor's office.  It's a small world!  She seems very nice and should be able to take our Sunday respite care time, which is great because I'd really rather not haul Connor down any more flights of stairs to get to Thai class.

I bought him some new pajamas the other day, and I just had to take a picture of him in them because he's adorable.  So here's a gratuitous picture of ridiculous cuteness, just for you!

~Jess

Monday, December 3, 2012

In Which My Brain Is Melting Out My Ears

By this time next week, I'll be on a plane to Thailand.

Wow.

That's pretty much all I can manage in the way of coherant speech right now.  For whatever reason it seems like with every day that we get closer to taking off, more and more of my brain cells are jumping ship.  At least I can still form actual words-- by the time we get down to the day before my blog will probably read something like "ARGLBLARGLBLARGLBLARGONEDAY" and you all will have to sit me down in a corner somewhere and stuff me full of chocolate until I stop gibbering.  Oh well. 

So I'm running around like a chicken with its head cut off right now trying to get everything ready.  On one of my errands today I stopped by the adoption agency to drop off some paperwork and pick up our packet to take to Thailand, and it hit me that this is the last paperwork I should be receiving before our trip.  Considering that we've probably decimated a rather large swath of forest in our pursuit of our kid, this is pretty significant.  I'm sure we'll have more paperwork in Thailand and then after we get home, but for now the trees are safe. 

We've been talking with Connor a lot about the upcoming trip and the arrival of his sister.  It's hard to tell just how much he understands; he still likes to look at her picture but I don't know if he has a real grasp of the fact that she'll finally be coming home.  So we're not sure how he'll react the first few weeks, though I don't think it will necessarily be the tramautic experience it would be if we brought home a little one.  Connor tends to view older children as yet another source of attention for him, and babies as small evil interlopers who are out to steal his parents.  We'll see if his view of older kids changes when there's one actually living in the house with him!

But yeah, a week.  Wow. 



~Jess

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Which I'm Really Tired And Cheat

It's pretty late and I have yet another ridiculously busy day tomorrow, so I'm copping out and posting something I keep meaning to put up and haven't gotten around to yet.  Remember that speech I was supposed to give for CTC's fundraiser back in October that I didn't end up reading because Connor decided to have a ridiculously long seizure?  Several of you have asked if you could read it, so I'm going to just go ahead and put it up here.  Ta da! 

~Jess


In the fall of 2006, my husband Jeremy and I loaded up our car and drove the 2,000 mile journey from Dallas, Texas to Fort Lewis, Washington, accompanied by Connor, our six month old son, and Cricket, our very carsick cat.  I figure since our marriage survived that car trip intact we’re stuck with each other forever. 

Also crammed into the car was Connor’s huge collection of medical equipment and a steadily growing laundry list of diagnoses.  I’d given birth to a medical landmark; our son had just been diagnosed with a genetic condition so rare he was the only known case in the world.  He has an unbalanced translocation—where one part of a chromosome is deleted and part of another chromosome is duplicated, and his particular issue is so rare that it doesn’t have a proper name—just a dozen word description of where on his genes the deletion and duplication occurs. 

It’s amazing how just a tiny error in the blueprint mapping out his body could have such dire consequences; Connor has over two dozen separate medical conditions caused by his genetic issue, affecting nearly every system in his body.  He had his first surgery at six days old to remove his right kidney, which was swollen up so large it was bigger than his lungs.  His second surgery to fix his twisted intestines was done two weeks later.  Whole swaths of his brain were missing, smaller or formed differently.  He had a heart condition, visual impairment and hearing loss, and profound developmental delays.

To make matters worse, at two weeks old he was taken out of his isolette for a diagnostic test, got too cold, went into shock and one of the fragile blood vessels in his brain tore, causing him to have a stroke.  This did further damage to a brain that was already struggling.  We saw a lot of grim-faced doctors who used words like “terminal illness” and “brain-stem response only.”  We were told he would never move his arms and legs with purpose, never recognize us or communicate, and would almost certainly die in the first few weeks after birth.  They were sure he’d never see his first birthday.

Despite the dire predictions Connor’s condition slowly improved until he was well enough to leave the hospital.  The kid snoozing in the car seat as we wound our way through the pass in Colorado and headed across Wyoming didn’t look like he was about to die at any minute.  He looked adorable.  He had a button nose, huge liquid-black eyes that would slowly change over the months to a startling green, and beautiful star-fish hands with long, tapering fingers.  He was also bald as a cue ball and missing his eyebrows, which had been rubbed off by the hat he wore in the hospital for his c-pap machine.  In my post-pregnancy emotional state I was nearly as concerned about the eyebrow thing as I was about his huge list of medical conditions, because I was convinced they would never grow back and he’d be made fun of in school not because of his disabilities but because he would be “that kid with no eyebrows.”

So we settled in at Fort Lewis, Jeremy reported in to his job as an army officer, and I set about the monumental task of figuring out how the heck to parent this special little guy.  Somehow I hadn’t been issued the magic wand with the ability to fix everything that I figured most new mothers were handed on the way out of the hospital, and my liberal arts degree left me woefully unprepared in the medical knowledge department.  I threw away my copy of What To Expect The First Year after it started talking about how baby should “have good head control and be pushing up on her hands” and holding my baby still felt like cradling a tube-sock filled with jello.  I felt increasingly isolated and helpless because I knew I needed to do something to help my son, but I didn’t have the knowledge or the tools to figure out what to do on my own. 

After about a month of waiting on a list, we were finally able to get Connor in at a program for physical and speech therapy.  We attended all of four sessions before the company abruptly went out of business, leaving Connor and hundreds of other local children out of services.  I put Connor’s name on the waiting list of every therapy clinic I could find, and a few days later I got a call from CTC.  They were opening up a clinic in the Tacoma area and doing their best to help as many families as possible, and they had a physical therapist who could work with Connor.  They’d add speech therapy in to his regime as soon as they could. 

CTC changed our lives.

Connor began working with Laura down in a tiny house located next to a junkyard that served as CTC’s temporary quarters while they worked on finding a more permanent area to house their offices and therapy rooms.  Soon sessions with Julie, a speech therapist, were added in, and later on Jolie, an occupational therapist, worked with him as well.  For the next five years Connor traveled to therapy several times a week, beginning in the little house, then moving to the upstairs rooms in a church, to their newly renovated building off of Hosmer, back to the church when the building flooded, and then to Hosmer again once the repairs were finished.  For the first time, I wasn’t alone—I was surrounded by people who understood how terrifying and isolating having a child with special needs could be, and who were eager to help empower me and Jeremy as we navigated our new world.

Under their care Connor began doing things that based on his medical conditions should have been impossible.  It was there that he reached out and activated a toy for the very first time.  It was there that he first sat on his own, wobbly but completely unsupported.  He received his first pair of ankle-foot orthotics and learned how to stand with assistance.  He rode his first pony at a CTC Harvest festival and loved it so much he refused to get off.  He began communicating with sign language, making choices, and allowing me to have a window into how he interacted with and saw the world.  I still tear up thinking about the first time he signed “Mommy” and reached out for me.  I don’t think there’s a more precious gift anyone could possibly have given me. 

Over the years CTC has become a life-line, and its therapists have become my friends.  They’ve thrown themselves into finding solutions for the unique problems Connor’s conditions present as they arise.  When Connor had his first-ever seizure and collapsed at a therapy session, they called 911 and held my hand until the ambulance arrived.  One summer when our unairconditioned apartment reached temperatures too hot to be safe for Connor, Laura even opened up her home to us so we had a cool place for him to sleep.  It’s not just a job for them-- they put their whole hearts into helping Connor, and he’s blossomed as a result.  I will be forever in their debt.

Thank you so much for helping CTC continue to make a difference in the lives of children like Connor and parents like me.  The therapists at CTC couldn’t give me or anyone else a magic wand to “fix” things—no one can do that.  Connor will always be profoundly affected by his medical conditions.  And that’s okay; he doesn’t need to be “fixed” because he isn’t broken.  But what they did do is help Connor become the best version of himself; to live as happily and as independently as he possibly can.  And they have given me and hundreds of other parents like me the ability to do something for my child; to help him become that person.  The things that Connor has learned at CTC have profoundly changed his life and mine for the better.

I will be forever grateful for that.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

In Which I Sort Through Improbable Animals

Connor didn't feel well today; I suspect he might have caught something on the plane ride home.  He had three seizures and was running a bit of a fever.  Hopefully he'll be feeling better tomorrow.

So we stuck close to home; since the little guy spent a good portion of the day napping I took the opportunity to clean his room.  The nice thing about having a Deaf kid is that when he's got his hearing aids out you can haul stuff around, run the vacuum cleaner, etc. and you aren't going to wake him up.  I reorganized his closet and all of his storage areas, so his room is all nice and neat now.

Over the course of the cleaning, I collected up a huge pile of all Connor's stuffed animals.  I'm not exactly sure how many he has because I didn't count them or anything, but there are a lot of them.  I started actually paying attention to what they were when I was going through them, and he's got some really, really strange stuffed animals.  I have no idea where most of them came from, either.  Maybe they're multiplying in the bins.

Some examples of the interesting wildlife Connor has collected include a gray goat (with a white goatee, as is appropriate for goats), and a gray gorilla (also with a white goatee, which is less appropriate for gorillas).  I suspect maybe they are related due to the whole multiplying-in-the-bins thing, and if any more goatee-wearing animals show up in the bins my theory will be confirmed.  I'm not sure who the mother is, though, as we don't have any female gorillas in the bins.  The most likely suspect is a bear with some gorilla ancestry. 

A bear is most likely statistically because Connor has way more of those than any other animal.  So many bears.  Bears wearing things no respectable bear would be caught dead wearing, like army uniforms or little tiny sports jerseys or bunny ears.  The only way a bear would actually wear bunny ears was if it had just finished eating the rest of the bunny and was saving some for later.

He has a couple of little birds, a sea turtle, not one but two hedgehogs, a few frogs of varying sizes, a leopard, and several kinds of dogs, some of whom are wearing clothing in a similar fashion to the bears.  I was okay with the clothing on the dogs as people really do dress their pets up in all kinds of ridiculous outfits, until I got to the bulldog.  It's a bulldog wearing a raincoat and carrying a pumpkin.  What the heck?

Okay, so I had to go get the bulldog just now to take another look at it, and on closer inspection he might actually be wearing a weird squished pilgrim hat of some sort.  Oh, and also according to his tag he apparently fights cancer.  This makes much more sense.

I'm pretty sure that this is one of the animals some random person on the street gave us.  This sort of thing happens at least two or three times a year and I still don't know quite how to react to it.  We'll be sitting at a coffee shop, reading a book (me) and pointing out every single car that drives by (Connor) and somebody will walk up to our table, pull a stuffed animal out of their purse and present it to Connor.  Then they'll tell me what an absolute angel he is and how they just had to give him something because he's such a "poor dear lamb." (the last person who did this was elderly and British, and that's the actual expression she used). 

And it's not just animals-- he's been presented with candy, paper flowers, stickers, balloons, and on one memorable occasion a miniature disco ball that played a tinny electronic version of "Staying Alive" when you pressed a button on the top. 

Don't get me wrong; I don't have any problem with stuffed animals or with people giving Connor presents-- people we've at least interacted with, anyway.  It's the whole "complete stranger walking up to us and presenting Connor with a gift thing" that throws me for a loop.  I haven't figured out a way to graciously refuse yet, and for that matter many of them simply present Connor with whatever they have instead of asking me first.  While I know they mean well, I'm never sure exactly how to respond-- especially since I get the impression that many of them are giving him things because they feel sorry for him.  That isn't exactly something I want Connor to internalize.

Is this something that happens to other people?  Is it just people who have children with special needs?  Or do parents with typical kids have complete strangers pop up out of the woodwork and give their children small pilgrim hat-wearing, cancer-fighting stuffed bulldogs every once in a while too?

~Jess



Friday, November 30, 2012

In Which I Have Trouble With Needles

Today was another day for reorganizing and cleaning; I'm the kind of person who likes to cram things in random drawers, so sorting it all out is taking a while.  It's a project that I do a couple of times a year and it needed to be done regardless of whether or not we were adding a new person to our household, but the adoption is a good excuse to motivate me to buckle down and make it happen. 

I cleaned out our medicine cabinet today, which is something that hasn't been done since before Jer was injured.  Cleaning it out was the easy part-- discarding everything turned out to be way more of a project than I anticipated.  It turns out that none of the local pharmacies or hospitals take expired medications, and several that I called and asked had no idea where I could take them. 

I finally called up Connor's doctor's office and asked their pharmacy, and they told me the police station had a drop off box for them.  So I took them down and they were more than happy to take everything except for our injectable drugs, like Connor's expired EpiPens.  They had no idea where I should take those.  Sigh.

So after a lot of phone calls and research, I think that I can take his EpiPens to the local fire station and they should be able to accept them.  I think.  I'm going to call ahead first just in case.  At least I've got everything else out of the house.

Ten days!

~Jess

Thursday, November 29, 2012

In Which I Work On My Child's Instruction Manual

I spent the vast majority of today organizing things in our house, making a giant checklist of what I still need to do and working on finishing my massive handbook of All Things Connor for my parents and mother-in-law to reference while they're watching the little guy during our Thailand trip. 

It's a massive piece of anal-retentive and relatively dry reading, but hey-- my kid is complicated and I'm a paranoid helicopter mom.  I'm pretty sure they're all used to it by now and will indulge me.  I've installed Skype on our iPad so I can check in with them a few times during the trip.  I believe this is by far the longest we've ever left the little guy, and I'm going to miss him bunches!  Luckily we'll have plenty of things to keep ourselves occupied with on the trip.  Like, you know, suddenly becoming a family of four. 

Eleven days!

~Jess

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Which We're Back Home

We finally got back to Puyallup late this afternoon, and while it was lovely to travel and see everyone it's good to be home!  I've got a ridiculous amount to do before it's time to board a plane for Thailand, and that's a mere twelve days away.  Doesn't seem like that's possible, but we're really down to the wire!

Connor did extremely well on the plane and the bus to our car; he's really a veteran traveler at this point and it doesn't seem to bother him at all.  He napped for a while en route, and so now of course he's determined to stay up forever.  I'm not surprised by that though; it usually takes him a few days to settle back in after a trip.

I'll be plunging right back into things; I have to put the finishing touches on Ellen's room, pick up the last things we need before we travel, put the house to rights, and if I have any extra time I'd like to try and decorate for Christmas before we go.  We'll be coming back two days before Christmas, so it would be nice to have everything set up and waiting when we get home. 

If we don't manage to finish decorating I can leave it for my parents and mother-in-law to do, but we'll at least have the tree.  If Connor didn't love the Christmas decorations so much I'd be tempted to keep things really low-key, but he gets so much joy out of our tree every year I can't let him down.  I'd like to keep things as normal as possible for the little guy since there will already be so many big changes happening with Ellen's arrival, and normal for him means a Christmas tree on Christmas.  Usually we pick one out the day after Thanksgiving, so we're already late this year.

I guess we should probably buy some Christmas presents too, come to think of it.  That might be a good idea.  So much to do!

~Jess

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Which We Went Roaming

Hello there!  We're alive!  And we're fine!  I'm so sorry I made all of you worry. 

We are now back in the Land of Reliable Internet Access, which is a lovely place to be.  We've been down in San Antonio, Texas having one last vacation with just the three of us before we become a family of four!  We had an absolute blast and now feel more relaxed and ready to tackle the last things we need to do before we leave in, um, less than two weeks.  Because I hop on a plane for Thailand in thirteen days.  Wow.

Anyway, so we went to SeaWorld on Thanksgiving, the highlight of which was Connor getting to help hold a giant boa constrictor.  He was extremely interested in feeling the snake, so in the picture we got (which I will scan in at a future date and put a warning on, for those who are Not Snake Inclined) he has this extremely intrigued look on his face, like he's trying to figure out what the heck the thing is.  He also helped feed the dolphins, which he was much less excited about.  Apparently dolphins fall into a lower category than boa constrictors on the Six Year Old Boy's Hierarchy of Cool Animals. 

But overall we were kind of underwhelmed by Sea World as a whole.  We were much more impressed with Morgan's Wonderland, which is by far one of the neatest places I've ever been to in my entire life. 

Morgan's Wonderland, for those of you not familiar with it, is an amusement park entirely dedicated to children with special needs.  All of the rides are completely accessible.  It's got three playgrounds, a huge sand pit and a water play area, all of which are wheelchair friendly.  The pond is stocked with fish, and there are remote control boats to drive and water cannons.  There were absolutely no lines, and every time they asked Connor if he wanted to go on the ride again-- no waiting needed.

His absolute favorite ride was the carousel, which he loved so much we rode it three times.  There was a platform the volunteers strapped his wheelchair down on flanked by a pair of sea dragons, and we sat on a bench directly behind him.  The whole thing went up and down just like the other animals on the carousel!  He really enjoyed himself and loved watching the world go by.  He also rode on a train around the park and got to sit right behind the engine, and we took him on a jeep ride (around a track) in an accessible jeep, too.

The sensory room was also really neat; they had interactive screens and if you stood in front of them they would react to your shadow; butterflies would land on it, tadpoles would swim to it, etc.  They had some imaginative play areas, a nice walk with plenty of well-placed rest areas, and, wonder of wonders, really truly completely accessible public restrooms.  I think we would have visited for those alone, because seriously those things are nearly impossible to find.  

I think Connor really felt like the star of the show; everyone was extremely friendly and took the time to talk with him and ask him how he was doing.  We're definitely talking about visiting again next year; one of us might take Connor there while the other one takes Ellen to Six Flags if she likes roller coasters.  While Connor absolutely loved Morgan's Wonderland, it's definitely geared towards kids who are a bit younger on the developmental scale-- depending on where Ellen falls in there and what she likes to do, roller coasters might be a bit more her style.  But I'm pretty sure that any time we visit San Antonio from now on, we'll be hitting Morgan's Wonderland for sure!

Let's see; so we also visited with friends, strolled around the Alamo, watched a movie and had dinner along the river walk.  We spent some time in Dallas visiting family, too.  And of course we explored new and interesting coffee shops and bookstores, because that's just how we roll.  On the way back home we stopped in at a Luby's Cafeteria, which is a kind of a Texas staple, and some nice gentleman paid for our meal and left before we had the chance to thank him.  I'd forgotten just how friendly and welcoming small Texas towns can be, and that was just the icing on the cake of a fantastic trip.

Overall I think Connor had a lovely time.  There were a few late nights as traveling always throws off his routine, but he settled in pretty quickly and I think just really enjoyed having the undivided attention of both of us.  That isn't something that happens for him very often, and it's going to suddenly become much less common in a few weeks when we bring home his sister. 

A few weeks?  Make that less than two.  We can't wait!

~Jess

Monday, November 19, 2012

In Which We Hang Out With Family And Skip A Holiday

It's holiday time, and that means it's time to get together with family!  We'll be seeing various relatives over the next couple of weeks, and are really looking forward to getting together with everyone and catching up.

My mom, sister and I all went out Christmas shopping together today, which was a lot of fun.  Normally I wait and get all my shopping done at the last minute, but that won't fly this year since we leave exactly three weeks for Thailand and won't get back until two days before Christmas, when it will be a bit late to mail everybody packages.  So I'm trying to get as much done as I can now while it's easy to hand presents off, and then we'll probably order the rest online. 

Connor put up with the shopping surprisingly well because all of the stores had up their Christmas displays, which seem to happening earlier and earlier each year.  Christmas is by far his favorite holiday, since it involves lots of sparkly things, lights and music.  The only part he doesn't really care for is the presents; having new stuff he's expected to touch is not exactly his idea of fun. 

Judging from the stores, Thanksgiving doesn't even exist anymore.  Apparently we're just skipping that holiday entirely now, or maybe blending it in with Halloween or something.  Thanksween.  Yes.

But anyway, about Christmas.  I'm having a hard time restraining myself from buying All The Things for Ellen before she gets here, but goodness knows the kid is going to have enough new things to get used to.  You know, new family, new country, new house, etc.  So I got both her and Connor a Christmas ornament today and otherwise we're holding ourselves back.  Since her birthday is only three weeks after Christmas, if we're not careful she's going to think that America is The Land of Presents.  That's not really an impression we'd like to give her.

Seriously though- three weeks!  Tomorrow I'll officially be able to count the number of days before the trip on my fingers and toes.  As we get closer and closer it's becoming more difficult for me to talk about anything else, so sorry if you talk to me and I start sounding like a broken record. 

But seriously, three weeks people.  That's soon!

~Jess

Saturday, November 17, 2012

In Which We Keep Late Hours And Connor Has Yet Another Chair

It's about half past two in the morning right now, and I'm still waiting for Connor to go to sleep.  There have been a couple of false alarms where I thought he was down, but it turned out he was just faking it and as soon as I tried to go to bed he woke up again.  I am not thrilled with this, as we've got a rather busy day tomorrow.  Oh well.  The pattern seems to be established that on weekends, Connor Parties All Night.  At least I get five good days of sleep a week!

Today we went and picked up Connor's bath chair, which was the last major piece of equipment we were waiting on in the large group of items we'd ordered in the last couple of months.  Connor had outgrown his old one-- his feet hung over the edge in a way that was probably pretty uncomfortable for him, and the velcro strap preventing him from falling off would barely fit around his waist.  So this is a nice new roomy one for him. 

The really nice thing about it is that it comes with a wheeled base, so I'll be able to get him in and out of it with the lift instead of having to bend over and pick up a damp, wiggly and as he gets older, increasingly heavy child.  I don't think our bathroom tile would be particularly forgiving if I slipped and fell carrying him and/or dropped him, so this is a very good thing.

The kid is now completely outfitted in chairs, by the way.  He has a wheelchair, toilet chair, bathing chair, corner chair, and leg positioning chair.  They all do a different job, of course.  All Jer and I have is a kitchen chair and an easy chair each, so it's official: five out of ten chairs in use in our household belong to Connor.  All he needs is a throne in the middle of our living room and he'll be good to go. 

I got the chance to go to a get together for a little bit with the lovely ladies on my roller derby team for a while tonight and really had a blast!  I'm seriously missing skating and getting the chance to hang out with them on a more regular basis, though I know that now isn't the right time to dive back in.  Hopefully once things settle down around here I'll be able to pick up my skates again. 

~Jess

Friday, November 16, 2012

In Which We Get Squared Away And Put Up The Camera

Connor went to school today and apparently made it through slightly more of the day than yesterday before falling asleep.  We've got a busy week coming up, so I'll try and let him sleep in tomorrow.  Hopefully he'll be able to catch up a bit and get completely over this bug.

We got some great news today; our Article 5 has been issued!  That was the very, very last piece of important paperwork we needed for our trip.  I'm really glad it went through, since I was worried that we were running out of time before we travel.  We've got an appointment set up with the embassy for Ellen's visa, and also received confirmation of the date we'll go before the adoption board. 

I'll be taking my laptop with me and blogging in Thailand-- provided I can find an Internet connection, of course.  We'll also be using it to keep in touch with how Connor is doing while we're gone.  I don't know if I'll be able to get online and blog every day, but I'll do my best!

What you won't see during our trip (or after it for quite some time) are pictures of Ellen.  Our agency and the Thai government ask us not to post any identifying information or pictures of her in public places on the Internet until after our adoption is finalized, which won't be for at least six months after we bring her home.  And of course "Ellen" is an alias for her as well.  The United States has the same requirement for children families are fostering-to-adopt: no identifying pictures or information until an adoption is finalized. 

Once our adoption is finalized, I'll ask Ellen whether or not she's comfortable with having her real name revealed and/or pictures up on the blog.  She's old enough to have input in that decision. 


~Jess

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In Which Connor Feels Better And I Am Forced To Shop For Shoes

Connor was sounding well enough to return to school today, which was nice.  He apparently slept through a good portion of it though, and when he got home he absolutely crashed.  So I might have been better off keeping him home one more day.  Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

I spent the time he was at school catching up on errands (such as restocking my chocolate supply), getting some chores done and doing a bit of shopping for our upcoming trip.  I needed a good sturdy pair of shoes that were good for walking, relatively dressy and also easy to slip on and off.  In Thailand it's polite to take one's shoes off before entering many buildings, so it's a good idea to have shoes one doesn't need to untie.  I hate shoe shopping with a burning, fiery passion, so I basically pounced on the first set of shoes that fit the bill, threw some money down and got out of there as fast as I could. 

So, mission accomplished.  I found a comfortable pair of Mary Janes that I think will work well.  I was careful not to get shoes that are too expensive, though.  I have been warned about shoe thieves: apparently they will occasionally abscond with particularly nice brands if given the opportunity. 

Finding some good walking shoes for Jeremy might prove a bit more challenging; usually he wears sneakers these days if he's going to be going any distance, and those won't really work for this as we'll need to be dressed up for several meetings.  I'm sure we'll figure something out before we go!

~Jess

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Which Connor Is Still Sick And I'm Impatient

Connor stayed home from school again today; he slept until two in the afternoon, woke up for an hour and then slept again until around half past five, when he woke up and decided to be Crabby McCrabberton for the rest of the evening.  So I spent pretty much the entire day watching him sleep on the couch (since he was refusing to sleep in his room with the monitor), which is not nearly as fun as it sounds-- especially since I ran out of chocolate around noon.  That, my friends, is a very sad state of affairs.

Anyway, even though he slept forever and was grumpy this evening I still think he's feeling better than he was yesterday, and I'm hoping he'll be well enough to go to school tomorrow. 

So I spent time today working on our packing list for Thailand, Connor's Book O'Instructions that I'll be leaving for my parents while they take care of the little guy during our trip (yes, my child requires an instruction manual) and starting to wrap up the last details of our travel plans.  I feel like I should make one of those paper countdown chains they're always telling us to do to help our kids cope in the army pre-deployment meetings, only in this case it would be counting down to us leaving instead of coming home. 

Seriously, I swear the wait gets harder every day.  So glad we're in the home stretch!

~Jess

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In Which Connor Is Still Sick And I Think About Things I Can't Fix

Connor was sick and stayed home from school today, so I spent a whole lot of time sitting on the couch with him sprawled out across my chest.  I made a big pot of ox-tail soup during one of the breaks where I actually managed to get him to sleep in his bed, but otherwise spent pretty much the entire day in the living room.  I think Connor was conscious about three hours total during the whole day, and the rest of the time he was busy snoozing away and snoring to beat the band.

So since I wasn't going to get much accomplished today, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about our upcoming journey to Ellen.  I'll be on a plane in a mere three weeks and five days, and I'm not remotely ready; there's still so much to do.  At the same time, I wish I was on a plane to her now instead of having to wait a whole twenty-six more days. 

I've been reading a lot of blogs by Asian Americans who were adopted, and a theme that comes up again and again is how out of place a lot of them feel.  Many seem to perceive themselves as not belonging in either the country of their birth or the United States.  Of course these are people who for the most part were adopted at a very young age, and it's been a little difficult to find perspectives from those who were adopted in their teenage years, like Ellen will be.  Ellen already has a strong identity as a Thai person, and so she won't be in quite the same situation as the children who grow up not speaking the language of their birth countries or knowing anything about their first parents' culture. 

Still, things won't be easy for her.

There’s a little gray bird called the American Dipper that lives near fast flowing mountain streams in North and South America.  It’s an unpretentious, rather stocky little thing that possesses an extraordinary ability—it hunts for food by diving into the rapids and flying underwater to search for grubs and insect larva.  This is a bird that is completely at home in the both the air and the stream, and it’s able to effortlessly transition from one to the other without hesitation.
And that’s what I want for my daughter.  I don’t want her to be stuck in an awkward in-between state where she doesn’t fit in anywhere; I want her to be able to move between Thailand and America with the same graceful, natural motion that bird uses to navigate its dual world of water and sky.  This may be entirely impossible; not only are the two cultures very different, but as a person with a disability the reality is that society will try and set her apart no matter where she may find herself.
But I'm learning as much about Thai culture as I possibly can right now, and will continue to do my best to create connections in not just the Thai-American community here, but also the community of people with disabilities as well.
There are things that I can't give her.  I am not-- and will never be-- either adopted or Asian American.  And while there's always the possibility that I could eventually have a disability, it's not something that I've experienced to date.  So I want to do my best to surround her with successful, well-rounded people who are traveling through life with one or more of those personal experiences, so they can give her the perspective and the understanding that I can't.  And while I can never tell her that I "know what she's going through," I can be as educated and as empathetic as possible so I can help her along as she navigates her own road through life.
If I'm honest with myself, what I'd wish most for her and also for Connor would be for them to be ordinary.  I'm not saying that I want to change either of them in the slightest-- I absolutely don't.  But I would love to change the world's perspective so they would be able to move through a crowd, one face in a sea of faces, and not be set apart by their disabilities or life circumstances or by the color of their skin.  I would like my children to be able to travel through the world and be viewed as just people-- not looked down upon or sanctified because of events beyond their control.
I don't want my children to be seen as ugly ducklings or as swans.  I'd like them to be little gray birds half-hidden in twilight, flicking their quiet way low over the water, headed for home.
~Jess
 

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Which Connor Feels Under The Weather

Connor did not have the best of days today; he woke up this morning with a stuffy nose that got progressively worse all day.  Currently he's still awake, and he's snorting like a little baby water buffalo.  I'm glad the night nurse is here tonight, because I have no doubt that once he actually goes to sleep the snoring will be. . . impressive.

So he's coughing and hoarse and throwing up a lot and also running a low temperature, which was discovered when he had a small seizure in the middle of the grocery store.  Luckily he didn't have school today because of Veteran's Day, but I'd say off the top of my head that the odds of him going in tomorrow are not very good.  If he's not better in a couple of days I'll take him in to the doctor and make sure he doesn't have strep throat again or something. 

Hope he feels better again soon!

~Jess

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Which I Practice My Yodeling Skills And Connor Sees A Sermon

We had a busy, busy day today!

I spent this morning at the local Thai wat, where they were celebrating a festival called Thod Kathin (ทอดกฐิน).  This is a holiday that heralds the end of the three-month Buddhist Lent season.  I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but I somehow ended up in the middle of a crowd surrounded by people carrying alms bowls, silk parasols and wire trees covered in money.  I was carrying a saffron monk's robe, processing around the wat to the sound of Thai drums and yodeling at the top of my lungs with the other women while being pelted with hand-folded paper bows and coins wrapped in aluminum foil. 

I am now officially convinced, by the way, that all holidays should include yodeling as part of their repertoire.  Yodeling makes everything more fun. 

Anyway I was a little nervous about going at first; there were people attending from as far away as Oregon.  I wasn't sure I would see anyone I knew and I would be pretty well completely lost as far as what to expect.  Normally I'm downstairs in the library studying Thai; I don't participate in the religious ceremonies at the wat as I'm not Buddhist, so I don't know very many people at the temple.  Luckily I found my Thai teachers pretty quickly and some of the other students as well, and they were gracious enough to let me tag along with them and to explain what was going on to me. 

It was interesting sitting and listening to the speakers around me-- most of whom were conversing in Thai-- because I could pick out the occasional word but otherwise was completely lost.  I imagine this might be a little bit like how Ellen might feel when she gets here and is surrounded by English speakers, though her English is probably considerably better than my Thai is right now. 

Anyway, it was a very enjoyable experience and I've now officially survived my first Thai holiday celebration.  I'm so glad that we have such a vibrant Thai community here and that they've been so welcoming and open hearted.  I can't wait to try out my yodeling skills with Ellen next year!

I left before the ceremonies inside the wat began and headed back home to relieve our respite care worker and get ready for church.  Sundays are full days in our house around here.  It's the first week I've been able to go for a little bit because Connor goes with me, and the past couple of weeks he's been either sick or recovering from a seizure so we've stuck close to the house.  When the minister saw that Connor was attending this week, in addition to speaking the sermon she also signed it as well!  She's fluent in ASL, which is similar enough to SEE that Connor seems to get the gist of most of what is said.  Granted, Connor is way more interested in the music than in the sermon right now, but what six year old isn't?  It's still pretty fantastic, and as he gets older he'll probably pay more attention. 

After the obligatory after-church Connor Fan Mobbing that I've come to expect (I swear the kid attracts grandmothers like bees on a beer can) we headed for home.  We got there at about seven in the evening, and the little guy promptly crashed. 

It was a very full day!


~Jess
 
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