What did you just say?

People are made in China, too.

We all do it.

The brain issues the statement and the mouth broadcasts it faster than the censors can hit the bleep button.

Then, my dear, you are in the throes of an awkward moment.

Recently, I found myself on the receiving end of one while volunteering in Girl from the East’s kindergarten classroom.

In case you are new here, Girl from the East was born in China. She is an American citizen through adoption. She is the world to us.

Girl is six years old. We became a family in 2006 when she was just under 11 months old. Everyone who knows us well knows our dynamic. Although we cannot shield her from the ignorance and hate of the outside world, we are fortunate to travel in fairly educated and enlightened circles.

But when something changes, like starting a new school, we have to start fresh. We have to go through the shit — again.

So it came as a kick to the gut during a classroom holiday party when one of the volunteer parents uttered an insensitive statement for everyone to hear.

Apparently upset that the plastic glue bottle would not produce a dot of adhesive for him in a timely manner, he began banging the container on the craft table. Then, he stood up, handed the glue bottle to the teacher and said something close to this:

“Another useless piece of crap from China.”

OK. I know. We are in an election year. The anti-China rhetoric is blowing around like trash in the streets. We, especially those of us in the Rust Belt, gripe about the outsourcing of manufacturing to overseas factories. We all grumble that things are not made to last.  I’m just as upset about it as you are.

As I mentioned, my daughter was made in China, quite possibly to hard-working farmers, or severely overworked and under-compensated factory workers. It is not the fault of the collective overseas workforce that products are inferior. Look to the greedy corporations, suppliers and governments. Many of these factory workers travel hundreds of miles away from their home villages to earn wages to support their whole family. Some have children they never see.  It is an ugly situation and we all suffer the consequences of it through low-quality and sometimes tainted goods as well as job loss right here in the United States. It is a huge problem.

Please direct your anger where it belongs. Boycott products and companies that take part in these practices. Write letters. Start a movement. Please do not China bash, especially in front of my daughter or your children or anyone of Asian appearance.

Telling me, oh, I thought she was Korean, does not make it OK.

Our classroom is somewhat diverse. We have a racial and ethnic mix. Open bashing of any of the other races or ethnicities is unheard of in today’s hyper-sensitive school climates. Yet, China bashing is rampant.

My daughter is proud of her roots. She is too young to understand the complicated relationship between the United States and China (heck, I don’t get it, either.)  She is too young to understand things like Communism and the Cultural Revolution and emerging capitalism. She’s just a kid.

We teach her there are good and bad people in China. Good and bad businesses in the United States. We must take things on a case-by-case basis.

I haven’t forgotten that day or those words. I’m still wondering what to do. I started writing a proactive type of letter that could be distributed via the school’s weekly newsletter, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Why didn’t I call him out? Why didn’t I pull him aside afterward? I’ve done that before to little satisfaction on anyone’s part. Perhaps I’m not the most diplomatic. Perhaps those who say such things are firm in their beliefs and are just twitching to engage in debate.  When I approached an offending parent at toddler play group a few years back, she vehemently stood behind her words, asserting that there is no correlation between statements of inferior products and the people of a nation. She suggested I grow thicker skin because the issue isn’t going away.

I’m not going anywhere, either. The day I held my Girl from the East for the first time was the day I knew I’d taken on an extra duties, ones that require added defense and offense for the inter-country adoption community.

So, please, take a moment to think about the source of your anger. Think about your audience. Think about the innocent people you might hurt with your uncensored remarks.

Thank you.

 

 

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Permission

Blue autumn by MZ

I’m giving myself permission.

On Monday, I got up early, showered, ate a protein bar for breakfast, then escaped the city grid. The sky colored itself an achingly beautiful blue, the sun cast a soft glow on the slowly decaying landscape. I spotted several maples flashing flares of red. I drove an hour to what is known as the orchard region. Soon its quiet roads will clog with apple pickers and pumpkin, cider, and doughnut seekers. But on this day, it was still quiet except for the buzzing insects and bird calls and the crunch of gravel under tires.

I’d been invited to mountain bike on and around the orchard trails. We pedaled 22.5 miles along bumpy, unpredictable paths. I could have sailed forever through those sun-dappled tunnels of trees, along those fields rippling with corn and soybeans, the neat rows of fruit trees bursting with produce, the earthy woods and fields. I pumped my leg muscles until they ached to ascend the steep freeway overpasses and felt the flutter in my stomach on the high-speed rush of the descent into the woods.  Sweat trickled down my back. Wayward grasshoppers smacked my face. The sun baked my already browned skin.

It was wonderful. This day, this experience.

I felt freer than I’ve felt in years. This summer I started bike riding again after a long break. I found a bike at a garage sale. Found another for Girl from the East. Together her father and I taught her to ride. Now, all of us rolling along on wheels. It’s almost beyond description, the rush of wind in the face, the feeling of almost flying.

Amid the sensory rush, I felt a poke. It was guilt trying to ruin my day.

Guilt about being on a bike on a Monday when I could be home polishing my résumé, or taking an online refresher course, or over at Michigan Works! getting career counseling, or painting our peeling porch railings.

The hell with guilt. I flicked it off my arm like an errant bug and kept pedaling. Guilt didn’t belong on this glorious September day. In Michigan, a day like this in late summer/early fall is a precious gem. You do not waste it inside unless you have no choice.

I had a choice.

Why should I court guilt? I may not have worked full-time with a salary and benefits in five years, but I can assure you I’ve had no down time.

Here’s how it went. In 2004, my husband and I began the international adoption process, which signaled the start of two years of non-stop paperwork, turning inside out every detail of our lives for strangers to inspect, navigating inter-country bureaucracy, and unexpected stumbling blocks such as an angry ex-husband against the adoption and how it would affect our daughter.

Oh, there was stress.

Somewhere between then and 2006, I initiated a legal matter with my employer. Most of 2006 was embroiled in this legal matter. It was very stressful. So was the adoption. Then I was transferred to a branch office far, far away from home and moved to the night shift.

In August 2006 came our adoption referral. We began preparing for the arrival of a baby, for our trip to China.  We applied for travel visas. I prepared the final dossier with  the necessary papers for the formal adoption in China and the immigration process at the U.S. Embassy in Guangzhou.

At the same time, I learned the outcome of my legal matter. The arbitrator had ruled against me.

In October 2006, I applied for and was denied family leave. Bone tired of the legal system at this point and ready to go to China and start the new chapter in my life, I resigned my position. My last day of work was mere days before our flight to Beijing.

When we came home as a family of four in November 2006, my husband resumed his crazy-busy life, Girl from the West went back to her seventh-grade school year. I, quite shockingly and suddenly, was home alone with a shell-shocked baby, ripped from the only world she knew.

It took several months for the two of us to emerge from the fog of our days and nights.

Last Wednesday my girl, who was absolutely ready to begin this part of her life,  started all-day kindergarten.

“What do I do now?” I asked a huddle of emotional mothers at the first day of school coffee and doughnut mixer at school. “Go home and clean?”

“Yes. For now. Go home and clean and rest,” said a tearful mom.

So I did. I cleaned. But I did not rest. I felt guilty. I had no sense of where to begin.

Then it hit me: This is the first time in years that I’ve not had something large looming overhead, some oppressive deadline, or a constant demand for my attention and services.

I realize I need some time to get my bearings.  I need to feel freedom rushing through me like the wind.

I need to taste boredom.

 

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Did you hear? Did you see? Did you discuss?

So this thing happened in the airspace over my city. Yet, I was blissfully ignorant of it for most of the day it happened.

I saw a quick headline online that said something about a problem on a flight.

It was Christmas Day. I had Christmas stuff to do. I have two children. We had to get on the rain-slicked roads to grandmother’s house in mid-state Michigan. Even over dinner that evening, the conversation barely touched upon the disaster averted. We were too busy debating political correctness at the holidays, Obama’s first year in office, and if striped cats are gassier than solid-colored ones.

By orvalrochefort via Creative Commons

It was not until our long, dark, rainy drive home that we switched on the radio and learned this airplane thing was more like a failed suicide bombing and it was here in Detroit. The next day at my mother’s house we talked at length about cheery things like if the plane exploded in the air, how big an area would the fallout cover? What was the typical incoming flight path of a Northwest/Delta plane? Are there parts of the area that are under flight paths more than others? We realized that no matter where it happened, if it had happened, it would have affected someone we know.

Beyond the bounds of family walls, I’ve heard squat. I mean the news media is squeezing every drop out of the story. But around town, the one that was in the would-be bull’s eye, as far as I can tell, not so much. I asked friends who traveled by air over the holiday if the incident affected their psyches or boarding experiences. Not much, they said. However, they traveled domestically. I didn’t talk to anyone who traveled overseas.

Huh.

This thing. It didn’t happen as planned. If I understand the story correctly, by the description of things, it wouldn’t have happened even if passengers hadn’t intervened. The guy didn’t have his chemicals mixed properly or something. He didn’t have all the details straight. Thank god. Most likely he terrorized his man parts. Oh, he did terrorize some of the passengers. I cannot minimize that nor will I make light of it.

Two things come to mind in the wake of this:

First, Jeez, can we ever get a break here? Must every bad story, losing sports team, failing industry, worst educational system, all emanate from the Mitten State and specifically from the base of the thumb of the Mitten? I know the situation was random, that it was not specifically designed to make Detroit look bad. One populated American city is as good a target as the next if you are the enemy and on a mission, right? Still, I had a Rodney Dangerfield moment in which I bemoaned “Why can’t we get any respect around here?”

Second, news about heightened security and full body scans horrify me. Are you among those who think nothing of it? Or, are you like me and shudder at the thought of some Dwight Schrute type sweating and giggling as he scans your bits and parts in search of weapons and hidden contraband?

Via NBC.com

I’m still creeped out about the jaw X-ray my dentist gave me a while back to “hang onto, please.” No further explanation. I took it home and looked it over and felt kinda itchy and twitchy afterward. Don’t count me among those who find skulls and internal organs and neural pathways to be interesting viewing.

via FOX News

However, we are a nation of entrepreneurs and mavericky rogues or is it roguish mavericks? I wonder how soon before an independent contractor sets up shop at the airport to sell copies of your scan as a vacation souvenir? You know how you can ride a roller coaster or go whitewater rafting and at the end there’s a booth with a picture of you all bug-eyed, mouth agape and you wonder where in the heck the camera was and then you pay $25 so you can have it as a memory of your experience?

Who doesn’t want a key chain or a framed collage of the family body scans from the Christmas 2009 holiday vacation?

While I love to travel and I’ve never had any fears of flying, I have come to detest airport security. My worst experiences were traveling both into China and around China. Aside from the trashing of my luggage and the suitcase searches were the confiscation of things that were in compliance with the posted guidelines. As baggage screeners dangled my stuff over the trash can, I’d point to the signs at the gate illustrating the 3-oz containers in small Ziploc Baggies and then wince as my Baggie was tossed into a trash bin anyway.  ”You cannot have” was the only explanation. I seethed as I had to continuously shrug out of both a backpack and a baby carrier and unload my purse. Apparently baby wearers with backpacks are No. 1 on the suspicious list.

Since then I clench up like a sissy boy in prison every time I approach security. Give me turbulence and crazy takeoffs. I can handle that. But don’t come at me with the latex gloves, Dwight.

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Welcome to The Nine States

This day is steeped in tradition.

In some parts of the country, it is known as Devil’s Night. Here it is called Angel’s Night.

Today is our Family Day. Three years ago today we opened our arms to Girl from the East, closed them around her slight frame and haven’t let go.

When we met her for the first time, we saw many things. Mostly, we noticed she was sick. We were jet lagged and soon after we were sick as well. Every year thereafter (except for our first anniversary in 2007), one or more of us has been sick. Last year I had pneumonia on our Family Day.

Today, the entire family is possessed by a respiratory virus. I am particularly disappointed because we had a costume party to attend this evening. I’ve spent quite a bit of time pulling it together, practicing the makeup and even painting my fingernails black. (I hate fingernail polish and haven’t painted them since the 1980s.)

In light of my lack of energy, I am reposting what I wrote last year with a few updates:

familyday

Three years ago today we awakened very early in China and rode a bus to the provincial civil affairs office in Nanchang. We were a bundle of nerves. During the bumpy ride, I clutched a stuffed bear in my hands to keep me from wringing them excessively. Two years of preparing and waiting and wondering were about to end.

Soon we would meet our Girl from the East, who’d been a plan, a hope and a dream for so long. Her referral picture was posted everywhere in our house. We looked at it constantly, held it up to the light, tilted it and stared at it in search of answers:  Who are you? What does your laugh sound like? Will you be happy with us? Will we know you when we meet you?

Then, it all happened so fast.

Our normally chatty group silently disembarked the tour bus. Our guide led us down a crowded alleyway, through glass doors into the marbled lobby of a high-rise, loaded us onto several elevator cars that ascended to a crowded, smoke-filled room. The din of voices in Chinese and English, the squalling of babies, the mixture of laughter and tears of newly formed families all blended to become a high-pitched babble. The sounds, the haze of cigarette smoke, the heat, all were almost too much to bear. I feared I’d cry on this day. Instead, I retreated to a bench and sat with my head tucked between my knees, praying I wouldn’t pass out. Girl from the West sat next to me and rubbed my back, assuring me that all would be OK.

Then, I heard our guide call out our family name. I sat up to see a cluster of orphanage workers rushing toward us with the tiniest living doll I’ve ever seen. And then she was in my arms. Smaller and lighter than I’d imagined. Her eyes wide, brows raised as if to ask: What’s all this about? Suddenly all the commotion retreated from the room and we were alone, living the moment in slow motion.  She let me hold her, but did not meet my gaze for more than a second. She wiggled and twisted around to face outward, content to look at the world around her.

Today, that tiny doll who was smaller than any 10-1/2 month-old I’d ever seen is now a robust, soccer-playing girlie-girl who knows she was born in China and waited for her family to come and take her home to “The Nine States.”

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The invisible guest

flowergirl1

Today I cut some lilac blooms, filled a bud vase with water and tucked the fragrant blossoms inside. I placed the bouquet on the table set for a Mother’s Day lunch. The vase sits in silent tribute to the unknown, but very real guest at our table: my youngest daughter’s birth mother.

Although she is not visible to us and we do not know where to find her (or if she is alive), I have an idea of  what she looks like:

I see her when I run my fingers through my Girl from the East’s quirky, wiry hair that only grows in one direction. I see her when I look into my girl’s wide, ink-black eyes, watch her expressive brows bounce up and down as she talks, and hear her infectious giggle. I see her when I examine my girl’s distinctive ears. These ears are a physical feature that I am certain will help us track her birth family should we ever embark upon that quest.

Not from us, but from her birth parents, come her elegant pianist’s fingers, her nimble dancer’s legs. She is born of acrobats, gymnasts and athletes. Whatever her biological origins, no matter how humble, her lineage speaks of beauty, strength and grace.

I  love my girl more than life.  Most days I just see her. I don’t see the physical differences. It’s only when someone outside the family asks: Is she yours? Where did she come from? that my bubble is burst and I must face the birth mother, who’s always in the shadows.

Without question, I love my Girl from the East with the same fierce devotion as I love the child who grew inside me, my Girl from the West. I mourn the severed bond between my youngest girl and her birth mother. I cannot image holding a newborn and then watching her vanish from my life. I wonder: Does her birth mother think of her? Would she want a reunion? The simple answer would be: of course she does. But this is a conclusion based on my culture. My culture is not the birth mother’s culture.

I used to feel threatened when my girl so easily slipped into the arms of her pretty, young Mandarin teachers. I felt inadequate, feared that my girl noticed the differences between us and wanted the familiarity of a Chinese face, a voice that spoke in tones she knew before her birth. Today, I am grateful that she has so many Chinese-born women in her life.

I had the privilege recently  to meet a woman born of Chinese parents but raised by Caucasians. Later, she found her birth family. What I learned from this woman is that even though her Caucasian parents don’t look like her and couldn’t do much to teach her to be Chinese, they are bound by love. She is grateful to have a link to her past, but would not want a different life.

While it is difficult for us to do, we take time to acknowledge the woman who made it possible for Girl from the East to be a part of our lives. We recognize that this came about through a tragedy beyond her control. While my daughter brings infinite joy to our lives, she left behind a landscape of sorrow.

We know that in the coming years the birth parents, particularly the mother,  will take on an even stronger presence in our home. Our girl will ask pointed questions. We will find honest answers. There will be tears. We cannot hide these parental figures in the closet. They must have a place at the table, just like the bouquet of lilacs.

Like, I'm a Libra O+ Dragon

Don’t judge me by my blood type: O positive.

 According to Japanese popular culture, which takes blood type very seriously, I’m either the best or the worst. The Japanese rely upon charts, such as the one below, to determine everything from mate compatibility to job suitability. The trouble is, there are so many charts and tables on the Internet and none of them seem to have a consensus. Here is one:

chart

Source: www.japanisdoomed.com

One site says Os are the least desirable. Another declares Os to be ideal. Wikipedia expounds on the historical roots of such a belief system and some of it is tied to racism. Early theories on blood type and personality traits seem to be based on circumstantial evidence more than scientific research.

Another site offers the theory that since the Japanese are a fairly homogenous people, separating folks into distinct catergories is a fun way to feel special, different.

This site suggests O types share characteristics of the earliest humans, the hunter-gatherer types who dragged their knuckles on the cave floors and subsisted  on a diet heavy on meat and low on grains. 

typeo

www.japanisdoomed.com

This graphic, put together by a British blogger who studied in Japan, suggests that if all the blood types were roommates, O would be an evil and maniacal zombie.

It’s a good thing I’m not working the singles scene in Tokyo. I’d probably slash my wrists for all the rejection and spill my evil Type O blood all over the tile floors, sending nightclub patrons scurrying for the exits.

It’s better that I live here in the United States, where I can proudly introduce myself as a Libra, one who is diplomatic, romantic, easygoing and sociable, according to some astrological descriptions.

Even the dark side of the scales isn’t so bad, with qualities like indecisiveness (you don’t want to be behind me in a coffee house line or at a fork in the road) and easily influenced by others.  

On the Chinese astrological cycle, as one born in the year of the Dragon, I have a high rating. Dragons are considered the mightiest of the zodiac characters.

While this is all in good fun, one item did jump out at me:  The Japanese list their blood type along with their other vital stats. Many Americans do not even know their blood type. Do you know yours?

Tear jerker with happy ending

Like most of us, I read a variety of blogs. Some I read for the pure beauty of the prose — even if I don’t have anything in common with the writer. Some are so well designed you just have to come in and spend some time admiring the wallpaper and furnishings.

Others always guarantee a good laugh to chase the blues. And then there are those you stumble upon quite by accident. What you see stays with you for quite some time. This is what happened when I found this family’s blog.

At first glance, it looks like a typical family blog with pictures of cute kids and trips to apple orchards. But this is a family blog with a message. You can read their message online or maybe you caught this morning on NBC’s Today Show. It’s available here if you missed it.

This blog brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. Obviously I have a place in my heart for China adoption since I am part of the community. I firmly belive that the China Center for Adoption Affairs works magic when it matches babies in need of homes with waiting families.

The other half of this family’s story is an unknown to me. It is every parents’ worst nightmare. I have no idea what they must have endured to get to where they are today. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I wish no other family would ever have to know such a thing.

I’ll stop here. As much as I’d like to, it’s not my place to tell this family’s story. My take away: there really is healing after sorrow, hope after despair, and that no one ever should drink and drive.

Oh, and don’t forget to hug your babies.

Unforgettable day

Two years ago today we awakened very early in China and rode a bus to the provincial civil affairs office. We were a bundle of nerves. I clutched a stuffed bear in my hands on the bumpy ride to keep me from wringing them excessively. Two years of waiting and wondering were about to end.

Soon we would meet our Girl from the East, who’d been a plan, a hope and a dream for so long. Her picture was posted everywhere in our house. We looked at it constantly. Held it up to the light, tilted it, anything to reveal the unanswered questions: Who are you? What does your laugh sound like? Will you be happy with us? Will be know you when we meet you?

And then it happened so fast.

We are led into a crowded smoky room on an upper floor of a high-rise. A din of voices in Chinese and English, the squalling of babies, the oohs and aahs of parents-to-be and newly formed families, blend to become a high-pitch babble. It almost become too much. I feared I’d cry on this day. Instead, I retreat to a bench and sit with my head tucked between my knees, praying I don’t pass out.

Then I hear our family name called out by our guide and a cluster of orphanage workers rush toward us with the tiniest living doll I’d ever seen. And then she is in our arms. Her eyes wide and her brows raised as if to ask: What’s all this about? 

Two years later we are one as a family. We are so proud of both of our girls and the family we have created. Girl from the East proudly declares herself “a Chinese girl.”

According to her we all are Chinese girls. On the inside, we clarify. We all are Chinese girls on the inside.

Pieces of China

Two years ago we were in Beijing and other parts of China, touring, soaking up culture and feeling like big, fat, pasty Westerners. We also were there to complete our family and make some kind of lasting connection. While we were taking away one of its daughters, we also left behind a part of ourselves.

So it has been with great interest that we approached the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing. We root for the United States. We root for China. We can’t help it.

In spite of all the charges of fireworks fakery and lip-syncing deception that have come out since the spectacular opening ceremony last week in Beijing, we’ve decided to hold onto the first breathtaking memory of watching it together.

We admired its grand scale, feats of athletic prowess and incredibly creative interpretations of Chinese history through dance and art. So many times we stared at the TV and asked: “How did they do that?” Most of all, we loved watching our Girl from the East point with glee at the TV and shout “China! China!”

Ultimately, she is too young to watch the games or gain anything through the special features. Her impression of China is firmly rooted in the bouquets of pyrotechnics coloring the night sky and the elaborately costumed characters.

Our visit to China took us to many tourist attractions, but it also led us down streets not highlighted in any official network feature — which seem to want to put a high polish on everything to keep international relations warm and fuzzy.

We walked away with many pieces of China. Some beautiful, some confusing, others haunting. You can’t walk through Tiananmen Square without thinking of the student protesters. You can’t walk among a sea of nearly homogenous people and not understand what it’s like to be a minority. You also can’t really know a place unless you’ve been there. Seeing the Great Wall on TV is no match for scaling its dizzying steps.

We realize there are many pieces to the China puzzle. We don’t know if all of our impressions are accurate, or if we’ve passed them through our American filter too many times. Will the Olympic exposure help us and others better understand China? If nothing else, it has sparked many conversations and debates.

We feel commited to learning the language, to studying the history and culture. We befriend Chinese people. Anything to hang onto that cultural thread, no matter how thin.
Yet China remains far away and largely a mystery to us.

Here is a picture sent to me by a shopkeeper I met in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. Once a year I receive Chinese New Year greetings from “Tiffanie.” With a population of 4 million people, Nanchang is considered a small town by China standards. This image was taken during the Chinese New Year; it more closely depicts the China we saw. This picture is nearly the polar opposite of the BBC image at the top of this post. Both are pieces of China.

One movie, a thousand thoughts

I’ve had my moments of despair being a stay-at-home mom: the crushing boredom, the (sometimes) lonliness, the piles of laundry and dirty dishes, and of course, the neverending supply of poopy pants.

But nothing, I mean absolutely nothing I’ve ever dealt with in my domestic sphere compares to the horror and hell endured by this movie’s central character. I saw this over the weekend and all I can say is, if it comes to your town, go see it. Otherwise, rent it on DVD.

It was not an easy view for the mother of a Chinese-born daughter. I couldn’t help wondering if my sweet Girl from the East would have faced a similar fate had she stayed in her land of birth. It’s harder yet to see how women have such a low standing in society and how much corruption exists on all levels of government. Hardest of all is to see the fate of many infant girls: swift death shortly after their first breaths.

I know these issues exist around the globe and even here in the United States to a certain extent, but I’d like to believe we still have due process here and our voices can be heard if we shout loud enough. But I won’t kid you, I breathed a sigh of relief that if I’m going to be a wife and mother and stay home, at least I’m doing it in America, where I have the choice to leave the home, leave the marriage or leave the country if I wish.