Monday, July 30, 2007

How Do You Spell Relief? LOA!

I have been keeping a secret: On July 3rd, I received a call from our agency letting me know that China (CCAA) was asking for more information from my doctor. They didn't feel that the other 3 letters provided with our dossier were enough. My biggest fear was that they would apply a Post-May 1 way of thinking to our Pre-May 1 dossier. (For those new to this system, a rule change effective May 1st changed rules that might have affected whether we would have qualified to adopt from China).

We kept this quiet, all the while people asked daily how things were going. It was more than a little stressful. Suddenly, our final big step was in jeopardy of derailing our entire process, especially after better than smooth sailing all year. We were able to obtain a new letter from my doctor and learned last week that it was approved by CCAA. We were on to the next step.

I learned that this is not uncommon, but would probably mean that our dossier would be out of line and delayed sometimes by several weeks or even months. It was really depressing to see people with Letters of Intent sent long after ours already getting their LOA's and in some cases even their Travel Notices.

I had done the mental math and figured that we would see our LOA at the end of August: somewhere near day 100. My calendar at work marked today as day 71 since LOI. As I drove home for lunch today, my cell phone rang. My agency's name on the phone. I knew this was it. "Congratulations! Your LOA has arrived!"

Now we watch for our Travel Notice, which should come anwhere from 2 to 4 weeks after we send in our LOA. That puts us at the end of August at the latest. Travel Notice or Approval (TA) gives us 90 days to get in China and finish the China portion of the adoption before the 90th day. We can galavant around China as long as our Visas will let us after that. They don't care at that point. (Although we will have the all important US part still to attend to in Guangzhou).

The kicker is that October is a horrible time logistically to travel in China with a majority of the month filled with holidays that will either make government related appointment times scarce or at the very least, will make travel crowded and more expensive. This means that we might be stuck waiting to travel until November. It works better for Shawn's work schedule and means that I would be able to take time off work through the first of the year, which might be nice, too.

We'll see how it all pans out. All I know is we're on the home stretch now. It's nice just to have progress.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What is Microtia?

Referral Photo side profile - taken at 8 months

I often get questions about Ian's special need from those familiar with adoption from China who know that our shorter timeline and male pronouns more than likely point toward a Special Need oriented adoption. For those who don't know the ins/outs of the process, we sometimes feel like we are obligated to mention Ian's ear to prevent shock or embarassment when they see it for the first time and weren't aware.

We had certainly never heard of Microtia (My-Crow-Shuh) before seeing Ian's file and I came to find out later that several families that were requesting files for a boy in his age range turned down the opportunity to consider his information, most likely because they were imagining his situation to be an enormous undertaking and assumed that it wouldn't fit the scope of what they felt they could handle. I am so glad that we had an open mind and did the research. In all, 3 families out of many reviewed his file and we were the only couple out of the three that came forward asking to submit a Letter of Intent for him.

I wanted to take a second and explain a little bit about Microtia for those who received my 2 second explanation or are curious. If you are visiting and are looking for more indepth information, please send me an email and I will point you toward the links and groups that have been such a wealth of knowledge as I research :

Microtia (meaning 'Small ear') is a congenital deformity of the outer ear. It can be unilateral (one side only) or bilateral (affecting both sides). It occurs in 1 out of about 8,000-10,000 births. In unilateral microtia, the right ear is most often affected and it occurs in boys more often than girls.

There are four grades of microtia:
Grade I: A slightly small ear with identifiable structures and a small but present external ear canal
Grade II: A partial ear with a closed off external ear canal
Grade III: Absence of the external ear with a small “peanut” skin & cartilage structure and an absence of the external ear canal
Grade IV: Absence of the total ear.

Ian has unilateral Grade III and it can be corrected by surgery. Typically, testing is first done to determine if the inner ear is intact and hearing is normal. Since this kind of testing was not done in China, we do not know the specifics of his inner ear anatomy or the extent of his hearing deficit. We do know that he can hear and turns his head to both sides to locate sound, but we’ll have to wait and see on a lot of the details.

Ian also has a condition called Atresia, which often goes hand in hand with Microtia. Atresia is the absence of the external opening to the inner ear. From the few glimpses we have had of his ear, it appears that he might have a small opening, which gives us hope that he has a functioning inner ear, but again, we won’t know until we have him with us back in the U.S of A.

Often, Microtia/Atresia patients can hear from the affected ear, but the sound is muffled… much like how things sound if you plug your ears and talk. I’ll spare the details of the reconstruction, but essentially, it can happen between the ages of about 6 and 8 and entails the use of rib cartilage to construct an ear. It’s absolutely amazing to me how natural the before and after pictures are. In almost every instance, the ear looks completely natural and symmetrical. It will grow with him, sustain trauma, heal itself, etc. There are other synthetic reconstructions, but I’ve yet to see anything as impressive as this.

There are several doctors around the country with rock star status in this field, and although we have several years before we need to face surgery, we’ll need to consider waiting lists for appointments, establishing a game plan, etc…that far out.

In the meantime, we may or may not need to worry about different therapies. For the most part, we will focus on learning more about Ian’s ear anatomy and hearing capacities, and then will concentrate mostly on bonding and acclimating to everything that’s new, different, and scary.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ian is 16 today!

16 months, that is...Hopefully he'll be celebrating 18, 19, or at the very least 20 with us.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Taking a Break to Visit My Friend Harry

While we wait for our Letter of Commitment (otherwise known as the LOC or LOA) from China, which could be anywhere from 1-60 days away, Ian's blog will be mostly devoted to my status and opinion on the final installment of Harry Potter...The Deathly Hallows. I'm sad to see the series come to an end. It really is like seeing a good friend ride off into the sunset, knowing we'll never see eachother again. Universal Studios in Orlando has announced the opening of a Harry Potter themed park sometime in the future. I do find some comfort in that. We can take Ian to enjoy butter beers at The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley!

So... No news from CCAA, but I will be cracking the binding on HP 7 tonight, which will take my mind off the fact that Ian turns 16 months old this week... and is still thousands of miles away. If only there were a Platform 9 & 3/4 that would magically take us to him.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Saying Goodbye to a Legend

I haven't blogged at all about her, but she is the Matriarch of our house... Always lets us know what's on her mind... And was our first baby.

I'm talking about our Quaker parrot, Gonzo. In 2000, we purchased a cute baby bird and settled on Gonzo, like from The Muppets...A one of a kind. He was our spoiled baby for many years, made the transition with us from apartment to first house, survived the Seattle earthquake of 2001, and welcomed (against his better judgement) a bundle of energy and anxiety: "Polli the Wonder-Frenchie", in December of 2005. He even made a journey with us from Seattle to Coeur D'Alene Idaho and took his first dip in a lake.

In September of '06, "he" became a "she" when we were surprised one day by an egg sitting curiously in her cage when we came home from work. What a shock! My little boy laid an egg!
As our adoption process materialized, so did the realization that we may need to find Gonzo a new home. With the addition of Polli, our time devoted to her had lessened to the point that she was becoming a feathery ball of attitude. What would happen when Ian comes home? How would we adjust him to a new country, language, doctors, us, Polli, AND a parrot... who cannot be hushed with a simple 'no' command during naptime... Not to mention that Gonzo's room will become Ian's room. Where does Gonzo go? We did not want to face the answer that was becoming obvious. Gonzo needed a new family that would give her the attention she needed and deserved.

So my search began. Gonzo got her own blog: and I canvased Quaker Parrot forums (which get an amazing amount of traffic...rivals Rumor Queen!), and talked to exotic pet stores. I also posted a notice on an online board at my company, which prompted instant calls. Between all the above efforts, I had almost a dozen offers to adopt Gonzo within 24 hours. She had finally reached Rock Star Status!

I narrowed the options down to 4 families, grilled them shamelessly, and asked them to come out to interact with Gonzo. The first person to come visit her had an immediate connection. Gonzo "stepped up" right away, cooed, preened her hair, nibbled her nose and earrings... she was in heaven. After about 40 minutes, I asked the prospective mom if she was interested and she almost started crying. She said she couldn't imagine not having Gonzo. Exactly what I wanted for our girl. She has 2 daughters one young and one older, who are excited about a parrot and are used to having birds, so I feel comfortable that they will do well with her.

So, today Gonzo took flight. She makes her trip from her picturesque room with a view nestled under the mountain foothills to the hustle and bustle of a 19 year old's "like totally awesome crib" bedroom in the crazy city of Seattle. We will miss her so much, but we know that this is the right thing to do. Anyone out there who has had to let go of a loving pet family member knows how I'm feeling.

Here's to Gonzo, her new home, and the very empty room that now waits for Ian.

I guess when one chapter begins, one must also end!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Am I Old Enough To Be a Grandmother?

Today is my birthday. Yes, happy birthday to me. Shawn is out of town this week, so I am celebrating amongst animals this year. Polli, Gonzo, the fish and I will enjoy some cake and ice cream...OK, so the fish are dieting and will stick to their pellets, but I'll share with the Fids (furry/feathered kids).

So, I'm 34. I'm fine with that. After all, isn't 30 the new 20? I think that makes me phat or sick or off the hook fo-shizzle, dogg... or something like that. Thank goodness I'm 34 and not 24 as I don't think I could manage the texting lingo. (I pause for a moment and wonder what kind of new overuse injuries will be discovered from the texting revolution).

Do I feel older? I don't know. No, not really. I feel like I've spent the past year chasing down notaries and worrying about doctor's letters. I haven't had time to think about getting older...and not caring one way or the other. I'm not getting carded as much anymore if that is a sign of age. Some days I'm insulted if they forget. Other days, I'm insulted if they remember.

Yes, my metabolism is slowing; I'm no longer struggling to keep weight ON. Granted, I have no weight problem and am pretty happy with everything except for these lumpy things showing up on my thighs. Gone are the days of eating whatever I want. Sigh.

Yes, I can see the veins in my legs; I woke up to new spider vein the other day after scratching my leg in the night and waking to a horrible burning pain where I scratched. Is that really how they happen? Sigh.

Yes, I can see where I had been squinting...several minutes after I stopped squinting. Oops. I guess I should stop straining at my computer screen. I made a bee line for the "Anti-Aging" aisle after this discovery. If there is one thing I would like to put off as long as possible, it's wrinkles. I picked up some sunscreen, too. Gone are the days of baking in the sun. Sigh.

Other than these things I guess I'm OK with getting older. Most people think I'm younger, which means I'm older, but not getting the respect that I thought I would earn as I aged. I suppose I need to pick my battles.

Here is something that dawned on me the other day that I had to pull out a calculator to accept:

When my mom turned 34, she was a grandmother for the first time by 4 days. 34. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that my mom and sister were young mothers.... Here I am turning 34 and I question myself every minute of every day whether I am capable of being a good mom -setting aside my selfish actions, laziness, personal priorities-to make this little person number one. I couldn't begin to imagine how difficult that must be at such a young age when it was kind of their job to be irresponsible, immature, messy, lazy, careless and without priorities.

I guess it's this revelation that made me realize that we're built with a defense mechanism that makes us want to put that little person first and that outfit at Nordstrom second...and the free pass to make mistakes while we figure out what the heck we're doing. So scary. A dog is hard enough to figure out!

So, here I am in the picture above (earlier this year...I don't have anything new) along with my mom and sister all at 34 (My sister and I don't really get along, so she'll be so glad to know that I broadcasted her picture across cyberspace). As for my mom, she says she doesn't know how old she is in this picture...but we'll give her a free pass to say that she's 34 here. I think a grandma of a 23 and almost 20 year old...and soon to be grandma of a 15 month old, has earned a get out of jail free card.

As I head off to enjoy my chirp/bark birthday party, I thought I would say goodbye as though I were 24 instead of 34. I did some warm ups first so as not to injure my thumbs. Here goes...


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Car Seat Anxiety Attacks

Have other generations of mothers felt this much pressure to choose the right car seat? I've said all along that I won't skimp on a car seat. Maybe on the stroller or Target/Outlet mall play clothes, but never the car seat. For months, and based on many online mom comments, I had my mind set on a Britax. If I've taken anything away from my adoption and parenting research it's that if I didn't buy a Britax, I would be putting my child's life at risk every time we got in the car. Truly, I could hear the cyber gasps as I browsed to the Evenflo or Graco websites...and I had 2 total strangers tisk/tisk me(in 2 different stores)as I looked at non-Britax car seats, pushing their carts as fast as they could away from me- the soon to be child abuser.

This led to many late night computer cookies spent browsing every Googlable site for info about what car seat to buy. Every page came back to Britax. Ugghhh! I said I won't be a trendy "keep up with the Jones's" mom and I'm bound and determined to stick to that. My child will be able to have sugar from time to time... will be allowed to get dirty...and will be able to watch TV (I watched a lot of it growing up and managed to develop an appreciation for the outdoors, reading, and learning, despite the evils of Nickelodeon, Saturday morning cartoons, and PG movies). Note: in a 1980-something lapse of judgement, my mom did let me watch Cheech and Chong and Fast Times @ Ridgemont High when I was pretty young and I understood none of it. I also never remember being in a car seat. Ever. It doesn't mean I wasn't in one at some point, but at some point shortly after infancy, we all just jumped in the car, gave no thought to the seat belts buried deep under the seats of our station wagon, with beer in hand (it's OK, it was before the DUI was invented)...took off at mach speed toward our destination... I don't even think there was such a thing as a booster back then (I'm 33.9, so that means we're talking 1970's). I digress...

So, I came pretty close to buying a Britax because I never wanted to say I didn't put my child in the best car seat and thus regret it terribly after a car crash. I would also be lying if I didn't say that I also thought admiringly about the nods of approval from the other moms at my choice...wishing they too could have a Britax...However, someone on a message board made a great point: If it didn't meet US safety standards, it wouldn't be on the market. Ah! It was starting to become clear that the reason there was an overwhelming number of good reviews of this car seat is because they have a good marketing plan, cute colors, and thus more VOLUME in sales to generate more VOLUME in reviews. Some extra padding and a pink flowered cover is what came down to their success...not to mention the fact that they figured out that with few exceptions, Mom A wants what Mom B has . Smart fellers over there at Britax. Now, if they could only hide that RECALL section on their webpage...apparently the vast majority of the population hasn't looked at their website, just saw the cow print seat in the Volvo of that PTA gal with the Coach purse and $200 jeans. (Who knew it all went on the Mastercard!)

I started digging a little more into this perplexing world of car seats and found that there are many excellent models out there that can also serve multiple purposes. Since Ian will be close to or over 18 months old (and a chunky 18 months), I needed to find something that would grow with him...not just good for a year and then need to be upgraded to a booster.

After much research, I came across a brand that is making huge strides in child restraint safety, comfort, and flexibility... Recaro.

Recaro is a German sportscar seat manufacturer, which designs and engineers side impact systems and restraints for race & sport cars in Europe. They also have a child seat segment with branches in Asia and North America as well. As I read, I became more and more impressed with the amount of work that they have put into not only the safety design, but also the dynamics of the car seat to prevent slumping, back/neck strain, and increase visibility while maintaining side impact protection.

To top it off, the Recaro seat that fit my personal requirements (the Young Sport model) looks just like a sports car seat and is made out of a much softer and easier to clean microfiber fabric than the Britax models. It was less expensive too. I found it on an online website called for a good price with no sales tax and free shipping.

Once Shawn sees it, I'm hoping he will want to order the black/cobalt version for his truck...and we can all zoom zoom zoom without my guilt guilt guilt!!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Eagle Has Landed!

I didn't blog about the care package we sent last week because I spaced out and forgot to take pictures, but I tracked it today, and it looks like it is officially in China! It may be our only chance to send one, but I'm fine with that. My goal was to get a disposable camera and a photo album in their hands, and I confirmed that the nannies at his orphanage love to take pictures. I'm confident we'll get a camera full of great pictures back.

I also sent a translated list of questions that might be able to help us with transition once he's with us, and also asking for specifics on finding location, items left with him, friends/favorites/habits in the orphanage. All of these details will be important later on as I create his lifebook and begin telling him about his life in China.

In all, we sent the following items, all labeled with Ian's full Chinese name:

Translated questions for the director along with a translated thank you letter for their care of our son.

A Soft photo album with a picture of him and 5 pictures of Shawn and me - marked with Ian's Chinese name on his picture, and "Mama"/"Baba" on our pictures.

Two small hard plastic toys that will be easy for the nannies to keep clean. One panda with movable arms/legs, and one "pull back" car with "popcorn" balls that pop as the car moves. Polli tried them out and approves.

A lightweight blanket with a bit of my lotion rubbed into it.

An outfit that, after seeing his videos, I know won't fit him when he comes home, but will probably fit him now.

Tootsie pops for the kids. Sugar brings smiles to the faces of children the world over.

Almonds for the nannies

Disposable camera

In all, the package weighed 6 pounds and fit in a 12Lx10Wx6H box. I won't comment on what it cost to ship. My husband reads this occasionally! I've already had some explaining to do after posting a picture of Ian's closet. Apparently, Shawn doesn't go in there much.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

What You Get for Your Money

I received an undisclosed amount of money from an undisclosed source to help with the task of outfitting our kid free home with the infinite number of items required to avoid the "worst mom on the planet" list.

I won't bore the world with my entire shopping list, but I will highlight one item that I am especially proud of.

Background info: I have been struggling with whether second hand items say "I don't want the best for my child". I knew I would never use a second hand car seat, but finally came to terms with the fact that we have 18 months LESS time to use temporary items such as a stroller, which means that our $ per use will be much higher...I probably put way more thought into it than necessary, but I was faced with one of several decisions:

1. Buy a cheap light to mid sized stroller for "mall crawling" and gamble that it will be crap that has to be replaced at some point before we're "stroller free".

2. Bite the bullet and buy a high end stroller of great quality...and run the risk that it turns out to be too much stroller and a waste of money.

3. Look into a second hand stroller that won't cost a fortune, meaning it if doesn't work out once he's home, I won't have a nervous breakdown.

On a whim, I checked Craigslist on Friday night, and came across a Peg Perego stroller that looked pretty nice, for $50. Better yet, it was located in my neighborhood. I emailed the woman asking if I could come by and see it. It turns out she is right around the corner and the previous next door neighbor to a couple we know. Small Small World.

So, I drove over Saturday morning at 10am and she came to the door in her PJ's (her kids were both stark naked eating waffles off the coffee table. Is that what Saturday mornings will become for me?). Anyway, the stroller was filthy...some windex and a paper towel wouldn't have killed her... but otherwise it was really nice. It's 3 years old, but she hasn't used it since her 14 month old was born and she converted to a double stroller.

We talked about adoption for a while (she relayed a story about a friend trying to adopt twins from Nevada, whose birthparents have come and taken them back twice). I finally paid her the $50, got a quick lesson in how to fold a stroller, lock/unlock the wheels, etc. (who knew a stroller could be so complicated?), and I left with my new "not-so-gently used" stroller. With a little steamcleaning, some Purell, and Febreeze, I think it will do everything I need it to.

After cleaning it, I decided to test the weight limits. Yep, it can handle 30 pounds without a problem. Thanks, Polli for being my spokesmodel!

Now, I WILL invest in a good quality all-terrain 3-wheel number for walks around our neighborhood and the dog park. Something quality that call handle gravel, grass, curbs, etc. will go a long way in our neighborhood, and they have good resale value. As you can see, Craigslist works.

Next battle: Do I have to join the Britax cult to avoid a car seat guilt driven nervous breakdown?