When I told people that we were adopting an older child, some had a vague understanding that we were facing potentially exceptional challenges. This went beyond the somewhat more crude, “What’s wrong with her?” question I occasionally heard (Yes, I have the benefit of living in a fairly frank community). There are plenty of horror stories about the affects of prolonged institutionalization of kids, and while my wife and I did not discuss these stories (she likes to keep a positive shine on things until the fan is turned to high), we are aware of them.

When we entered the process of looking for an older child we gleaned the lists of waiting children looking for a girl whose dossier indicated at least strong hints of the child we brought home. We very consciously looked for a child whose background spoke to a certain amenability to blending with our family. That said, she did not get to pick us.

Nonetheless, the rule of thumb with various sensory, cognitive, and developmental delays is this: an institutionalized child will “lose” three months of “normal” process for every year he or she has been out of a primary caregiver relationship (read: family). This includes growth, speech, intellect, emotion, morality–all those things for which you can imagine a scale that says “my x-year old should be here.” Our daughter came home with us three weeks before her tenth birthday. Quick math: 30 months of “delays.” And no, there is no set schematic for exactly what those specific delays might be. Each child is different.

In the short run, we simply have someone in our house who is all at once between the ages of 7 and 10 and all the ages between 7 and 10. And, lest we forget, she is learning EVERYTHING in a brand new language. We are more fortunate than can be imagined because her attitude is so overwhelmingly upbeat.

In addition, a heavy dose of “re-parenting” (going back and parenting for all those years and stages during which she had no primary caregiver) is ahead. This means we will go back much further than 7. In some ways she has infant stuff that she never went through and we will do that too.

In the long run? Brain science shows that the organ is far more plastic for far longer than we believed even ten years ago. The delays are just that: delays. She will catch up and become, well, whoever she will be. We will not really know who she is going to be for years, but then, that is true of everyone, even us.

Three and a half feet of joy

We took the new daughter to the pool this weekend. It was immediately clear that she had not been in water deeper than her knees.

The pool in which she played with us at Guangzhou was a meter deep in the shallow end, so all she could do was sit on the side or allow us to carry her. The pool at the Mallory has steps leading to water that is two and a half feet deep.

And so on Sunday, the first wade into water that rose above her waist. There was a nervous look for a moment, and then back to the usual peel of giggles. This is her method as she approaches new things: a moment of nervousness (sometimes barely perceptible) and then “Look at me!” Swimming lessons are in the offing.

And then of course, the ocean. This was a more daunting prospect, and it will take her a while to overcome the force of waves. She is a wee thing (and already weighs more than she did three weeks ago). One wave surprised her straight on, and she ran back up the beach, only to turn and look with more than a fair amount of longing.

Stay Out of Cold Water

I have had a splendid relationship with the cold. I grew up traveling to Maine and swimming in the chilly Atlantic (a past time I maintained until my last visit a few years ago). I lived in Binghamton, NY and started my foray into running during the winter. I put in my 5 miles three or four days a week in snow and ice and temperatures that registered in single digits.

This past winter I started getting a bright red rash on my hands on cold days that I shoveled snow or spent time outdoors. It bugged me, and I chalked it up to who knows what. Internet searches were inconclusive.

So today we went to the beach, and Virginia Beach, mind you, and after about half an hour of grown up frolic in the waves, I got out. Within a few minutes my body was covered by that winter rash and small welts right up to where the water reached below my shoulders. Add to this the histamine shock that followed, but I got to the towel and rested until my pulse settled to its normal.

When we came home, there, as plain as day, was my ailment, which is just as stupid a condition as one could imagine and with no apparent cause. Can I say, “Cold Urticaria. Really?”

At some point we just accumulate miles, and stuff happens. Contact with the world brings all sorts of expected and unexpected pleasure, despair, and annoyance. So, right now, annoyance (at the same time: great joy: Daughter’s first visit to the beach!). If I stay out of the cold, there’s nothing to see. Or I can take a handful of antihistamines and plunge away.

Critical Thinking

I’m taking the older daughter to the movies tomorrow night for a little daughter-daddy time away from the rest of the family (read new little sister). We are choosing between X-Men: Days of Future Passed, and The Amazing Spiderman 2.   K wants to see both of them, which provides an immediate quandary: how do we choose?

I tried to explain to K the law of super-villains in super-hero films (fewer is better), to which she responded, “I like more bad guys.  It (sic) makes it more interesting.” Then I pointed out the Rotten Tomato scores of each movie (AS2: 53%; XMDFP: 91%), to which she rejoindered the  “Lone Ranger Exemption”–a movie universally panned that we all enjoyed (except for the heart eating). In the end it will come down between a “J Law”/”A Gar” choice (pop heroine/hot guy), and Daddy’s vote (3 Villains vs Peter Dinklage).

And so the question: what makes it good?

I went to see Godzilla last week.  How could I not?  I have a familial obligation to watch these sorts of movies, and fondly remember watching many of the original “Showa” series on Channel 17 with my father and brother.  Was the new one any good.  Well, no.  It was fairly awful.  Anthony Lane in The New Yorker summed it up when he wrote: “[Here’s] what the perfect “Godzilla” should be: no character development, no backstory, no winsome kids, just hints and glimpses of immeasurable power—enough to make you jump and twitch and leave you sweating for more. ” This Godzilla was ponderous and full of kids (and even a dog) who were threatened by the “immeasurable power.”  Nonetheless, the critics graced it with more positive reviews than negative (RT 73%). Let the Kaiju roar and destroy and thrill; we can apply the allegory ourselves, thank you.

I went to see Celtic Woman last night, and by all accounts this is a profitable franchise, right up there with various “Tenors” traveling shows.  It is, in the main, schmaltz and ersatz Irish-ness.  That said, the majority of popular performance rarely rises above the level of schmaltz and ersatz authenticity.  I mean, go ahead, pitch “Amazing Grace,” “Danny Boy,” and “You Raise Me Up” in one show and the crowd will moisten appropriately and come back in two years for more of the same. I get it, and I’m a little glad that the rousing barroom ballads of my middle youth (Carnsie’s, Binghamton) were exempt from the CW  treatment. No Tim Finnegan (which is just as schmaltzy and ersatz in its own bawdy, jaundiced way as well–and this may be the heart of true Irish-ness). Nonetheless there was enough bare-footed fiddling and dancing to satisfy the family.

Still I can’t help but wonder how we decide what is good.  A former colleague bowed to vox populi, and can understand that in theory.  In practice I get a bit more insistent.  But that is for another day.

The Schedule of Life at Home

Those of you who know me know I lead a fairly busy life. I work 3 part time jobs, none of which is really part time. I have 7 day work weeks, and this makes me, by all accounts, fairly normal in the working world.

I enjoyed the time in China getting my daughter, in large part, because I was not working (or only working a very small amount), and I had scads of time to spend with my family. My only limits were sleep related during the initial bout of jet lag.

Now, at home, I am back of the world of work commitments. I went to work within 24 hours of arriving back at home. Jet lag would have to wait for days when I could afford a satchel full of half hour naps while my circadian clock got back on track.

I cannot say that my work schedule is fully appreciated by those with whom I live. Work often gets in the way of spontaneous outbursts of family activities, and if I beg off for prior (paid) commitments, I get more than a little of the hairy eyeball. I understand why, and I desperately wish for more time.

However, the paycheck helps the family world go around too. Our China expenses reached well beyond 30 thousand dollars, and that doesn’t even fully take into account the money we had spent on the previous plan that fell through when the adoption agreement between Vietnam and the United States four years ago. Yes, a small chunk of that will come back to us when we do taxes next year. Nonetheless, money does not buy happiness, it only opens the door to the park. Happiness comes when you play inside.

So, I look forward to a few months in the summer, when I get to be Superdad. And while I bemoan the current situation, I plan for some time in the park–as much as I can get.

First morning home

Shi Hui runs out of her bedroom, and immediately charges into a chorus of “Mao! Mao! Mao!” Which, of course, means “Cat! Cat! Cat!” She runs after them holding a doll, which she uses to make furtive petting motions in their general vicinities. Our deaf cat is especially able to manage her affection, but the two youngest cats run away. Shi Hui gestures toward them, “Mao!” She commands. They are unbowed.

Finally, after breakfast, my wife unboxes a set of older Barbie dolls. Concentration and quiet happens. It’s time for laundry and mail and a thousand other chores as we settle back into our lives at home.

Comfort Zones

I have a dread of missed flights. I get no adrenalin rush from the just made flight–mad dash to airport, gate, plane. I prefer to be early, painfully early to hear most describe it.

My family does not operate this way. Time is more, well, flexible for them. We have missed a flight, once, heading home from Las Vegas.

So, traveling with us is a mix of comfort zones: on one hand, I hate to be late; on the other hand, they hate to wait. Not quite a “which way do you put the roll of toilet paper on the roller” level difference, in so much as it is not a daily occurrence. But every so often it provides a little extra frisson.

Travel Magic

When we left New York (JFK Airport) at 1:30 am on Friday, we landed four hours later (5:30 am), but on Saturday in Hong Kong. Tomorrow when we leave Hong Kong at 9:20 am, we will arrive back in New York at 1:05 pm on the very same day. Of course, our “4 hour flight” will last considerably longer, just as our 28 hour flight nearly two weeks ago lasted considerably shorter.

Katherine helps put this all in perspective, one way or the other, “We will be on the plane a long time.”


So, we came to China with virtually no Chinese between us. We have a couple of translation programs that work fairly well going from English to Chinese. Other way? Not so much.

I can ask, “Does little sister want to go swimming?” or “Do you like apples?” We work on a thumbs up/thumbs down system. I can show her our house on Google Earth and tell her, “We live on the second floor” or “That is your room.” There is much nonverbal communication. Katherine asks how I know what Shi Hui is saying. I tell her, “I don’t, but I can tell what she is feeling.”

And for the most part, our new daughter has a demeanor of which anyone would be jealous. She laughs often. I tell her “Little sister likes to laugh a lot,” and follow it up with, “Papa likes to laugh a lot, too.”

Until tonight. I do end of the day duties. Routine, routine, routine. In the middle of The Cat in the Hat, right before Thing One and Thing Two make their appearance, a cloud settled on the girl, and she started crying. Patience, and a smattering of questions, “Are you scared?” “Do you miss your friends?”

And I wish she could tell me her story in a language I understood, and I wish I could understand the language she speaks. But in some small way, I know it doesn’t entirely matter. Even if we did speak the same language, would I really undress how she felt?

I think I can understand around how she feels. I can imagine, and also recognize that there are failures and gaps in my imagination. I can run to the bathroom, and come back with a handful of tissues, and can sit with her, and ask questions, and show her pictures of the flowers her mother planted in front of the house where she will live, and tell her that in 2 days we will be home. She clicks on that translation again and again. Maybe, maybe, that is what it takes for now.