New Orleans

August 31, 2007

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been on my mind this week with the two year anniversary of Katrina. I still remember the surreal experience of watching with horror from Japan as the reality of the approaching storm became apparent. The shock, the sadness, the helplessness, the anger, and the worry in the days that followed. I remember waiting to hear news of friends and family. There was a small group of us in Okinawa who had connections and roots in the city. We got together at a restaurant one night soon after Katrina hit. Another surreal experience. A need to be with others who knew the city. New Orleans, even, in her post-Katrina wounded state, is a city with a strong personality. There aren't many places that actually feel like people to me, but New Orleans does. And having that human aspect to her means there is a complexity to her personality...things to love, to hate, to fear, to desire. And being overseas I felt an even stronger need to be with others who knew "her". We reminisced about our personal experiences in the city, we speculated about the future, we fretted about friends and family in the midst of the chaos, and we ate and drank beer.

And a few days later I flew to Louisiana (an already planned trip) and I suddenly went from being a bystander to being immersed as my family's home was hit by Hurricane Rita. Not the trip I had originally planned (to be in New Orleans for an opening of my father's and my grandfather's work), not the trip I had hoped (spending a month on the prairie with Noah and my family, not the trip I wanted (moving, evacuating, cleaning up, being surrounded by loss and panic), but a trip that nonetheless felt right. Instead of being halfway around the world and feeling disconnected and helpless, I was at home.

It made me sad to listen to Eve Troeh's recent piece on NPR. I met Eve last December and I remember how enthusiastic and dedicated she was to being in New Orleans. She also had a very personal and complex relationship with the city. These lines stood out for me
"Which is the real New Orleans? The one that's violent and desperate? Or the one that coos softly, and caresses me? The answer, of course, is both."

You can read or listen to her good-bye to the city here. A good-bye letter to a city because that's the kind of place New Orleans is...a very personal place.

I don't know what will happen to New Orleans, but I suspect that she will continue to be a spicy mix of a place, wounded, lashing out, limping along, seductive, comforting, and rough around the edges.

Summer Treasures

We have a little collection of treasures growing on our kitchen table. It started with an amazing starfish that Nana sent us from her beach trip.Then a postcard of New York City from Grandpa. Noah studies that postcard of skyscrapers every morning during breakfast and tries to figure out how many cars are in New York City. Then yesterday we found a beautiful butterfly dead, but perfectly intact on our driveway. Summer is a good time for collecting things, isn't it?

Shopping Carts

August 26, 2007

Are there any good shopping carts in the world? If so, why do I always get the bad ones? You know the one with the wobbly,loud,squeaky wheel. Or the one that rolls fine until half -way through the store when one of the wheels suddenly gets stuck and refuses to roll. This is what I thought about today while trying to survive a Walmart trip. The other observation I had was that our Walmart is the most diverse place I have been in quite awhile. I was shocked and pleased to hear so many different languages being spoken in one place. Wow, a year after living overseas I have now discovered that I should be spending more time in Walmart to experience the mix of cultures I used to savor during our international travels. Strange,yet very American. I guess it is also another marker of the time. Last year when we returned to the States, going into Walmart gave me such a headache. Too many choices, too big, too overwhelming. A year later, I now spend my shopping trips contemplating crappy shopping carts and culture.

Military Wife Cycle

I just peeked at my blog entries from last August and confirmed that it has now been a year since we have been back in the States. Which means my theory on the "military wife cycle" seems to be holding water. Here's my theory and my experience. The first year in a new duty station is spent getting settled, feeling lonely, and getting lost. The second year is one of over-involvement, social connections, and happiness. The third year is the limbo year of seeing/doing all the things we planned to do in that part of the world, preparing to move, saying good-bye, and building excitement about a new destination. And then the cycle starts all over again.

Throughout the summer I could feel myself starting to enter the second year. Starting to form closer friendships, starting to get less frustrated about the local drivers because I have temporarily become one, and starting to volunteer for too many things. And I am now firmly in the second year. I have somehow gotten myself on the parent board for the kids' preschool (in charge of the yearbook). I am now having to do some serious juggling with our weekly schedules to keep up with the playdates, dinner dates, and neighborhood gatherings. I run the book club for our local adoption group. I am getting ready to write some grants for the preschool so we can start a community garden. I am considering options for volunteer social work. I have also (this was a shocker for me) decided to start up a military spouses' group for the Naval Hospital.

The shocking part of starting up a spouses' group is that I never thought of myself as "that kind of military wife". Prior to getting married, when Adam and I were both still in graduate school at Tulane and living a very civilian life. I had all sorts of panic attacks about what this whole military wife thing would be like (not to mention the stress of also becoming a Jewish doctor's wife! that's another post for another day!). I had an image in my head of some sort of 1950s era gathering of women in white gloves, drinking tea, and identifying themselves by their husband's rank. 

When we officially started our military life together during Adam's residency, I have to admit to feeling relieved when I met other wives who seemed very down to earth, other wives who also worked, wives who had natural deliveries and breastfed, wives who listened to NPR, wives who had identities of their own. And husbands who are also military spouses and stay-at-home dads. Although the military refers to all spouses and children as "dependants", I am happy to say there are some very independant military spouses out there. I didn't get all that involved with the spouses group until moving to Japan and having children. Two events which proved to me that the support of others is priceless. Which is why I was so shocked to discover that in our current duty station, there isn't anything for spouses. I spent a year complaining about it and then decided to change that. After meeting with Commanding Officer at the hospital, I was given command approval and support to start the group. I built a website, started a yahoo group, and next week I am hosting the "Welcome Coffee". And I can guarantee there won't be any white gloves!

Chair Photos August 2007

August 25, 2007

This chair has made many trips. From China to Japan and now to Florida. I look at the well worn edges and wonder who used this chair before us. Did they ever imagine it would find its way inside an American home next to two pairs of rubber rainboots (also probably made in China)? Or that a Jewish, Taiwanese, American girl would giggle and play on it? Some of you may remember the story of the chair (at least our family's story, I wish I knew the early stories of this chair). I bought this chair at an antique store in Okinawa shortly before receiving our referral. It was the first real thing I purchased for our future daughter. When she was about five months old we had family photos taken in our home, including the first ones of Camille with the chair (happy buddha baby). I continue to try and take photos of her (and Noah when he will cooperate) with the chair. It is fun to see how much she has changed since the last chair photo shoot. So here is Mei-Mei at 21 months old with stickers on her belly and one bright pink shoe. The first photo is also meaningful to me because of my dad's painting in the background. It is the old farm house where I grew up.

A Father's Voice

August 23, 2007

It has always been striking to me that most of the authors writing about adoption (both from professional or personal perspectives) are women. I just finished reading one of the most moving and candid books on adoption and it was written by a father. In "China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood", journalist Jeff Gammage goes beyond the typical adoption tale and invites the reader to peer into the emotional experience of what it means to become a father, a father to daughters with their own histories and ties to a country that is not his own, a father who entered into adoption somewhat reluctantly but all of that changes when he sees the referral photo of his daughter thousands of miles away. "China Ghosts" reminded me of Neely Tucker's adoption story "Love in the Driest Season" (also a journalist, also a father), but Gammage's story and his voice resonated even more strongly with me. Beautifully written with emotion, honesty and with such a clear voice I couldn't help getting sucked into his heartfelt narrative. Having read so many adoption books and depressing Chinese tales in the past few months, I have to admit that I reluctantly pulled this book off the shelf at the library....I am very glad I did. I'll end with Gammage's description of parenting to give you a taste (and then go out and read the book for yourself):
"I thought that raising a child would be like taking an ocean journey, sailing from Port A to Port B aboard the sturdy ship of my knowledge and understanding. It's not like that. It's more like trying to body-surf on a giant wave. At moments you're safely tucked in the curl, feeling the speed, the force of the water propelling you toward shore. You think you have mastered the art. Then, without warning, the wave pulls you under, drags you across the broken shell bed of the shallows, and throws you to the surface, where you gulp air" (p.186)

First Day

August 22, 2007

I am happy to report that Noah and Camille both had a great first day at school! Camille cried when I first left but quickly settled down (I snuck around the corner to see how long it would take). The teachers said she did a great job, that she is the most verbal child in the class, and they suggested I pack extra food since she tried to help herself to others' lunches! Noah was bursting with pride and energy when I picked him up from school. He described every part of the morning in dramatic detail (including the teacher's lecture on how to use a unisex bathroom!). He was especially excited because they read "The Kissing Hand" and we had just recently read that book at home. All my first day jitters (I think I was way more anxious about the first day than they were!) have been calmed.

Teaching Tolerance

August 21, 2007

This week marks the start of the school year. Noah is thrilled be in Junior Kindergarten. Camille will also be starting "school" this week by spending a few mornings each week as a "Busy Bee". Yesterday I went to school with them to spend the morning meeting their teachers and exploring their classrooms. It was a fun and exciting morning for all of us until I suddenly found myself in a parenting moment I have been dreading. As a parent to two Jewish children, as a parent to an Asian child, and just as a plain ole mama I knew there would be moments like this but it didn't make it any easier.

I was speaking with the teaching assistant in Camille's classroom. The conversation started out as many do with general questions about her and quickly spiraled into a murky and uncomfortable place when the assistant said "yes, we have some other girls here like that". I assumed she meant other girls adopted from China and as I was stepping in to clarify that Camille was adopted from Taiwan she barreled over my words to say "yes, they are all so aggressive, pushy, and mean to the other children". She continued by saying "I was so surprised by their behavior because I always thought Chinese people were so nice and quiet". So now instead of talking about Camille's daily schedule I was engaged in a very disturbing discussion of racial profiling. I felt so flustered and confused by the turn of the conversation that I found myself babbling in twenty different of which was to explain that children who have spent their first years of life in institutional care are amazing survivors, to explaining Camille (like all nearly two year olds) does have moments of assertive behavior (thanks to some additional training by having a big brother), to pointing out that all children are individuals with their own histories and temperaments. One of the hardest parts of this "discussion" was the fact that this woman is an older grandmotherly woman who I know did not say these things with malicious intent. I know they come from lack of training/education, lack of exposure, and just plain ignorance. But none the less it was insulting and disturbing to hear her make an assumption about "girls like that" and to worry that any of Camille's "aggressive" behavior would continue to confirm her belief that all adopted Asian children are bullies.

I spoke with the director of the preschool to express my concerns about the recent conversation and request that the staff (especially this specific assistant) receive some diversity training. She was very apologetic and agreed that something would be done to address the need for additional education.

Needless to say this has not helped to ease my anxiety about bringing Camille to her first official day of school tomorrow. I know that she will receive excellent care (this is the first and only negative experience we have ever had) and I know that she will love being around the other kids. It will be hard for her when I first leave, but I think it will be even harder for me to leave her. It will mark a big change for us and a big step towards letting her venture out in the world. It sounds dramatic but after this recent incident it feels a little scarier since that was such a clear reminder that the world is not color blind. Although I rarely look at Camille and think she looks different from me, others do. And others make assumptions about her and they will continue to do so. Growing up white in a predominantly white, rural area I never really experienced what it feels like to be different until moving to Japan for the first time and being one of only a handful of foreigners in a small town.I know that it won't always be easy or comfortable for Camille to be in a world that doesn't always look like her.

I did my best (although I wish I had done better... after getting home I thought of a million better things to say!) to protect Camille by trying to make a change in this woman's stereotype of adopted Asian children, but the reality is there will continue to be other situations like this down the road. I won't always be there to "protect" her. I can't wipe out racism with a magic wand. I can't pretend it doesn't exist. But I hope that taking the time to change one woman's view of "those girls" will make a difference.

New York Views

While we were in North Carolina, my dad was in New York. Instead of spending the summer painting the Louisiana rice fields and prairie-scapes, he spent part of his summer painting city-scapes. I loved seeing these photos of him at work.


August 20, 2007

Another highlight of our time in North Carolina was the chance to spend time with a close friend of mine from college, Jill and her sweet family. We were able to celebrate Hannah's seventh birthday, cool off in the pool, and even get a tour of Flip's fire station. Thank you and we can't wait to see all of you again soon!

Cherry Point

In addition to seeing Chapel Hill, we also ventured towards the coast to visit our friends and neighbors from Okinawa (the Ircink and the Holmes families). It was fun to catch up and to see all of the kids playing together again. We also enjoyed seeing what Dan has been flying lately! Thank you for the great southern hospitality!

Chapel Hill

We just spent two wonderful weeks exploring the Chapel Hill area and falling in love with it! Adam was selected to participate in a year long fellowship in Faculty Development at Chapel Hill which means we will be returning several times in the coming year. He is happy to be back in the student role and we all enjoyed being back in a university setting....the energy, the history, the diversity, the strong sense of community. It was also fun to tap into some family roots. My great-aunt (my namesake) was a well known professor in the Speech Department and my great-great aunt was the founder of the School of Public Health at Chapel Hill. The campus is beautiful with lots of large trees, trails, and big areas for picnics (and running).

The kids and I stayed busy each day by exploring the campus (including the planetarium), walking around town, and checking out local museums.

And did I mention the amazing Weaver Street Market? More than just a grocery store, it's a real community spot...every grocery store should have local produce, a big lawn for live music and dancing,Sunday brunch and lots of new friends. A big thank you to Leslie and Trent for all of the great tips on local places and for the great fiesta.

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