Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hard work and horseplay

Play is the work of childhood.

--- Jean Piaget

I am very glad when Caroline gets to play with children (or just SEE them play) as this helps her to learn HOW to play*.  She got a good lesson when her cousin Gracie came to visit.  May she enjoy all her "lessons" so well!


 


 




I should note that many of Caroline's toys, including her much-used kitchen playset, are courtesy of Gracie.


video


May I add that Caroline might have learned a lesson that I will regret as Gracie beat the stuffing out of me.  Who knew that little girls could be such brutes???


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(*) If she learned this only from me, she'd think that play consists of nothing more than blasting zombies on a video game.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Terracotta Daughters

I have written before about this work by French artist Prune Nourry.  It is coming to New York City in September.


In the continuation of her Holy Daughters project in India, Prune now reflects upon gender preference in China and infiltrates the local culture through the familiar symbol of the Terracotta Soldiers, by creating an army of 116 life-size Terracotta Daughters.
India and China alone represent 1/3 of the world population and both encounter a similar gender imbalance. This sociological phenomenon is due to the preference parents give to having a son. The number of single men has been increasing ever since the 80’s, and the misuse of ultrasounds to select the sex of the child. This leads to disastrous consequences for the situation of women in Asia (kidnappings of children and women, forced marriages, prostitution, population migrations...).


One hundred sixteen statues to represent the thousands - perhaps millions - of Chinese girls abandoned or killed, a silent holocaust.*

A little girl found abandoned and frozen to death in northern China

The Chinese government is making some efforts to discourage the cultural preference for boys, but it is deeply-rooted (and, of course, not limited solely to China).

This public service message is brought to you by... the same government that brought you the One Child Policy

On a related note, I have read recently about the idea that, with donations from abroad, orphans in China could and certainly should be raised there rather than adopted to other countries like the United States.  During her research and preparation for creating the Terracotta Daughters, Nourry worked with an organization, Les Enfants de Madaifu, attempting to do just that:
An abandoned child is usually taken in by a relative, grandparent or uncle if they live in the same village. But the family cannot always afford to feed another mouth, let alone two or three more, if siblings are involved. Giving financial help to families faced with such a predicament to meet the children’s main needs (food, clothing and schooling) makes fostering much easier to cope with. By keeping them in the same village, with their extended families, and giving them the possibility to continue or resume school, the orphanages without walls can give them back confidence, dignity and hope. It can keep them away from the terrible fate that awaits many young villagers who find themselves out on the street.
God bless the people who are trying to help these children.

=====

(*) While gender selection, whether through abandonment, abortion or infanticide, remains a problem in China, a VERY large fraction of "orphaned" children in China are disabled.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-tragic-tale-of-chinas-orphanages-98-of-abandoned-children-have-disabilities/article17625887/

Sunday, July 20, 2014

International Adoption: Pro and Con

I often read the blog "Red Thread Broken" for its first-hand reflections on some of the challenges faced by international adoptees.  As one might gather from the title of the blog, its author, herself an adoptee born in China, is not a fan of international adoption.  Recently, her mother has written a lengthy post about why she, too, opposes international adoption:
Like she has in so many areas, my daughter (the writer of this blog) has brought me to a clearer understanding of the many complicated issues around adoption – how monetary transactions have led to corruption, how first families have sometimes been lied to, deceived, or tricked into relinquishing children, how cultures can be punitive to single mothers, and how demand creates a climate for adoption to become more of a consumer venture. With all of these realities, I can’t, in good faith, be pro-adoption. That doesn’t make me anti-adoption either.
I have been grappling with this issue since RTB first raised it in my mind.  I confess that my first reaction to her objections to international adoption was one of outrage, disbelief and more than a little resentment.  Quite aside from having some first-hand familiarity with the process and WHY so many children are adopted from China, South Korea and other countries to the United States and Europe*, I found it a bit hard to believe that an adoptee could so publicly attack the very process that brought her to her family.  "What do your parents think of this?" I wondered.  Well, now I know.  Need I say that I was also personally offended by the implication that I and other adoptive parents are part of a badly flawed if not outright criminal system?

Nevertheless, I decided to look into this issue a bit more.  About a year ago, CNN did a series on international adoption that I found thoughtful, well-balanced, and thought-provoking.  In "International adoption: Saving orphans or child trafficking?", Kevin Voight begins by interviewing a pair of young adult adoptees who have rather different views on the process.  Srey Powers was adopted from Cambodia in 1999:
Srey Powers' earliest memories in Cambodia are "waking up each morning, climbing trees to forage for fruit and berries with my cousins, and sitting around a fire each night with the one meal provided," the 19-year-old said.
...
At the orphanage, she met her new American family -- Claudia and Patrick Powers from Long Island, New York.
"From day one, I had a bond with my mother. Our first language was through playing soccer," recalled Powers, who was named most valuable player after leading her high school to the 2010 girls soccer state championship.

In contrast:
"When I was 13, I was sold," said Tarikuwa Lemma, who grew up in Ethiopia.
She and her two sisters were adopted by an Arizona family who were told Lemma's parents died of AIDS.
...
"I wanted to escape from the people I felt had kidnapped us from our homeland, our culture and our family," said Lemma, who hopped from three different U.S. adoptive homes before becoming independent after turning 18. "My sisters and I had a father, a brother and older sisters, plus a large extended family that cared for us and loved us. We were middle class by Ethiopian standards, not poor."

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that there are vultures and jackals amongst us, filthy beasts who will stoop to corruption, child trafficking and even outright kidnapping to put money in their pockets, who prey on single mothers and poor families in impoverished parts of the world, parents eager to build their families through adoption, and especially innocent children, turning what should be (and often is) a decent and even miraculous process into something not much different than the Middle Passage.  Voight writes:
Brokers who source children for agencies can earn as much as $5,000 per child -- "five times the amount they might expect to earn a year," she said. "The influence of all this U.S. money can be distorting."
I note that this is not limited to "U.S. money."  Mark McDonald writes:
In announcing the rescue of 89 abducted Chinese children on Christmas Eve, a senior police official said baby boys could now be purchased in China’s interior for less than $5,000 — and then resold for three times that amount in the wealthier coastal province.
...
“Although some are sold to buyers in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam... most of the boys are purchased domestically by families desperate for a male heir.”

Nevertheless, foreign adoption is ripe for - and, apparently, rife with - corruption.  McDonald notes:
Child-welfare advocates working in China say some kidnappings are the result of the increasing prices paid for adoptions by foreigners. Abducted kids often end up in orphanages, even though they aren’t orphans at all. Paperwork is forged. Identities are erased. The orphanage takes its cut. 
It was revealed in 2005 that government officials and orphanage employees in Hunan Province “had sold at least 100 children to other orphanages, which provided them to foreign adoptive parents,” as John Leland reported in The Times.
“For some, it raised a nightmarish question: What if my child had been taken forcibly from her parents?” [emphasis original - JR]

So, it appears that the process is (shall we say?) questionable.  But what to do?  It is beyond the bounds of credibility to suppose that ALL adoptees are the victims of kidnapping and child trafficking.  Indeed, unless we believe that the photos were faked, there is evidence of people - heartbroken people - leaving children at "baby hatches".  Other children in orphanages are clearly sick and / or handicapped: were they kidnapped, too? (We link to some of these orphanages in our sidebar; there are many "before and after" photo essays that show desperately ill - dying - children saved by these institutions and subsequently adopted, usually by American families)

And what is the alternative?  RTB writes:
Adoption looks at the problem upside down.** When we turn to adoption as the solution to these problem, we ignore the discussion on how to avoid the problems in the first place. The short-term solution for the child may be adoption, but it then becomes our responsibility to facilitate long term solutions to prevent family separation that lie in community building, working to eradicate the negative social stigma of single motherhood, and even advocating more education for women and drug prevention programs. I fundamentally believe that most people want to be good parents, but services to aid them are lacking. My desire isn’t to end all adoption. My desire is to have a clean adoption system where money isn’t abused and programs exist to help first families, so it is 100% clear that the children being adopted don’t have living family who want to raise them.

This is commendable... and, frankly, naive.  The HOPE is that, among other things:
  • People all around the world will have access to affordable, first-class (read: Western) medical care such that even children born with life-threatening illnesses or handicaps will not be a disastrous financial burden to them
  • People all around the world will take on Western attitudes towards birth control such that they don't have children that they can't care for
  • People all around the world will have the resources, including Western-style social welfare systems - to care for as many children as they happen to have
  • People all around the world will take on Western views of children such that they will value girls as much as boys and not see children as cheap agricultural labor
  • People all around the world will adopt Western attitudes towards inheritance such that land and other property can be "kept in the family" even if bequeathed to female children
  • People all around the world will adopt Western values regarding single motherhood such that an unmarried woman with a child will not wear the proverbial Scarlet Letter and hence have no reason to see a child as an irredeemable badge of shame
  • People around the world will gladly take on younger relatives (perhaps rather distant ones) rather than give them up for foreign adoption

As RTB's mother writes:
What if we, the potential adoptive parents, sacrificed adopting a child and donated the same amount of money that an adoption entails to support agencies that work towards improving the lives of families in third world countries so they can keep and raise their children in healthy environments? And why do some agencies, businesses, and churches give grants to help people adopt? Again, that money could be better used to support services in home countries.
I don't want to jeer at somebody who genuinely has the best interest of children at heart, but are we to believe that the same vultures, the same corrupt officials who traffic in children and help jackals erase identities to turn children into commodities, will take these hypothetical donations and give them solely to deserving families?  I say no.

Meantime, there are millions of children around the world who have families who cannot care for them, families who simply don't want them, or no families at all.  What shall we do with them?  Orphanages?  Foster care?  I've written very recently about notorious cases in Mexico and even here in the United States where children are blatantly victimized by those institutions, either because government agencies were late in responding to allegations of abuse or because they managed to "lose" children - THOUSANDS OF THEM - entrusted to their care.  It also seems to me that, in the case of foster care, even the most honest system still shuffles children from place to place, home to home, never giving them a family to call their own.

What shall we do?

Again, I don't want to give the impression that I'm jeering at RTB and other people like her who have real problems - and there clearly ARE real problems - with international adoption.  They have the best interests of children and "first families" at heart.  However, I think that there's great danger of taking this too far, in stigmatizing international adoption and making it sound like a crime.  Further, until all the various economic, social and cultural problems that lead to children being without a loving first family are solved, it seems to me that adoption is the best solution.

=====

(*) I direct the interested reader to documentary "The Zhang Empresses" on YouTube! for a look at Chinese girls adopted to Sweden.

(**) RTB and other adoptees often remark that the the "story" of international is always told from the parents' perspective.  I would like to direct the interested reader to the on-line magazine A Gazillion Voices, which is run by and for the international adoptee community so that their story can be told.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Learning

I have written in the past about some of my views on education.  This was when Caroline was still on the distant-though-shrinking horizon and my mind was occupied with rather more of the theory than the practice of parenting, i.e. choosing a grad school vs. changing a dirty diaper.

Now that she's been home, and especially in the wake of a very pleasant outing to the Children's Museum, learning is back on my mind.  I have learned that there's more to "learning" for a little child than ABC's, numbers, colors, and the Periodic Table.  Caroline has been learning all sorts of things not to be found in a book:
  • How to walk (we are, as predicted, finding her ability to walk to be a VERY mixed blessing as "STOP!" and "Come back here!" are getting a lot of use around the house!)
  • How to navigate stairs or even the transition from hardwood to carpet
  • How to talk a little
  • How to use a spoon
  • How a doorknob - ESPECIALLY the one to the bathroom - works
  • How to play
So many things for her young mind to take in!

We want to expose her to as much as we can not only to help her develop but also to acquire a fondness for doing things.  Part of this is reaction on my part: I was a lifeless lump as a child boy young man for most of my life, and I think it would be a service to her to teach her NOT to be.  There is more to life than sitting on the couch.

More importantly, every bit of stimulation we can give to her brain will help it to develop*.  So, we're planning a trip to a nearby "ranch" where she can get some sunshine and fresh air (the body needs development, too) as well as see all sorts of interesting animals.  Perhaps early next year we'll try "gymnastics" class for her.  We know that she likes music and dancing, so we'll try dance class when she's old enough.  I should note here that one of the many warnings we were given as prospective adoptive parents was that adopted children can easily be overstimulated and react badly to it (even something as mundane as a particular color can upset a child who might associate that color with a bad experience in the orphanage or foster home, or might remind him of abandonment or other painful separations).  Happily, Caroline doesn't seem to have this problem.

Of course, there's another trap to doing too much: we don't want to be "those parents" who make their child's life a misery to him by forcing him to spend every waking moment doing something "educational" because childhood is nothing but prep for getting into Harvard.  How to strike the balance?

Well, it's all a learning experience!

=====

(*) There is a theory that children who hear more words very early in life not only have a larger vocabulary but also have a better capacity for learning.  Maybe the theory is correct or maybe not, but we're not interested in taking chances.

http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/spring2003/TheEarlyCatastrophe.pdf

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The most vulnerable amongst us

Mexico said on Tuesday it had rescued 458 children from a vermin-infested refuge for abandoned boys and girls, some of whom it believes were sexually abused.

The attorney general's office said police and army troops raided a home known as "La Gran Familia" (The Big Family) in the western city of Zamora on Tuesday, following at least 50 complaints about its operators.

...

Five complaints by parents that the home would not return their children to them prompted authorities to act, he added.

The children in the refuge had to beg for money on the streets, eat unsanitary food and sleep on the floor among vermin, officials said. Some suffered sexual abuse, they added... [emphasis mine - JR]


And in our country:

FBI Director James Comey announced Monday the arrests of 281 suspected pimps and the rescue of 168 children in a weeklong sting operation aimed at sex trafficking, organized crime’s fastest-growing enterprise.

Many of the rescued children never were reported as missing, despite being under the supervision of the U.S. child welfare system.

...

The FBI effort has rescued more than 3,600 children overall and has resulted in more than 1,450 felony convictions and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in cash and property.

Most of the rescued children are U.S. citizens, as are those arrested, Mr. Comey said, indicating that the problem is not smuggling from abroad...  [emphasis mine - JR]

Personally, I'm in favor of taking people who do this sort of thing and hanging them by the neck until their bodies rot off the gallows.  Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority.

But what about The Authorities?  In the Mexican case, it took FIVE complaints before The Authorities would look into this alleged hellhole.  I appreciate that Mexico isn't a rich country, but surely SOMEBODY there is responsible for inspecting child shelters and orphanages.  Where were they?  What were they doing?  Other than their job, that is.

And what about here?  Thousands - THOUSANDS - of children who just sort of disappeared from the child welfare system to become sex slaves.  Didn't SOMEBODY notice that these children had gone missing?

These cases, it seems to me, don't point towards systems that are swamped, that are poor, that are overburdened (ah, the cry of government officials everywhere when things go pear-shaped: "We haven't got the funding!").  Rather, it points to apathy and criminal negligence by people who get paid to see to it that this sort of thing doesn't happen.  Thank God somebody finally did something, but for how many children was it too little, too late?

And, finally, what about the parents?  Are we to believe that all of these children were orphans, completely alone in the world?  Didn't their mothers and fathers have even the slightest spark of parental feeling, enough to pick up the phone to the police and - even anonymously - report their child as missing?

We need A LOT of rope.

Disney responds

A couple of weeks ago, we stopped by Downtown Disney while on holiday in Florida.  We discovered that the Bibbity-bobbity Boutique not only did not have any Mulan dolls or other items on its shelves but also did not offer a Mulan-themed "Princess Makeover".  I wrote to Disney about this.  As expected, they responded very quickly and courteously.  In summary, they told me:

1. Disney regrets that we had difficulty and understands how important a good experience is for the families and especially the children who visit

2. Mulan may be met "in person" at the China pavillion at Epcot

3. Mulan merchandise is available around the park and via mail order; "Cast Members" can help with this

4. The applicable "team" will be informed of my comments

I don't want to beat up on Disney.  Our brief visit to Downtown Disney was very nice: though there was construction going on, the park was clean, the "cast members" uniformly courteous, the food good, there were plenty of (ahem) retail opportunities for children of all ages (I should mention that my wife had to drag me away from the "Build Your Own Lightsabre" display), and we WERE able to get a limited edition Mulan doll in "Independence Day" garb to put away for a future birthday.  Their reply to my inquiries was, as I have said, very prompt and professional.  We certainly plan to take Caroline to Disney when she's a bit older and have every expectation that she will enjoy it.

Still, it seems to me that they ought to have the Mulan makeover available at the Bibbity-bobbity Boutique along with at least a shelf or two of Mulan dolls.  Perhaps the costs to Disney of doing so (keeping the costumes in various sizes as well as the dolls in inventory, training the makeover people, etc.) are rather higher than I think.

Oh, well: we don't always get what we want.




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Road Trips, Outings & Having Fun

I haven't posted in a couple weeks.  Those weeks have been filled with lots of new experiences for Caroline.  We took our first road trip.  First stop was Atlanta to visit our friends for swimming and a 4th of July cookout.

We stayed in a hotel with a swimming pool so that Caroline could go swimming.  She was unsure of what to think about the pool.  At least she didn't cry.




Caroline really enjoyed her first 4th of July Cookout.  She met our friends and loved them.


On July 5th we traveled South to Florida so that Caroline could meet Jim's Maternal Grandmother. 


We spent several days in Florida, which included a trip to Manatee Beach and Downtown Disney.  Caroline was not a fan of the beach, but she did seem to enjoy the food at Downtown Disney.



 

Since we've been back from Florida, Caroline has been trying to say lots of new words.  She surprised me by pointing at herself and saying "Careline" a few times.  I was one proud Mama.

Yesterday, we thought we would see if she liked the Children's Museum.  The outing was a total success.  She loved all the toys and seeing all the new kids.

 






Last night before bed, we decided to see how Caroline would like the little pink coupe.  She loved it.  She knew just what to do.  That makes us think that she had played with one in China.

 
 
 

Jim is off work today, so I'm taking a half day from work and we are all going to the Farmer's Market.  Caroline loves veggies, so we hope she will enjoy the Market too.  This weekend she gets to meet 2 of her cousins.

Have a great day!

Chrystal

Friday, July 11, 2014

Things People Say to Adoptees and Adoptive Familes

Via Red Thread Broken, this helpful video:



In a similar vein:

 
 
It seems to me that there are three kinds of people in this sort of situation:
 
1.  The friendly / curious who may be adoptive parents themselves* or are considering it;
 
2.  The insufferable busybodies, and;
 
3.  The intentionally hurtful / impertinent
 
Those in the first category deserve a civil answer.  The others... Well, I can't punch them in the mouth or sic the grandmothers on them (this would, I think, rise to the level of an atrocity that would get the attention of the World Court and the UN; no need for all of that).  So, what to do?  My daughter will learn from me how she should respond and, more importantly, how she ought to feel about being an adoptee.
 
 
=====
 
(*) My wife and I often remark to each other how we've developed radar for children who don't look like their parents (or, at least, the adults they are with): "Do you think they adopted, too?" Yet, it's awkward to say anything as we don't want to be boorish and invade somebody's privacy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mulan and Disney World

For the Independence Day weekend, my wife and I took a trip to visit my relatives in Florida.  As our hotel was not far from Downtown Disney, we took a short trip there to have lunch, see the sights, and meet another family that Chrystal knows from her photo club.  Though Caroline is still a little young for a "Princess Makeover", we stopped by that shop to look into it and perhaps buy a Mulan costume for Halloween and a doll for a future birthday.  Imagine our surprise when we found that, not only is a Mulan makeover not offered, the shelves were quite bare of Mulan-related merchandise (though we eventually did find and buy a Mulan doll in another shop).

I have written to Disney World about this and will post their response; as I prefer actual letters to e-mail for my correspondence, it may take some little time.  I understand that Mulan is not their most popular movie, and I can also understand that not many little girls in this country long to be dressed as a Chinese "princess".  Still, I would think that there are enough people who ARE interested in this to at least offer the makeover and a shelf of Mulan and Mushu dolls.

From a humorous perspective, this want of pre-packaged costume provides ol' Baba an opportunity to provide it...

[phone rings]

SELF: Hello?

PRINCIPAL SMITH: Mr. R?  This is Joe Smith, Caroline's ---

SELF: Oh, dear Lord, what's she done now?

SMITH: Um, well, in this case, it's nothing SHE'S done.  It's her Halloween costume.

SELF [relieved and proud]: Oh!  Thank heavens for that... Yes!  Pretty neat, isn't it?  It took me some time to put it all together.  She's Hua Mulan, you know.

SMITH: Er... Yes.  It's quite... um... authentic.  That's the problem.

SELF: Oh?

SMITH:  Yes.  For one thing, it seems that she finds it hard to walk in that much armor.  She fell over at recess, and we had to get both of the PE coaches to help put her back on her feet.

SELF: Well, chain mail isn't light, you know.  I don't think the Chinese had discovered aluminum alloys at that time.

SMITH: You're probably right.  But the real problem is the sword ---

SELF [learnedly] : It's a jian, the Chinese double-edged sword.  I thought that Mulan would be more likely to carry one of those than a dao, which is the single-edged sword, rather more like a cutlass or a heavy sabre.

SMITH: Ah.  Didn't know that.  Learn something new every day... Well, be that as it may, we really can't have her walking around with a real sword.

SELF: She didn't hit anybody with it, did she?  I TOLD her not to...

From a less humorous perspective, does all of this say anything about stereotypes?  Should I, for example, assume that my daughter will like / want to dress as Mulan*?  Should Disney assume that only little girls of Asian (and especially Chinese) heritage would want to dress as Mulan?  Or that only girls of American Indian heritage would want to dress as Pocahontas?  At what point do little girls start to think, "I can't be her because she's --- and I'm ---"?

It may be that my daughter will want to dress as Elsa or Anna or whatever "princess" is hot at the theatres in a few years.  Who knows?

Still... Mulan in armor WOULD be a great costume for Halloween, though I suppose some people might think that it's less "trick or treat" and more "your candy or your life"!

=====

(*) Frankly, Mulan strikes me as the most admirable of the various "princesses", far more worth emulating than, say, Snow White or Cinderella who sat around waiting for a prince to show up.  And don't even get me started on that dimwit Anna from "Frozen"...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Like a girl

My family are Southern.  It has always amazed me that people have the stereotype of Southern women that they are fainting, helpless, delicate creatures.  In my experience, quite the opposite is true.  I don't say that any of them keep a Confederate pistol under her blankets like the fictional Mrs. Dubose of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I wouldn't put it past them!  So, having the task of raising a girl before me, this caught my interest:
If you tell Lauren Greenfield that she runs or fights or talks "like a girl," she'll probably say thank you. After all, she is responsible for the fact that over 13 million people are now reconsidering what that phrase really means.
The subject at hand is a PSA that asks people - including young girls - to perform various actions "like a girl".  While older people of both sexes demonstrated stereotypes when asked to run or throw or fight like a girl, younger girls performed the actions in (for want of a better term) a normal manner.



So, how shall I teach my daughter to:

Run like a girl:

Florence Griffith Joyner (1959 - 1998); fastest woman in the world

Fight like a girl:

SGT Leigh Ann Hester, USA.  Silver Star, Iraq, June 2005
 
Drive like a girl:

Shirley Muldowney, "First Lady of Drag Racing"

Fly like a girl:

Hazel Ying Lee, first Chinese-American woman pilot, later WAAF

Do math and science like a girl:

Dr. Chien-Shiun Wu, "First Lady of Physics"

Lead like a girl:

Elizabeth I

Show courage like a girl:

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize 1991

And, OF COURSE, shoot like a girl: