Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Why choose IVF over adoption

This is a long post.  I’m sorry, but today, I have a lot to say.

I read a post on a website today, where this question (along with potential answers) was explored: 

Why are some people seemingly obsessed with having a biological child? They will spend literally thousands of dollars, be willing to endure miscarriages, be poked and prodded, etc in the name of having a baby that has their own DNA.As an adoptee, I have to tell you, IT HURTS. It hurts to see that people are literally willing to move mountains, go into huge debt, risk their health…..and some won’t even consider adoption. … or to them, it’s a “last resort”… I’ve just always wondered why for some, adoption is no biggie and for others, it feels like they’d rather be childless than ever adopt.

Here is my answer and it is one that we have wept over, cried out in exasperation over, and, if we were violent people, would probably have punched a wall or two over (as in, the frustration that has built up over this and has festered has evoked such a strong emotional response likely similar to the ones that make violent people "lose it").

We always knew we would not likely be able to conceive.  My Dr told me that very early in my PCOS diagnosis.  If it was to happen, it would not be easy.

From a young age, I had wanted to adopt.  My husband and I never dreamed of having a mini-us.  Adoption was chosen as an option (by no means a “last resort”) as it made sense to us.  We wanted children.  There are millions of children in the world needing families.  To us it was just one of those "everything in the world balances out" types of things.

We tried some hormone therapy, but not to any great extent, as we knew the possibilities were slim.  It was with easy acceptance of this that we decided that adoption was the direction in which we wished to head.

In 2002, we were approached by a colleague who was also an adoption agent.  He had been approached by a birth mother, and, having just started his adoption agency practice, did not yet have a large clientele base, and knew that this was something we had started looking into.  He proposed us and 2 other couples to the birth family, and they chose to meet with us. After an in person meeting, they chose us.  We had to rush to complete our homestudy and all of the other required documents, and embraced every moment of it, as this was us, finally building our family. Several months later, the baby was born, and the agent advised us.  We had a son.  We named him.  We announced the birth to all of our friends and family because the birth mother was unwavering right from the start.  With everything in place to bring our new son home (diaper bag packed, formula in fridge, carrier in the car etc. etc), we waited.  Then the call came: The birth father was having second thoughts.   Over the course of the next few weeks, the birthparents went back and forth on their decision, eventually choosing to parent the child.  We were heartbroken but supported their decision.  It was their decision to make and we trusted that they had not made it lightly.  We grieved.  A lot.  We felt this was our son (who was even born on my deceased's mother's birthday).  It was the hardest thing we've ever gone through. 

Many months later, we felt that we were ready to start a new adoption process.  We decided to go through public adoptions.  Our private homestudy was used by the new social worker, but she needed to update it as the requirements for public adoptions are different.  Although we were considered perfect for a private adoption, the "requirements" made us less appropriate for a public one. Firstly, the social worker felt we did not properly grieve the child that would ever grow in my belly.  The fact is that that child never existed.  I did not feel a sense of loss in terms of this fictitious child.  I had, however, felt grief over the failed adoption.   I had lost my mother less than a year before, with whom I was extremely close. Didn't any of that count? No.  Apparently, that was not real grief, and I would never be able to identify with my child's sense of grief over losing their birthparents.  Ok.

But there was more.  Our home was a story and a half, with a master bedroom upstairs and the second bedroom downstairs (although no further than 25 feet from each other).  Not appropriate.  “What if the child has night terrors?”  Apparently, we would not be able to be there quickly enough (which, since now understanding night terrors and having dealt with a child with night terrors, seems like a ridiculous argument).

We then turned our mind to adopting from China, thereby returning to our private social worker.  While we were in the homestudy process, we sold our house and moved into an apartment, waiting for our new home to be built.  While we were in that process, I decided to quit a job in a very toxic work environment, and start my own law practice.  So there were big changes in our lives, because we were in the process of developing a more stable and flexible life for ourselves and for our eventual child.  Bad move.  Change in residence and employment=lack of stability.  Apparently, it doesn’t matter if you are working towards something better.  So, our file was put on hold.

By 2005, we were finally able to restart the process. In our province, all international adoptions have to go though the provincial Family services authority.  So we needed to seek the approval of the very people who had denied us for a public adoption.  This approval did not come easily (although at this point, they did try to convince us to adopt a newly available sibling group they were having difficulty placing, while trying to discourage us from adopting internationally because people adopting internationally “are just trying to avoid the red tape”.  Uhm-what???).  We decided to carry on with our international adoption, and held our breath while they made their decision.  Their decision came half-heartedly (“we still don’t feel this is appropriate but we won’t go against the advice of your private social worker”).  Talk about a bittersweet feeling.  When we should have been celebrating, we had to do so while swallowing the insulting pill that had just been dealt.

In time, we got over the nastiness and started jubilating about the wonderful addition to come in our family.  By 2008, we finally had a referral for a beautiful 10 month old girl.  Our life changed.  We were so elated at the thought that we had a daughter!  But this came with its emotional challenges as well.  Remember 2002?  We were so close.  But then it got ripped away from us.  What if this did too?

We prepared for travel, being nervous at every little glitch.  And plenty of them came (I'm sure those will be the subject of another blog at some point).

On our adoption day, I remember standing in the room at the location where we were meeting the kids, and thinking: this is as far as we’ve ever gotten.  But until she is in our arms, it can all be taken away (what if they give us the wrong kid, what if she is ill, what if they say there’s been a mistake, what if they decide our file is incomplete? What if, what if, what if….)

Then, our daughter was placed in our arms.  And we cried.  And she cried. Then she yelled.  Then she kicked and shouted and pushed us away.  But I knew she was ours and we were hers.  No matter what she did, she was our daughter and we would go through whatever was necessary to make sure that she was as healthy, happy and comfortable as possible.  The road ahead wouldn’t be easy, but this was what we had signed up for.  100%.

Once our daughter reached the age of about  2, we decided we wanted to adopt again.  At this point, we didn’t have the same financial resources as we did when we started our first adoption process. We had additional debt, a mortgage, a business which suffered along with the crash in the property market.  We lived frugally, but our daughter never wanted for anything.  We couldn’t buy the most expensive gadgets, clothes and diapers, but our daughter had everything she needed, diapers on her bum and clean clothes that fit at all times.  We couldn’t afford big Christmas presents, but we showed her the importance of family and traditions around the holidays.  We bought our clothes and hers in thrift shops, and we saved up to do cool things as a family.  We couldn’t afford the filet mignon, but we could do wonders with ground or stewing beef and discovered the benefits of finding a good butcher, growing our own vegetables and buying in bulk.  We budgeted and made a game out of seeing how much we could save on our grocery bills each week while still getting everything we needed. We ate at home more instead of eating out.  We turned the heat down and wore big sweaters, and flannels to bed.  We played cards or games instead of watching tv, and used 2 for 1 coupons to go to the movies.

Then we decided to move back to our (much larger) hometown, to make a better life for ourselves and our family.  Our hometown was much more culturally diverse than where we’d been living, and that was really important to us in raising our daughter.  I got a well paying job, so we packed up and moved, before our daughter started school, so that she could start in her new city.   Less than a year and a half later, I got laid off.   So I had to start over.  We struggled but got ourselves back on top.  I got a better job, my husband did too.  We moved about every 2 years within the city, to try to move up to bigger places gradually.

Here we are today.  I am in a secure job that I love.  My husband has found the job of his dreams.  Our daughter is happy, healthy, well-adjusted, awesome kid.  We have an incredible connection to the Chinese community here, and our daughter attends Chinese School every Saturday in addition to participating in two different Chinese dance programs.  We are a strong family.  But we have a lot of debt. We make a fair amount, but still live frugally, because we’d rather pay off our debt than go bankrupt, if at all possible.  And there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So now, ask me why parents choose to go through IVF instead of adoption.

My answer is this.  Look at our background and history.  We have had to fight for every single part of our 1st adoption process, and now, we’re having to fight for our second.  We are still considered  “unstable” because of changes in employment and another recent move (from a 2 to a 3 bedroom, to accommodate a future child).  We have a lot of debt.  My inlaws, who adore our daughter, were difficult to convince that an international or domestic private adoption was the right option for us.  How challenging is it going to be to convince them that we are making the right decision about a public adoption? 

When the social worker comes over to start her new homestudy, will she notice that the dog smell left by the former tenants in our house?  Will she feel that our house is too small to bring in another child?  She will question whether we have the means to raise this child.   She will wonder which one of us will be taking parental leave.  She will pry into our personal lives, our relationship.  The questions we’ve already had to answer on the questionnaire were so invasive.   But we’ve done it before and accept that it is what it is.

But we worry.  We worry that we won’t be good enough.  We worry that we won’t be strong enough, healthy enough, financially stable enough.

We embark on this process, knowing what we might expect.  We also know that even though we have hundreds of hours of education already under our belt (including excellent parenting experience), we still have to attend a total of another 40 or so hours of training (most of which we’ve already done in another province.  But that, apparently, doesn’t count.)

And when our new province’s family services are going through their screening process, they’ll be calling our former province’s family services branch.  You  know, the ones who tried to stop us from parenting the first time?

So if I knew that there was a chance IVF might work, I would be doing it in a heartbeat.  I would do it to avoid having to justify my parenting skills, financial situation, residence, choices, relationship, etc.

It frustrates me when I see parents who are blessed with children and who mistreat them, neglect them, or make them feel like a burden.  I cringe when I see kids with soaking wet diapers, dirty clothes, hungry mouths and resolvable but unresolved health issues, in the care of their biological parents, with no consideration of whether they are good parents or not. 

As a family law mediator, I see parents using their kids as pawns.  I see parents who put their own needs ahead of their kids and are more concerned with getting even with the other parent than providing what’s in their kids’ best interest.   They never had to justify to anyone why they should be able to parent their kids.

I have friends who receive social assistance.  They have been welfare recipients for as long as I have known them.  They have 3 children.  They didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to get pregnant.  They didn’t have to think about what to say to person x or person y to make sure their pregnancy could continue advancing.    They didn’t have to worry and be careful to not say the wrong thing to so and so at the risk of that person saying that they would have to wait before having their baby.  I have no problem, at all with my friends having this luxury.  As a matter of fact, I am thrilled that they don’t have to go through what we’d have to go though, as they could lose their right to become parent, and that wouldn’t be fair.

I see ads all the time on posting websites, by single moms who are pregnant and are having to “start over”.  They are asking for everything, from pots and pans to beds and clothes.  No one tells them that maybe this isn’t the right time for them to be starting a family (or at least, no one who can impose this on them).

Yet, even with an excellent track record (our kid is pretty awesome, and if we could use her as a reference, we would!) of positive parenting, of beating the odds and not falling into a depression when most people would have, of not going bankrupt and choosing instead to cut our expenses so that we could repay our creditors, of allllll of these things, we still need to justify our ability to parent before we are able to be matched to another child.   

Parenting is seen as a right.  You can only have your right to parent taken away from you 1) if you abuse it; 2) if you are severely unwell; or  3) if you choose to give that right up. Well, if you are a biological parent (including a parent by IVF), that is.

If you are not a biological parent, let's be clear-you do not have a right to be a parent.  Someone has to allow you to do it.  You have to justify that you’re financially stable. You have to justify that you are mentally capable.  You have to justify that you live in the right kind of accommodations (often determined by a very subjective or blindly objective set of criteria). You have to justify that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure your child will be safe, happy, and healthy.  You have to plead your case to people who are not impartial by any stretch of the imagination, and you have to be prepared to be evaluated, watched, assessed, checked up on and researched even though you have never, ever, ever done anything in your life to hurt so much of a hair on a child (in other words, if CAS has been called on you in the past, I can understand why they may need to do these things, but where there is no such history, and, actually a strong indication that everything is peachy, it sucks to be on the receiving end of this scrutiny).

To be fair, I get it. I understand why it is so important to make sure that adoptive families are appropriate.  So many horror stories have happened before (and I’m sure even a few since) these measures were put in place.  Same goes for the training. I get it.

But when someone asks why families would choose IVF over adoption, my story is all I can offer.  For me, it has nothing to do with wanting a child who is my flesh and blood.  It has nothing to do with having a child who is half me and half my husband (as a matter of fact, our choice would be to do IVF with both sperm and donor eggs of people of chinese descent but apparently, that’s frowned upon because we’re caucasian).  I know that these are factors for other families, but our family’s reality is very different. 

So to a child (or adult adoptee) who feels unwanted because parents have chosen to have a baby grow in their belly instead of adopting them, you don’t need to tell us how much it hurts you to feel unwanted or less desirable than a birthchild.  We know.  In an obviously very different way, we feel it.  We feel it everytime we’re told that we are less desirable.  Not less desirable than couple A or couple B.  Less desirable than any other couple (there’s a difference between birthparents choosing another couple to parent their child because they have a different life than you do, and a social worker telling you that you can’t be chosen by anyone because you don’t even make the list).  Less desirable than birthparents, who obviously are the best option if at all possible.  Less desirable than a parent who has alcohol or drug dependancies, but is getting the help they need.  Less desirable than a parent who beat the crap out of their child but is taking Anger Management classes.  Less desirable than a parent who spent all their money on cigarettes and ipods for themselves, but accepts the help of food vouchers and food banks.  No one would want US as parents because we’ve moved more than once in the last 5 years. It stings for us too. And when you question why YOU would be less desirable, I weep.  Because you would be my first choice, and it saddens me that you can’t even know that.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The pressure of parenting in a family formed by adoption

(I wrote most of this over a year ago, but had never finished it.  A lot of things have changed since then, but I thought I would publish it anyway because it poses some important questions and food for thought.  Thanks for reading.)

Lately, I've seen numerous articles talking about how we need forget about the myth of "what makes a good mother" and embrace our fallible, often mistaking, self-embarrassing mothering selves.  One of those examples is here.

It always makes me ponder about the differences between parenting a biological child vs. parenting a child who was adopted.

As an adoptive mom, do I come more under scrutiny?  Or does it just feel that way???

I feel the need to constantly display good parenting skills (and even justifying them, if necessary) when in public.  This is a common feeling amongst mothers.  However, when I go through this, it is more than "I hope they don't think I'm a bad mother".  There is the added dimension of "I hope they don't wonder why I was allowed to adopt".

I doubt most bio moms think "I hope they don't wonder why I was blessed with this child".  Perhaps most of them never even realized how blessed they were to have that child.  When you've had to spend years of energy, money and sanity proving that you are going to be a fit parent, your child becomes a bit of a prize. It's like an NHL Team who has worked their butts off and finally wins the Stanley Cup.  There is always an expectation, the following season, that they will come out with a bang.  If they don't people wonder what happened.  What went wrong, what changes did they make, would they have won it if they had made those changes the year before?

Or think of beauty competitions-the winner has a reign for a year, and if it is discovered that she does something or has done something in the past that is less than respectable, she is shunned and sometimes, her crown is even stripped away.

Let's say I win an Apple Pie Baking contest at my local fair.  If I am seen buying pies at my local store a few weeks later, won't people wonder if I bought the one that won?

All those things seem fair to me.  So when I look at all we did to be able to adopt our amazing, perfect, wonderful daughter, she feels like a prize sometimes.  We worked so hard to grow our family, and we were rewarded for our heartache and hard work with this amazing kid.  (Alright adoptive parents-stop judging me.  I know this is not about me, its about her.  She is not a prize or a possession.  She is a human being who has suffered loss and tragedy and when I talk about her in this way, I trivialize that.  I know.  YOU can stop judging me too).

So it's clear I feel judged.  When I hobble off the bus with my daughter, I feel people are judging me for wanting to parent a child when I am having so many mobility issues myself.  When I take her to McDonald's I think they're judging me because I am overweight and she is so skinny ("for now", I think they must say).  When she asks me a question that I find embarrassing, I think that they're judging me for the way I raise her.
But I also feel judged by the adoption community.  I feel judged when I wish someone a happy "Gotcha Day" because even though we don't use that expression, some people do, and others feel it is inappropriate.  I feel judged when I even take the bus because "shouldn't I have enough money for a car if I adopted internationally?" (For the record, we do own a car, but in our city, buses are way more convenient).  I feel judged when I talk about our family dynamics, about our finances or about our values, because they may not match other people's.  I feel judged when I talk about our daughter and the fact that our family was formed by adoption, always afraid of using the wrong adoption-friendly language, because it may appear that I am stupid or that I don't care.  I feel judged when I try to correct my mother-in-law's inappropriate adoption language and she thinks I'm overreacting.  I feel judged when I talk about adopting again because my physical health is not the greatest and I'm afraid people will not feel that I can be a good mom even with debilitating arthritis (my mom sure was!).

So WHY do I feel so judged?

Regrettably, I think it is because I am a very judgmental person myself.  But interestingly, I think I am only judgmental when it comes to parenting.  Especially when I see people who would, quite universally, be seen as "bad" parents.  Woman comes on to the bus with a large stroller carrying a young child.  The child has a messy shirt, chocolate all over the lower half of his face, and is screaming like a banshee, rocking his stroller back and forth, clearly looking for attention.  Mom is busy texting someone on her cel phone.  When the child reaches for the cel-phone, she shouts at him, maybe even grabbing his hand, pushing it back towards him and telling him to sit back, and shut up and that she is busy.  I judge.  I wonder why God would bless her with a biological (presumably-because if she had adopted she would surely be a better parent-how snooty of me...) child and not me?  It seems I feel I am so much better than this stranger about whom I know nothing.  I have made a judgment exclusively on what I saw of this person in 10-15 minutes.  I never even spoke to her.

I hate that I am so judgmental.  Maybe that's why I think I'm being judged all the time.  I hate that feeling, and wonder, if I became less judgmental, would I feel less judged?

The games people play

Boys: listen up.

Women like to find a deal.  What I mean is that when we go out looking for something, and we find the exact thing we were looking for on sale 40%, 50%, or 75% off, we get a feeling inside that is very difficult to describe.  It is a feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, amazement and excitement all in one.  It makes us feel like a winner.  I think it must be close to the feeling of winning the Stanley Cup or Wimbledon.  It is thrilling beyond explanation.

A little game we like to play is the "let me show you how awesome I am" game.  This involves asking you how much you think we paid for the item (alternatively phrased as "how much would you think is a good price to pay for this item").  Here's the thing:  if you love your lady, you must play along.

In the event where your lady feels you may not be familiar with how much these items usually go for, she might help you out.  She may suggest to you what she's paid for this type of thing in the past.  Or she may tell you what the regular price is for this item at another store.  

Then, when she asks you the magical question, kindly remember that you are to aim high.  For God's sake!  AIM HIGH!!!!!  If you don't, mark my words, you WILL piss her off!!!  

So when your lady says: Baby these cake mixes are usually 3.99 each!  And these cookies are usually $4.99 each!  I know how much you love cookies and cakes, so I got these for you and stocked up!  How much do you think these 5 cake mixes and 8 boxes of cookies cost?  C'mon!  How much???

The answer, in this particular scenario, is not: "Uh-I don't know, 12 bucks?"


That is most definitely NOT the correct answer.

Because suddenly, I (uh, I mean she) feel(s)  that the $60 worth of food I (she) just bought was not really a good deal at $15.  And that is Bullshit.

Another trip to China we took in 2014

How strange that I took a hiatus of exactly one year before returning to blogging.  My last post was a year ago tomorrow...

In the mean time, we've had another awesome trip to China!  In January of this year, J and I embarked on another Chinese adventure.  My very good friend, X, was getting married in Tianjin, which is just a few hours east of Beijing.  We were invited to come up for the wedding and to stay with X's family, who didn't speak English (although her father did speak it a bit, but in a very, very limited way-we certainly could not have a conversation).  We were in China for two weeks (including the 4 days we took a little trip into Beijing) and were there for Chinese New Year.  It was a wonderful adventure, during which we got to the Great Wall again (but this time at Mutianyu instead of Badaling, which we found to be less esthetically pleasing but wayyyyy more fun!) and to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was a cool adventure, mostly because of the fact that the last time I went there, in 2008, we didn't want to be there.  We just went because it was on the same day as Tiananmen Square, and we wanted to see the Square (in the end, we had ended up missing it because we thought it would be at the end of the tour and ended up being at the beginning as a result of the new rules about entering only at the South entrance-but that is a blog for another day).  This time, we researched it, had a map of it on my tablet, and made conscious decisions about what we were going to take time to look at.  As a lawyer, seeing where historically the court used to be held was quite thrilling for me (and for J) and J developped a new obsession with Empresses (leading to an Empress-themed birthday party upon our return in February).  and all my research about the potential scams was very useful in not getting caught in them!

Chinese New Year in Tianjin is all about the firecrackers.  They are everywhere and they went off pretty much the whole time we were there, with the peak being from 10pm on New Year's Eve until about 1 am on New Year's day.  And if the air quality wasn't bad enough before then, ohhhhhh boy, did it ever get nasty around that time!  Speaking of which, this was the first time that I travelled with a pollution mask and with a preventative puffer for my asthma, and it was awesome.  Healthiest trip to China so far, despite the air quality being worse this year than pretty much ever.  That is, until a few days before we came home when J and I both came down with a cold.  We were very feverish for a couple of days, so we were worried that we may not be able to board the plane home, but it all worked out.

Our Hotel in Beijing was a neat little spot where we paid $27 per night for a basic room with two single beds, a desk, a kettle, a tv and  a private bathroom.  It was the Jade International Youth Hotel and Hostel (meaning they had hotel and hostel/dorm type rooms).  Although it was $27 per night, we had 2 $25 hotel vouchers from Flight Network (who, btw, were awesome, including matching a very very low price of a competitor after their price went up substantially and I wanted to add my daughter to my flight), so the room was basically almost free for 2 of our 3 nights there.   It was right amongst the hutongs just a couple of blocks outside the Forbidden City. I couldn't believe how lucky we were to have found this little gem.  It was a disaster to find geographically, fairly far from the subway, and getting a cab to come to the hotel to pick us up was pretty much impossible, but we had the best walks and the neighbourhood was ridiculously cool.  There were lots of stores and restaurants nearby and when we were in our room or in the lobby, we were comfortable.  I would highly recommend it (but be careful as there are some other similarly named hotels that are often confused for this one, especially by taxi drivers).

One of the coolest things I got to do while in Beijing was spend some time at the New Day Foster Home just south of Beijing.  New day is an exceptionally well-run foster home, caring for children who have special needs and who are referred to them when others (including some orphanages) cannot care for them.  They raise funds to pay for life-saving surgeries and have excellent rehabilitation programs and staff to provide excellent care to the children in the home. I had been following them on Facebook for a couple of years, and I was so very excited to go visit them.  Before I went, I had just regained some of my mobility in my hands, so I started knitting again.  I decided I would make scarves for the children in the home.  As I progressed, i realized I might need help.  So I appealed to friends and fellow church goers for funds to pay for some medical supplies for the home as well as for knitters to help me knit scarves for the children, and for the nannies too.  The outpouring of generosity was amazing!  We raised hundreds of dollars for medical supplies, and brought over a hundred items of warm clothing (hats, scarves, mittens, etc) as well as toys for the children, costumes, clothing, etc.  Our donations took up an entire large suitcase and a second bag.

I had hoped to volunteer at the home for a couple of days, but once I decided to take J with me, that was the end of that, as outside children under 12 are not permitted in the home.  I nevertheless had a great opportunity to spend time there and fell in love with Lucy and Melinda (now named Cora-Jo), and was fortunate enough to witness the mischievous escapades of Brandon and Daniel (now named Lucas).  It was so great to also meet kids like Esther and Austin, whose progress makes me so happy to support such a wonderful cause.

It was nice to experience another part of China, although it was much less meaningful for us than our previous trip to the south of China.  I did, however, find it easier to communicate because I have been taught by Northern (Beijing) Mandarin teachers (a fact which had made Guangzhou quite difficult to navigate at times).   We were also spoiled by my friend's family who cooked elaborate meals for us, gave us gifts and patiently listened to me blubber away in my broken Mandarin complimenting me on how well I was doing (even though we were all painfully aware that I wasn't, lol!)

I also learned that in addition to dialect differences, one of the differences in language between communities can be something as simple as tone of voice and expression.  For example, everyone laughed when I claimed that I felt people were mad at me in Tianjin stores.  Turns out that when Tianjin people talk, they speak very roughly and in a loud and forceful manner.  It's got nothing to do with how they feel.  It's just the way they speak.

There was one day when I was a bit frustrated at my hosts, but it's a difficult thing because I was upset with them being "too" nice to us.  When I travel, i like to take matters into my own hands.  I am a very independent and sometimes adventurous (although generally safe) traveler.  I enjoy planning out an itinerary and figuring out how to use public transit.  Sometimes, I get lost.  But because, especially in China, I tend to stay in very populated areas, getting lost is no big deal as there are always people around who can help me find my way, even when they don't speak English.  I love the feeling of finding my way after being lost!  It is so exhilarating!  and I spend a lot of time doing research before I travel so that if I do get lost, I have numerous points of reference, for example, on maps.  I always print out out (or ave on my tablet or phone) maps of the area in which I will be wandering so that I can point to it if I am lost.  And my basic Mandarin is enough for me to be able to communicate if I do get lost, to at least get myself to a familiar spot (especially when I've brushed up on it, which I always do before every trip).

So on this particular day, I had spent hours researching the area in which I was going to be shopping and mastering the key words I needed to find a particular item I was looking for.  I had maps and instructions from the front door of the building I was staying at to the location I wanted to get to, to another location, and back to our building.  It was all laid out on individual cue cards, with alternatives if I decided to change the order, etc, etc.

When I got to the breakfast table, I was told that the family I was staying with had made arrangements for us to be accompanied by the daughter of a friend of the family, who was studying English at University.  We would be driven wherever we wished to go and she would be with us the whole day.  Ugh!    Nooooooooo!!!!!!  I wanted some alone-time with my daughter!  At this point we had been with other people for a week and a half, except our 4 days in Beijing, and I really, really wanted to experience Tianjin on my own with J!  But arrangements had been made.  So we went out with this delightful young lady who was fantastic.  Although I felt we did not do what we had wanted to do, she was great at helping us with whatever we were looking for and really did what she had been asked to do by our host family.  Unfortunately, I don't think I showed enough gratitude towards her.  I was visibly upset and I wish I had been more appreciative towards her.  She was a very sweet and wonderful young lady, with awesome prospects ahead of her, based on her great command of English.  I hope I will get to meet her again someday, to tell her how much I really did appreciate her help finding my daughter some elusive red Chinese dance shoes....

We are so thankful to have had all of the opportunities we have had this time around.  For years, I thought that I had left a part of my heart in China and that's why I had to go back.  Now I see that I just get more and more smitten with it every time I go.

We're planning another trip to China, this time with hubby!  It will be in late 2015 or early 2016.  This time, we will go back to our daughter's birth city (Guigang), explore more of her province of Guangxi (especially Guilin, which everyone keeps telling us we are fools for having missed) and a visit to our former exchange student in Hong Kong.  We're already planning that one, and that is what will keep me same until we get there again :-)

Have I mentioned how much I love China?

Just checking....