Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It's That Time of Year Again...

...the saddest time of year for those of us who live abroad.

Since we moved to Asia (almost 11 years ago), we've had our fair share of hellos and goodbyes. It's an occupational hazard of choosing to live life outside of your home country: you're also choosing a life of constant greetings and farewells with family and friends back home, friends in your new home, visitors, co-workers who are only with you for a season. It's a year-round problem, but June definitely marks the highest volumes of goodbyes as the school years winds down and families use the summer months to transition to new homes, jobs, and places of service. When our kids hug their friends goodbye on the last day of school, they are often not just saying goodbye for the summer--they are saying goodbye forever, or at least for the foreseeable future. One of the hardest parts of living overseas is watching my boys grieve over lost friendships again and again. These third-culture kids of ours, they are friendly and adaptable and form friendships fast and deep, and though they've had to farewell dozens of friends over the years, it never gets easier. L will be saying goodbye to his best friend who is moving to another city down the island; A will say goodbye to a few classmates who are moving to other schools or other countries. These sweet boys are already dreading these farewells and the loss of special friendships. We grown-ups have also been saying farewell to co-workers moving to new jobs in far-away countries, to friends moving to other cities or back to their home countries. It's heart-wrenching and we don't get better at it the more we do it. We just bear it.

On the plus side, this is also the time of year we get to visit family and friends in our other homes: the Lone Star State and New Mexico. We are packing up our bags, cleaning out the fridge, gathering fun treats and gifts to share with those we love, and organizing lots of logistics like doctor's appointments and transportation and driver's license renewals in the US. The boys are thrilled about getting to see grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles, and we are, too. We are looking forward to Mexican food, ice cream (though sadly not Bluebell this time!), driving through wide open farmland, 4th of July fireworks, and lots of hugs from people close to our hearts but far from are address. 

The last time we landed in the US, back in December of 2012. Little guy had been a US citizen all of 5 minutes when this photo was taken.

It's funny, this transitory life we lead: always saying goodbye to one home and hello to another, happy wherever we are but always missing other places and people, bits of our hearts scattered everywhere dear friends have landed. We love Taiwan; we love Texas; but we are never truly, 100% at home in either, or anywhere else. Our hearts are divided between amazing places with amazing people and always will be. And that's okay. It's a gift to have lived in and deeply loved two  places so much, so fully, even though it means we'll always be missing what we don't have a little bit.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Shortest Years

A few weeks ago, my baby started full-day preschool at our local public school.


Getting fitted for his indoor shoes, a requirement here.

Finding his cubby




We moved to Taipei 6.5 years ago this month.  A was barely 4; L was just an infant. I was in the middle of the mother-of-preschooler years and was feeling quite overwhelmed with it all. The boys both seemed busier than the average child (it was not unusual to find my 10-month-old baby perched on top of the dining table or piano, or my 4-year-old on top of the 9-foot courtyard walls; ER visits were a matter of course for us) and they kept me running all day. The sun rises early in Taipei (by 5 in the summer), and so the boys did too, leaving me perpetually tired. Mike had just started a new position and was traveling up to 3 months a year, often leaving me and the boys to fend for ourselves in a new city where the culture was different, the friends few, the language largely unfamiliar, the days long and hot and hard to fill.

We had only been in Taipei a few weeks when Mike had to travel to meetings in Thailand. During his absence, I unpacked in our new apartment and weathered both a large earthquake and a typhoon that made a direct hit on our island, all while chasing two very small, very active boys. School started that week, and I looked a bit longingly at my neighbors who were sending their elementary-aged children off to school. A had just a year left at home before he would start kindergarten, but L, because of when his birthday fell, had 5 more years.  5 more years! I thought to myself.  How will I ever survive this season?  Each day was so long, so full, so exhausting.  So rewarding as well, it goes without saying, but this mama was tired, and the long season of long days seemed to stretch on forever in that moment.

But then the day came. I rose early, and packed 3 backpacks, 3 water bottles, signed 3 communication books.  I laid out 3 sets of school clothes, 3 pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of socks.  I sat in my office, watched the brilliant sun begin to peek over the high-rise apartment building opposite ours, and reflected in the brief moment between daybreak and the sound of little voices waking.  In the blink of an eye, we went from having a household of tiny children to having 3 out of 3 boys in school all day.

Precious brothers and friends, sharing lunch on a family hike


How did that happen?

My boys' at-home days just slipped away through my fingers, one by one by one without my even realizing it, until one early morning I rose to get all 3 children off to school for the first time. And just like that, my days as a mom-of-preschoolers are over.

Where did these giants come from?
Every single day of the last decade was long.

But I never knew just how short the years would be.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Adoption Blogging: Why I Won't Share Much about Our Son's Story

I do occasionally share about N's birth history and family background with friends and family, in face-to-face conversations. I do sometimes have to disclose some intimate aspects of his life to medical professionals and occasionally to teachers or others who interact with him on a regular, personal level. But I don't do it in public spaces, I don't do it online, and I won't do it here. And here are a few reasons why.

1. His background is not my platform
N transformed our lives. We are different people than we were before we met him. And our story to him and with him is part of who I am and what I write about. But his background? That's his. I don't have a right to use his history before he joined our family as my own material, and I never want to reduce the complexities of his early life to further my own endeavors. 

2. Children have a right to privacy
I used to have a family blog where I shared quite openly about my children. Their names, their schools, funny things they did and said, embarrassing stories and silly anecdotes to amuse my readers and record my own memories of their precious and fleeting childhood days. 

But then my babies starting growing up, and I realized the power of Google and suddenly wanted to take most of it back. My oldest son started computer class at school and he and his friends quickly learned how to search each other's names on the internet and all of those treasured family moments were available for all of his friends' reading enjoyment: potty training stories and girls he had liked and nicknames he wanted to keep private were there for all to see. 

And it dawned on me that my children have a right to their own stories. They have a right to keep their histories to themselves and to choose who gets the privilege of hearing them. And they have a right to keep teenage bullies and prospective employers and future girlfriends from seeing their whole lives from infancy laid out online for public consumption. This is perhaps even more important for my youngest son, whose background is so different from his brothers and from future classmates and workmates and soulmates. His privacy matters to me, and I'll do my best to protect it.

3. His birth family deserve respect
His birth parents are real people. They are complex, and any attempt to filter their story through my narrow lens would be disrespectful to them. It's all to easy to reduce someone (especially someone I don't know well) to a caricature, to manipulate their story into a formula or stereotype or a pithy soundbite. And I never want to do that to them. N's birth family are always going to be his family; they are part of him, of all of us. And I don't want to appropriate their experience and make it my own. They own the rights to their stories too.

4. He is more than his birth story
I don't ever want N to be ashamed of his background. It's not something to hide or be embarrassed about or cover up. But at the same time, I don't want the world's impression of him to be filtered through his story. He has the right to be seen and heard and known for who he is, independent of his birth story OR in light of how it's shaped him, if he chooses to disclose that information.

In the end, it's not my story. It's his. N's early life was filled with losses: his birth family, his birth history, his birth culture and language (though we're trying to do what we can do rectify that), and more. But he hasn't lost his right to his own story, and we're not going to take that from him. He hasn't lost his voice, and I'm not going to speak over him. He has the right to ownership of his own story; he has the right to share what he wants to share, and with whom, and when, and how. I love (LOVE) talking about adoption and all of the beautiful, broken pieces that have made up our journey with N, but some things? Are just not for everyone to know.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

One Small Lantern

I've blogged off and on for years. Way back in 2006, our family (only 3 of us then) moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and we started a family blog to help our families keep up with us. Eventually I retired that blog due to privacy concerns (oh, the things we share when our children are small and we don't think of them being big and google-able); I started a new blog, wasn't happy with it, and finally landed here. And then...I kind of stopped writing. I post a little here, a little there, but it's sporadic and honestly, I'm not really sure what I want this space to be. Is it a family blog? Is it an adoption blog? Is it an expat blog, or a travel blog, or a mommy blog? Do I write about the day-to-day? Should I write about "big" issues? Do I even have authority to do so? I felt paralyzed by indecision, by perfectionism, by a feeling that I didn't really have anything much to say...and aren't there better uses of my time anyway? So I just didn't write anything.

But.

I need to write. Even if I don't have all that much to say, even if my audience is 3 people, even if my thoughts are scattered and I never find a true focus, a platform, an "angle"...I have thoughts and, for some odd reason, I have a desire to share them. To put ideas out there. To process life through my  pen  keyboard and connect with others and their thoughts. Even if what I have to say is small...my scope narrow...my audience limited...I need to say it. Or rather, write it, in this quiet little corner of the internet.

And so, I will. It may not always be regular, it may not be what people want to read, it may not be perfect or polished or powerful, but I will start writing. I am just one person...just one small lantern...but I will raise my voice, my pen, my light and see what happens.


Stay tuned.



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Monday, March 9, 2015

Adoption in Taiwan: An Overview

I'm an adoptive mom of a Taiwanese son, an expat living in Taiwan, and frequently volunteer at a Taipei children's shelter, so people often ask me about adoption in Taiwan and how to get started. I'm going to attempt to lay out what I know in this post in the hopes that it may be a useful resource to others who are considering adoption from Taiwan.

Disclaimers:

1. It has been over 2 years since we completed the adoption of our son and a lot has changed since then (the adoption laws in Taiwan were altered dramatically during our process). I will attempt to post the most up-to-date information I have, but be aware that I'm not an adoption professional and am a couple of years removed from being in-process myself. 
2. I'm an American and went through the process for US citizens, thus, this post will focus on the process for Americans.. Every country is different and has very different guidelines for international adoption, recognition of said adoption, and acquiring immigration permission and citizenship for your adopted child. If you're not an American, please research your country's policies for adopting and immigrating a child before proceeding.

The Basics for the Prospective Parents

You must be at least 20 years older than the prospective adoptive child.
Single and married parents are eligible.
You must have a stable residence, sufficient income, and at least one spouse must be employed (you will be required to provide paperwork such as bank statements, mortgage or lease agreements, and tax documents to prove your financial ability to care for a child).

The Basics for the Prospective Adoptive Child

The child must have papers proving relinquishment by the biological mother if she is alive and her whereabouts are known. (This precludes most children in children's homes in Taiwan from being adoptable--a significant number have not been legally relinquished by their birth parents.)
The child cannot be directly related to the prospective adoptive parents.

The Process
Whether you live in the US or you're an expat in Taiwan, the overall process generally looks the same. The US Department of State lists the steps here:
  1. Choose an adoption service provider
  2. Apply to be found eligible to adopt
  3. Be matched with a child
  4. File the Form I-600 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to initiate the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) prior to filing an adoption case with the courts
  5. Adopt the child in Taiwan
  6. Receive final approval of your Form I-600
  7. Obtain visa and bring your child home

If you currently live in the US...
You need to find a US adoption service provider (agency) that processes adoptions from Taiwan. A Google search will turn up many options. Wasatch, Gladney, Heartsent, Lifeline, All Blessings International, For Every Child, and WACAP are just a few of the options. Do your research diligently before choosing an agency, and search adoption forums for reviews from other adoptive parents.

Be aware that there are only 6 licensed agencies in Taiwan that can process adoptions; the agency you choose in the US MUST work with one of these 6 agencies:

Child Welfare League Foundation
Chung Yi Social Welfare Foundation
Good Shepherd Welfare Services Tainan Babies' Home
The Home of God's Love
Christian Salvation Services
Cathwel Service 

Your agency will walk you through all of the steps listed above to complete your adoption. The adoption timeline varies, but it's generally a 1-2 year process from the time you begin until you come to pick up your child. Be aware that some districts in Taiwan are now requiring 2 trips to Taiwan: one for the court date, and a second trip to pick up your child.


If you currently live in Taiwan...
Now, you might expect the process to be smoother, less expensive, faster, and more simple if you live in Taiwan. Alas...this is not the case, I'm afraid. Here are a few details that you will need to keep in mind:

1. Generally speaking, Americans living in Taiwan are required to go through the SAME process as Americans living in America (or any other country). Even if you live next door to one of the 6 licensed agencies, even if you foster a child here, even if you have "contacts," you will probably still need to choose a US-based adoption agency to process your adoption. *(See below for a possible exception.)


2. You will need 2 homestudies: One for the Taiwan courts and one to fulfill US requirements. The Taiwan homestudy will be facilitated by the Taiwan-based agency. The US homestudy (a requirement for US immigration) will need to be done by a US-licensed social worker. We used Adopt Abroad for our US homestudy and flew in a social worker who is based in Japan. We had a good experience with them overall. Others have used a social worker at The Community Services Center in Taipei.

You will also need a Taiwan background check; more information here.

3. You are technically not allowed to identify a child for adoption, i.e. you cannot decide to adopt a child you have met at a child welfare institute. Prospective parents and children must be matched by an approved agency. There are exceptions made in certain cases if the child has special needs, but these exceptions are rare.

4. At some point after the adoption is completed, you will need to take your child back to the US in order to finish the immigration process. If your child receives an IR3 visa, they are a US citizen upon arrival in the US. You should receive a Certificate of Citizenship within a few weeks, and you can apply for a US passport, SS number, etc. at that time. If your child has an IR4 visa, however, you will need to do several more steps in order to complete their US citizenship process.

It is also highly recommended to complete a recognition of adoption/recognition of foreign decree/readoption (depending on your home state) in the US. This will allow your child to have a US birth certificate, which will make their lives easier in many ways.

________________________________________________________________________

The adoption process in Taiwan is not easy or inexpensive. However, it is fairly transparent, trustworthy, and straight-forward. If you have any questions I haven't answered here, feel free to contact me and I will do my best to assist.


*Of the 6 licensed agencies in Taiwan (listed above), I only know of 1 that *might* work with American expats in Taiwan without going through a US-based adoption agency: Child Welfare League Foundation. I've met three American expat families who are working with CWLF directly, under the condition that they use a social worker from The Community Services Center (link to their home study information page here). If you are able to work with CWLF directly, you may be able to cut out the step of using a US-based adoption agency--however, this may mean that you have a little more legwork to do regarding putting together paperwork and navigating the process. (Some have opted to work with a US-based agency just for their own peace of mind, but this does increase the cost considerably, of course.) If you live in Taiwan and are interested in pursuing this option, contact CWLF directly (English site here). Be aware that you will need to be open to older children and/or minor special needs.



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Monday, February 23, 2015

My Top Ten: Taiwan

When we visit the US or host guests here in Taiwan, we are usually asked, "What is your favorite thing about Taiwan?" or "What do you love about Taiwan?" While it's not perfect (no place is), Taiwan really is a great place to live and we have many "favorite things." We consider ourselves blessed to call this island nation home. We have always been followers of the philosophy "Love where you live"--no matter where that is or how hard a place it is to love!--but that's been a very easy task here.

During one seemingly-endless rainy streak I decided to think positive and came up with a list of my favorite things about Taiwan. In no particular order...

1. The Food

Don't shoot me, but as much as I enjoyed Thai food when we lived in Chiang Mai, for me it just doesn't compare to Chinese food. (Ducking as Thai-food apologists get ready to throw mangoes and sticky rice at me.) I craved Chinese food the whole time I was in Thailand and love being able to get yummy Chinese food whenever I want it. 


Dumplings are at the top of my list.



I'm also a big fan of bing--a shaved ice dessert covered in condensed milk and fresh fruit.

Photo courtesy Christina Parsley

2. The Fruit



Yes, I know...fruit is food. But the fruit in Taiwan is so good, it's earned its own bullet point. It's fresh. It's delicious. It's locally-grown year-round. And if you haven't ever tried a Taiwan mango...add it to your bucket list. They are amazing--like a sweet, tart, citrus-y peach. I've never loved fruit like I love a Taiwan mango.

3. The People

I find Taiwanese people to be generally friendly and eager to help. They are kind to their neighbors, kind to strangers, and kind to weird foreigners who bumble about their country making all kinds of cultural and language mistakes. I am often humbled by how welcoming people are to me here, especially when I think about how foreigners are often treated in America. Moreover, they are generally respectful of our children and don't give them the over-the-top attention we have sometimes experienced in other nearby countries.

4. The Weather

It rains (a lot). It's humid (sometimes unbearably so). It's really hot much of the year and sometimes uncomfortably chilly in the winter (50 degrees indoors gets pretty cool). BUT...we have seasons here, which is something we haven't always enjoyed in other countries we've lived in and I appreciate the variety. We get to wear jeans and sweaters. I can drink hot chocolate and cuddle under a blanket without having heat stroke in the winter. And sometimes, if I look in just the right place at just the right time, I can actually see a leaf changing colors.

5. The Scenery

Before I moved to Taiwan, I imagined a crowded, polluted, gray industrial zone. I wasn't ALL wrong (it can be very crowded...the air is sometimes polluted...it's frequently gray), but Taiwan has some amazing beauty on offer and is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been. Verdant green mountains, turquoise blue rivers, sandy beaches and rugged cliffs...this country is seriously beautiful.










Above photo courtesy Christina Parsley






And along those same lines...

6. ...the Proximity to Great Places to Visit



This might sound a little odd, but hear me out. There are not many places on earth with so many 1-Hour-or-Less bonuses. From our home in Taipei it is less than 1 hour to the mountains. It's less than 1 hour to the beach. It's less than 1 hour to a river. It's less than 1 hour to our favorite cliffs. It's less than 1 hour to a LOT of fun things, in part because Taiwan is pretty small, and in part because the roads are generally good and places are easily accessible. The city starts feeling crowded sometimes, but within an hour we can be swimming in the ocean or hiking in the mountains. We can easily do both in the same day.




7. The Markets


There are outdoor markets running almost 24 hours a day. The day markets--filled with just-caught fish; perfectly ripe local fruits, vegetables and herbs; freshly slaughtered meat (and yet-to-be-slaughtered chickens...just pick the one you want and the butcher will hack it up on the spot); and various dry goods--start selling early in the morning. About the time they start slowing down, the night markets open, hawking everything from fried snacks to tropical fruity teas to t-shirts with nonsensical messages to spiky-heeled shoes. By the time the night markets fully shut down, it's almost time for the day markets to open again. And the weekends are filled with flower markets, jade markets, art markets, antique markets, pet markets, organic food markets...if you want to shop, there is ALWAYS somewhere to go.


8. Universal Health Care and Mandated Recycling

Health care here is generally good, and it's incredibly cheap compared to the US. And I kind of like being forced (well, strongly encouraged) to recycle. Honestly, I have always been kind of lazy about recycling--it seemed like a lot of work. But here it's easy (we have sorting bins in our apartment building) and we're motivated by frugality: trash bags here are dispensed by the city and are expensive. The more you recycle, the less you throw away; the less you throw away, the fewer pricey trash bags you have to use. And, of course, the happier the environment is.

9. Feeling Safe

Taiwan has a very low crime rate, especially compared to where we're from. Taipei has an exceptionally low crime rate for a city of several million. I frequently walk home...by myself...at night...in the dark...with little concern for my personal safety. The main reason I feel so safe is because I am never alone--in a city this big, there are always lots and lots and lots of other people out walking around. Including children. At night. Walking home. Alone. Amazing, huh? Now, I may be at a 1000 times greater risk of being run over by a motorbike while walking on the sidewalk than I would be in America, but hey...no place is perfect, right?

10It's Never Boring

Where else can you find earthquakes, typhoons, dormant volcanoes, tsunami and flood risks...all in the same place? And at the same time, we live in a city that never sleeps--there is always something to do, somewhere to go, something to see, something to eat. :) From crazy gimmicks like toilet-themed restaurants...to the nightlife...to tai chi in the park...to festivals and holidays...you can't get bored here.

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So, what do you love about the place where you live? Fellow Taiwan residents, what would you add to your own Top Ten List?





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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Our Year in Review

-Mike transferred from Southwestern to Golden Gate Seminary and is now 5 classes closer to finishing his Master's degree. (And he's finally completed all of his languages! Goodbye, Greek!) He also took up cycling and put in over 1000 miles in the latter half of 2014!

-L is in his second year of elementary school and A is in his LAST YEAR of elementary school. (I'll have a middle schooler next year--what?!) They both started piano lessons (A decided to make the switch from violin) and soccer. 


-N started local, Mandarin-only public preschool and took to it like a champ. Next semester's challenge? Doing full day preschool including--GULP--naptime. (Boy hasn't napped in a couple of years, so this could be interesting.)


-L graduated from physical AND occupational therapy (woohoo!) and now only has weekly speech therapy sessions. He's passionate about his family, his friends, learning about natural disasters and chemistry, reading lots and lots of books, and finding ways to meet the needs he sees around him.


-N was diagnosed with a couple of related eye problems and started wearing glasses. Glasses, dimples, and that sweet little smile? Little man couldn't be any cuter. He loves running around from dawn until dusk, being noisy, playing soccer with his brothers, going on bike rides, making big messes, and giving big hugs to the people he loves.


-A fell head over heels in love this year...with soccer. World Cup Fever was strong at our house, and we spent many nights cheering on our favorite teams at 2 am. Ever since then, A has passionately followed the game, studied the players and history, and practiced the skills. He also loves his friends, his family, putting together presentations, learning about science and animals, trying to do the right thing, and reading his Bible.


-With my newly-free mornings (!) I volunteered at Harmony Home (a local shelter for marginalized and exploited women and children), worked, helped newly-arrived families settle in, wrote the copy for our new church website, and picked up my self-paced Mandarin studies. And I also started helping once a week in the library at the older boys' school, fulfilling a long-held dream of sitting behind the check-out desk and smelling books all day.


-We traveled, either individually or as a family, to the US, Hong Kong, China, and Thailand. The last 3 were all first-time visits for N! It's fun to see the world anew through his fresh eyes.


-We said goodbye to Mike's beloved grandmother, June (known to the younger generations as Meemo). She was a treasure: a lady of true integrity, sharp wit, sincere kindness, and inexhaustible curiosity about life. She is deeply missed.


-We welcomed our newest nephew, baby Nolan. That makes a grand total of 5 grandsons for my mom (no pink on my side of the family!), and 8 nieces and nephews for me and Mike.


-Mike and I wrote a new song that we hope will be used by others in our company over the next year. Recording started last week (NOT using my voice!).


-We made some big changes to our priorities this year, trying to give "Urgent" status to only those things that truly ARE urgent: our relationships with God and each other, our children, our health. We learned the hard way the danger of not putting those things first and have endeavored this year not to fall back into that trap. We're not perfect, but we're making progress.


Overall, 2014 was the smoothest year we've had in awhile. We've been reflecting on the things that "worked" for our family this year, and it's really the simple things: getting enough rest, scheduling quality time with each other and with the kids, investing in relationships with friends, exercising, spending regular time in the Word and with God. As we head into 2015, we'll keep trying to keep things simpler, living our lives with more intention and less stress. Our life is full and busy but we've learned it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Here's to living the next 12 months focused on loving our God, our family, and our community well and with purpose.



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