Tuesday, November 30, 2010

With love, from PooReun

This is a special post for our friends in Pusan.

In April 2008, the day after I'd met Joy for the second time, Dorothy and I travelled to Pusan to visit an orphanage, The Children's Home, or TCH. This was one of the photos I took that day.

The staff introduced the child to us as (we thought) "Prune." She was  one of Amy's roommates, and while I played with Amy, Prune played with Dorothy.

After our visit, on the drive back to the train station, Dorothy and I prayed that God would find a family for Prune. It was an impossible thing to pray. TCH, was not affiliated with any adoption agency and had never placed a child for adoption. But God in his wisdom routinely does the impossible. So we asked for families for Prune and Amy.

Fast forward two and a half years to last October. God had found a family for Amy and we had returned to Korea to meet them ( here and here). Together, we went back to TCH. I was sitting next to Amy's mom on the couch in the head nun's office looking through snapshots of Amy. The same little girl appeared in several of them and I asked Amy's mom who she was. She was one of Amy's friends from the orphanage, her mom explained.  After they adopted Amy, they took her roomate out sometimes on family outings so the girls could play together.

I stared at the picture of Amy's rommate and thought of the photos I'd taken in 2008. I asked if the little girl's name was something like "Prune"? The head nun entered the conversation."I had forgotten that you met Prune, too!" she said. "But she isn't here anymore. She's been adopted to America!"

Amy's family gave me the snapshots to take home. With the sketchy information the head nun remembered about her adoptive family, I passed the pictures to my agency, hoping they might recognize "Prune" and help me find her family. Less than 48 hours later, her mom contacted me.

PooReun, as you'll see in these recent pictures, is thriving in and very much loved by her family in America. Our friends in Pusan, these come to you with much love from PooReun and her family.

This post comes with my thanks to God, with whom all things are possible; to the staff at The Children's Home for their compassionate work with disabled children; and to PooReun's family for permission to share the photos and a little bit of her story.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Steve Morrison "In Defense of Adoption"

Over the past decade, Korean lawmakers have made significant changes to support unwed mothers who choose to raise their children and to promote domestic adoption. As a result, increasing numbers of Korean children are growing up in Korea. As a non-Korean adoptive mother, my heart agrees that this is right. By God's grace, our family has a lot to offer our adopted children. But we can't offer them first-hand immersion in their birth culture.

International precedent agrees. The 1993 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children is based on three premises:

Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

Recalling that each State should take, as a matter of priority, appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin,

Recognizing that intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found in his or her State of origin...

However, Korea has not signed the Hague Convention. Politically, there are competing visions on the third point: whether, for an orphan, finding a home in a family abroad is better than growing up an orphan in Korea.

The voices I find most compelling in this debate are those of people who have 'been there': adult adoptees. A number of adult Korean adoptees, speaking about their painful experiences growing up in families abroad dislocated from their birth culture, argue poignantly for keeping Korean children in Korea at all costs, including institutionalizing those who are not domestically adopted.

Steve Morrison may be alone among adult adoptees in being able to speak personally to the alternative. Morrison, homeless and alone in Korea at age five, was institutionalized at six and lived in an orphanage until he was adopted by a family in America at the age of 14. In the Fall 2010 issue of Korean Quarterly, Morrison tells his own story in the context of the current controversy in this article: "In Defense of Adoption" .

Morrison's article is powerful for me because we adopted all three of our Korean daughters through Childrens' Home Society and Family Service's Waiting International Child Program. Children like my girls wait for families abroad because they were born with special needs that are socially stigmatized in Korea. I want as many children as possible to grow up in families in Korea. Yet it is still rare that special-needs children are chosen for domestic adoption.

The truth is harsh: with the closure of Intercountry Adoption on the horizon, Korean children like mine may be growing up in institutions, not families. I want to do everything I can to help them find a family. A family in Korea first. A Korean family living abroad second. But if neither of those is possible, a family like mine.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Here I Am to Worship

Too many nights, coming downstairs from tucking-in, facing the remains of the day makes me sigh. 

Not tonight.

Tonight I got out my camera, then got down on my knees. And as I reshelved books, I realized I was singing:  "Here I am to bow down/ Here I am to worship/ Here I am to say that You're my God..."*

Joy has three older sisters and I can't recall my heart pausing to worship over their messes.

The night started like this. Joy fed herself cheese pizza for dinner. She's three and half and can finger-feed herself about as well as a 12 month old. (Worship. When we brought her home we didn't know if she would ever be able to do more than swallow milk from a bottle we held for her.)

When she finished dinner, she looked as you imagine: too messy for a washcloth. Clean-up was a sink job. Joy, who loves water, was thrilled to zoom through the kitchen, arms out like Superman flying to the sink. "Wash up! Wash up!" she squealed in excitement.

"What do we wash with?" I asked as always at the sink. Joy was too busy laughing and splashing to reply. So I answered aloud on her behalf, as I usually do, "We wash with water! Water makes things clean."

Washed up and dried off, Joy began to "talk." This also is typical: she responds to sensory stimulation with chatter. She has done this since she was a baby and every once in a while, a word rises up like a bubble, surfacing close enough to articulated speech that I can guess the general subject under discussion. Tonight I heard she was enamoured with "water" (it made sense) but understood nothing else.

Until half way up the stairs for pajamas, an intelligible phrase bubbled up: "...Wash it clean, clean, clean," Joy said.

I stopped mid-stair, the phrase brushing a distant memory. As if to help out, Joy repeated, "...Wash it clean, clean, clean!"

We looked at each other. My aging brain recalled a favorite book of Faith's when she was Joy's age, and dredged up the refrain. "Denzo! Denzo..."

Joy interrupted me to shout out "...Give me my yam!"

Astonished, I finished, "The yam that I grew on my mother's farm!" The yam the River Denzo swept away from the boy who took it down to the water to wash it clean, clean, clean.

Joy laughed and laughed, a special peal of delight she bestows like a crown jewel on the rare occasion one of us decodes what she's saying. (What she's been saying all along with great expression in deep faith that some day the obtuse people around her will "get it.")

Which brings me back to my knees worshipping amid spilled books.

I have never read Joy that folk story from the Caribbean. But I know Joy's PCA, K., has. And Grandma probably has, too. These faithful women come into our home each week and invest hours counting caps into a milk jug that when tipped, quacks like a duck. They name by color the butterflies on the mobile Joy loves to blow into motion. They sing "Old MacDonald," "The Wheels on the Bus," "Row, Row," and the Alphabet Song, skipping random letters to let Joy fill in the blank. They cozy on the couch with Joy in their lap and read a pile of books in the order she indicates ("This one or that one?" "That one!") as many times through ("Again!") as she wants.

So many times through, that my daughter who can barely speak has most of the books in circulation on our main floor memorized. So many times through, that given free time with shelves full of toys she can reach, Joy chooses to hike herself across the room, pulling with her forearms, to spend the last hour before bed propped on her elbows, taking books off the shelf one by one, turning the pages, reading aloud to herself while I accomplish lesser things like dishes and bibliography.

This mess is evidence of the capacity God has granted my little one who, at three and a half, still leaves drool on every  page because she's too engrossed in the story to remember to swallow.

It is one of the secrets of raising a developmentally delayed child that only the initiated --those blessed to be given such a gift --understand. Yes, they bring you to your knees over and over again.

But sometimes it is in worship.

"...Here I am to say that You're my God./ You're altogether lovely, altogether worthy./ Altogether wonderful to me."

*"Here I Am to Worship" by Tim Hughes. Kingsway Music, 2000.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Creativity Strikes

Faith's creativity is coming out everywhere these days: from Duct Tape creations to these fashion statements straight out of her own imagination.

I haven't given her lessons on the sewing machine yet so these are all hand sewn from thrift-store fabric finds. Can you guess what she's up to for Christmas?!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Childrens Home, Pusan

Two and half years ago, in April 2008, my friend Dorothy and I stepped onto the KTX (Korea's bullet train) bound for Pusan, South Korea. It was the beginning of an odyssey that is still unfurling.

I want to tell you about an orphanage that regularly runs over capacity because the nuns have a hard time turning children away.

But in this story, you will see almost no children. You'll just have to imagine the truth: I can't post most of my pictures.

The children are here: in the room next door where they've just been called to lunch, being pushed in a swing behind my back, doing therapy with one of the sisters (nuns) down the hall.

If these photos could take you inside, you'd hear the children laughing, crying, running, rolling, creeping, climbing, splashing, singing. 

You will also have to imagine why the children are here. In Korea, too often it is impossible for parents to raise a child born with visible special needs. Charities like TCH fill the need: a place to send these infants until they are old enough to enter the government orphanage system.

TCH has what its founders believe is a God-given call to do more than give an orphan a home for a few years. They have ambitious love: to give disabled children a future.

Their mission is to take disabled babies and to intensively rehabilitate them to achieve the highest level of function the child's disabilities allow in the three to five years the children are in their care.

TCH is succeeding. If you think growing up in an orphanage sounds hard, what would it be like if you were immobile? If you couldn't swallow? If you had no way to communicate your needs? TCH is filling a critical niche for the disabled orphans in Korea who are led to its gates.

Most of the stories from this place are not mine to tell. But maybe in heaven someday, there will be a grand reunion of people, all of us with whole, perfect bodies for the first time in our lives, praising God for this special place on earth: an orphanage perched in the hills high above the the city of Pusan, South Korea, called The Children's Home.

Click the "English" button on the blue bar at the top of the web page.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Today, God allowed us to make yet another amazing Korean connection for our girls. Maybe someday I’ll have another story to tell.
It took me back to a day six and a half years ago I wrote about for a waiting families newsletter…

Full Circle
May 31, 2004 was the highlight of our second trip to Korea: the day my husband and I were invited to visit our daughter Mercy’s foster home. Ten months later, as I write this, Mercy is making baby-jokes in English — “Beep! Beep!” (a nose); “Boo!” (peek-a-boo) — and I’m finally getting her coming-home photos into albums.
The pictures remind me that even getting to her foster home that day was memorable. The chauffeur who safely delivered us through Seoul to the outskirts of town must be distant kin to Mario Andretti. The twisty alleys were too narrow for cars to pass, almost too steep to climb on foot. Our foster mother’s apartment building, like much of Seoul, clung to the side of a mountain.
Inside, the brick building was as clean as a hospital. We started climbing stairs. On almost every landing an apartment door stood open; our social worker explained it meant someone was at home if neighbors cared to drop by. Two double-flights up, she stopped outside an open door: the apartment where our baby had spent more than half of her young life. The small pile of shoes in the hallway prompted us to take ours off before stepping up into the apartment onto the ondol floor. Our foster mother (who we’d met the day before) smiled at us from the kitchen, nodding toward an alcove, one finger held to her lips. Peering around the corner, we saw Mercy wide awake, greeting us near-strangers with a gummy smile.
Our foster mother was caring for two babies under the age of six months. Yet she had hand-rolled platters of Korean treats, cut small towers of fruit and squeezed fresh orange juice. She served us on a low lacquered table on the floor where we sat playing with Mercy. Our social worker cheerfully translated our questions and our foster mom’s stories —like how Mercy enjoyed a quick zip around the block on her foster father’s motorcycle!
Barely announced by a friendly tap on the door frame, a woman stepped into the apartment. She was a foster mom too, living across the alley, who’d come over to say goodbye to Mercy. Riding on her back was her foster son, one of the most beautiful boys I’d ever seen. Even with my own baby on my lap, I was smitten! Our social worker introduced him as Mercy's “boyfriend” who she played with every day. He was a waiting child; they were praying God would soon find his forever family.
The little boy was five months older than Mercy. While she sat quietly in my lap licking my rings, he cruised the room clapping, waving, patting us on the head. And I thought, “Why is this little boy still waiting? Whatever his special need, it is completely eclipsed by his personality!” Had the law allowed it, we would have taken him home, too! I settled for an extra roll of exposed film instead.
                        One short week later we were back home in Minnesota with Mercy. Our four year old daughter Faith was charmed (and only a wee bit jealous) of her new baby sister. When I developed the film, I discovered I’d taken six and half inches of pictures in Korea! My first sort yielded a short stack of the little boy from across the alley. I sent them to the director of our agency’s Waiting Child program, thinking the photos would go into his file and be given to his family someday. I was surprised a month later to find a note in our mailbox from that little boy’s adoptive parents. A few weeks after we returned from Korea, they accepted his referral. They were waiting to bring him home.
                        His mom and I emailed each other frequently during their long, long wait. Then last December, the fax machine at Children’s Home Society finally yielded the magic piece of paper: he was ready to come home. Into his parents’ flurry of last minute email, I slipped a request: say a little prayer over the babies at Eastern. By that time, we were waiting again for our next referral; maybe one of those babies was ours. She emailed from Seoul that when they toured the nursery, she asked if they could take home an extra baby. The social worker replied, “You can try. But we always check parents’ pockets!” They brought their son home in time for Christmas.
In a few weeks, Mercy and her “boyfriend” will meet again for the first time since those days they played together half way around the world —although at last report, he has already replaced Mercy with another (very kissable) little girlfriend from day care. His mom and I plan to take them to Children’s Home Society to thank the Korea Program staff, and to take more pictures in the place where their American stories came together.
While their stories are coming full-circle, yet another has begun. We met him before his parents did. His parents saw our new daughter even before her first picture was taken. Those babies they visited at Eastern last December? One of them was referred to us last month. We’ve named her Hope. Sometime in July my husband and I will have the privilege of visiting Korea again to bring her home.
Who will we meet in Seoul this time? New friends bringing home their own babies? New babies waiting for their forever families? It may be hard to imagine beyond that sweet face in the photos of the baby you are waiting for. But like that little boy slipping into our lives on his foster mother’s back, adoption comes bundled with the unexpected: other children, other families you will carry around on your heart forever.
(written early spring 2005)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Somerset Palace Seoul

Last January, ten months before our trip to Korea, I called Phil at KHRC and asked if he could book us two rooms at the Somerset Palace Seoul. With the G20 summit in Seoul spanning all ten days of our trip, I wasn't sure we could get rooms. We hoped for a three bedroom suite but best we could get was book two one bedroom suites with beds for three (knowing Joy would prefer her travel bed from home anyway).

Once we arrived and settled in, we learned why rooms at the Somerset are hard to book. It is a residence hotel, which made it perfect for our family during our stay in Seoul. (Each room is a small apartment.) But many of the rooms are booked months at a time by people like the American engineer we met who was in Seoul for a year consulting on a building project. Other blocks of rooms are booked 18 months in advance for conferences. So short-stay tourists like adopting and vacationing families have access to a fraction of the Somerset's rooms. Even so, it is worth trying to stay here.

This is a one bedroom suit for three. A one bedroom suite for two is identical except that the twin bed in the living room is replace with another chair and small table. There are louvered pocket doors that close between the bedroom and the living room.

The desk has a phone cable for connection to the Internet. (Or you can purchase wireless for about $20 a week.) There are only eastern outlets so pack conversion plugs. We had problems with our camera battery charger even using the adapters until we plugged it into a converter box.

This is the kitchen. It is fine for microwaving popcorn and boiling water, but don't expect to cook in it. There is no oven or dishwasher and the pots, pans, and utensils are very basic. The cupboards are stocked with dishes for four and the dining table seats two. This is adequate if you don't plan to do much cooking. But I expected more from a "fully equipped" kitchen. The washer/dryer is inside the louvered closet at the top of the photo. The shortest wash/dry cycle is 3.5 hours and even using the instruction manual and consulting the front desk, we couldn't find a way to work around the preset cycles that ended with the clothes wetter than damp-dry.  Next time I will pack not planning to wash clothes. The room has ample storage in built in dressers and closets for clothes and shoes.

One accessibility issue: the rooms have ondol (raised, heated) floors. So there is a three inch step between the small foyer and the rest of the room. For Joy's wheelchair, we'll have to bring a portable ramp, unless the hotel has fully accessible rooms elsewhere. It was odd because the hotel was otherwise accessible.

The Somerset has a lovely garden out back, and another up on the roof.

The pool is only three feet deep. There is also a hot tub and deck chairs, although it was chilly to swim in October! There are dining tables on the roof for picnics in warmer weather.

Besides the Somerset's great location on the western edge of Insadong, two amenities make it worth checking into. There is a complimentary International buffet breakfast in the guests' dining room on the second floor from 6-9 AM on weekdays and 6:30-9:30 on weekends. The American fare includes pancakes, french toast, omelets, toast, peanut butter, jelly, fresh fruit, juice, dry cereal and milk: a nice way for my non-adventurous eaters to start the day. The other half of the buffet includes salads, soups, rice, seaweed, kimchee, porridge and other things eaten world-over for breakfast. For the girls, breakfast always ended with a trip to the playroom with Grandma.

The Somerset also has a free shuttle bus that runs four times a day. Unfortunately, Grandma and I did not discover this until we'd made the 45 minute trek via subway to the Lotte Mart (grocery store) at Seoul Station. We would have had nearly door to door service and a fifteen minute ride on the shuttle. The bus schedule is posted on the bulletin board in the second floor hallway outside the dining room. Monday through Friday, the shuttle makes two morning runs that include the Kyobo Life building (Kyobo books and the Gwanghwamun subway station are in the basement), Namdaemun and City Hall (Seoul Station and Lotte Mart). Weekends, the runs include Dongdaemun Market and Itaewon.

Speaking of transportation, the subway station nearest the Somerset Palace is Anguk on the Orange Line. That is one drawback of staying here if the subway is your favorite way to get around Seoul. There are very few tourist destinations on the Orange Line. Much of the time, we found we needed to transfer and the Blue and Purple line transfers closest to Anguk are of the very-long-walk sort. We quickly figured out that it was faster to walk overland 15 minutes to a Blue or Purple Line station than to take the Orange Line and transfer.

Be sure to stop at the front desk and pick up a few of these cards:

This side gives a condensed map of the neighborhood --not to scale, but very useful for the landmarks. On the reverse, the hotel's address and phone number, plus "Please take me to the Somerset Palace..." are written in English and Hangul. The Somerset is about a 20 minute taxi ride from Eastern Social Welfare Society.

The Somerset is a great place to stay in Seoul. If I hadn't formed misimpressions about the kitchen and laundry capacities ahead of time, there would be very little that did not meet or exceed my expectations. The room was adequate for three people, but small when all seven of us wanted to be together. Next time we go, we'll try booking a multi bedroom suite 12 or more months out for our family. (When we were making our reservations, Phil suggested that the Fraser Suites and Fraser Place Central, also serviced residence hotels, were comparable to the Somerset. Those will be our Plan B.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Joy's new braces

One of the last things we did before leaving for Korea was to have Joy's orthotist at Winkley make molds for new AFOs. That's an acronym for Ankle Foot Orthosis, a brace that fits over Joy's foot like a boot and extends to the top of her calf.

Joy wears AFOs on both feet and first began using them for standing shortly after she came home from Korea. (In this photo, she was18 months old.)

Cerebral Palsy interferes with the typical transmission of nerve signals between  her limbs and her brain. Her brain incorrectly perceives that her feet should be pointed most of the time (as they are in this photo, at 14 months), which interferes with bearing weight through the bottom of her feet for standing and stepping.

The AFO holds her foot at a 90 degree angle, and has a hinge at the back that allows her some range of motion when she steps.

This is Joy's third pair of AFOs. We'll need to have a new pair made about once a year until she stops growing. Now I have to figure out what to do with outgrown ones. They're custom made so we can't pass them on. But they've been part of our daily life for over a year. Like a cast of a dinosaur footprint in an ancient stream bed, the lavender pair preserves the vanished contours of the second year of Joy's life.

Of course, I'm keeping her very first pair --the orthopedically challenged child's version of the first pair of shoes, even if I don't have them bronzed. But this pair with demure lavender butterflies... Maybe I'll keep them for now. And next year, when these garishly new, jazzy stars have become old, outgrown friends, I'll reconsider. Maybe I'll thin the collection then. Or maybe I won't.

First Snow November 13, 2010

The view from our windows when we woke up this morning.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Puppies can have vaccine reactions, too

Daisy loves children's Benadryl. Cherry flavored, believe it or not.

This is a story for the Mommy Files, which have grown rather dusty since Dorothy moved to Colorado. The Mommy Files are the repository of folk-wisdom, one mom (actually several) to another: what a febrile seizure looks like; when a cut needs a trip the the ER for stitches vs. a butterfly bandage or two; how to get foreign objects out of small noses vs. when to visit the ENT. In the early days, before we had kids (fifteen children ago) we accumulated facts about cloth diapering (I think we had gotten over that by child number three) and psychoses in cats.

Wednesday morning, Daisy had her three month well-puppy check at the vet. The appointment ended with two standard vaccines, including her first one for Lyme disease. After we came home, Faith took her outside. When she came in, Faith said, "Mom. I think we got shampoo in Daisy's eye last night. It is all purple and puffy and she's scratching at it."

I'm more of a wait-and-see mom. But the other eye was starting to swell and she was beginning to sneeze. We took Daisy straight back to the vet. By the time we got there (about 45 minutes after the injection) her eyes were half-swollen shut and weepy and her nose and lips were puffed up. The vet gave her an injection of Benadryl and kept her for five hours to see if she would need steroids, too.

Then they sent her home with instructions to give her children's Benadryl orally. I said, "Really? Ours is cherry or bubblegum flavor --something pink. Will she actually take it?" They advised me to try it and gave me the tiniest syringe I've ever seen. (When you only weigh 3.5 lbs., it doesn't take much.) Daisy loves cherry Benadryl. Who would have guessed?

As for the next vaccine: I'm told they will give her an injection of Benadryl before the vaccine, and keep the steroids handy while they observe her afterward because her second reaction could be worse. But still not as bad, they assure me, as getting Lyme disease.

Almost all better.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A last lovely day in November

It was a shock to come home from shirtsleeve weather in Korea to temperatures in the thirties and snow flurries at the end of October! But autumn returned for a few lovely days this week and we took it as a benediction on getting outside, cleaning up the gardens, and making the most of the last pleasant days we may see until next spring.

First to go were the jack-o-lanterns and the smaller pumpkins, which had frozen.

The jack-o-lanterns ended their brief careers on the compost pile. The girls wanted to see if the two smaller pumpkins, replanted in the garden, would grow pumpkins next year. So we dug them in to find out. We also saved seeds from one of the jack-o-lanterns. This year's crop of 13 pumpkins grew from six of last years' seeds.

These apples are Connell Reds. Sixteen years ago, when we planted the whip that became this tree, it was labeled "Regent," our favorite late apple. Connell Red is an older cultivar with a nice thick skin that can withstand late fall temperatures. But unfortunately for this tree, it matures after the Honey Crisp, Cortland, and Haralson trees. By the time late October arrives, we so tired of processing apples that the Connell Reds are left for the deer who visit the gardens each night.

The three older girls had lessons in which plants need to keep their "coats" on (dead foliage) to survive Minnesota winters, which plants we leave standing because they are beautiful in the snow, and which ones we cut down in the fall because new growth emerges so early in the spring.

Joy supervised from her swing, propelled by K., one of her indispensable helpers.

Daisy (now14 weeks old and 3.5 lbs.) enjoys gardening, too.

At the end of the morning, we discovered that we'd made a composition: the remains of summer. (One pretty pile of dead foliage.)

And the skeletal remains of one awesome kid-imagined, kid-built fort erected over the summer under the Honey Crisp tree. Faith, who at 10 is the chief engineer, hopes to winterize it with Tyvek and duct tape.