Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter, jet-lag style

Seoul Day 7: Family Day

Thursday morning we woke up to Ned asking, "Hey, today is Thursday, right? Dat means it's Kamron day!" I had long been considering the transfer of Kamron to our care and how that might play out with Ned. That morning decided to ask Lisa and Josiah to ride with us over to the SWS offices and then take Nedy out for a walk during our meeting. Thankfully they agreed!

When we arrived at the SWS offices at 11:00am, we worked out that we would meet up with Lisa, Josiah and Ned at the nearby Starbucks (how appropriate, right?) at around noon. We headed up to the 7th floor and saw Kamron's Foster Mom changing him. The social worker met us at the door and said that Kam still needed his exit physical at the clinic downstairs, and asked if we would like to see the 'Baby Reception Home'. This is where babies who are entrusted to SWS's care live for the first month or so until a Foster Family is located and approved. We were excited to see it, especially since Kam spent a few weeks here.

The number of babies there--near 40--surprised me. The social worker who accompanied us said that they are always full. She noted that single parenting in Korea is not an option for many women, as support is not available and societal pressures strongly discourage parenting out of wedlock. I asked her about domestic adoption within Korea and she responded that the attitude is generally improving, but slowly. Focus for Korean agencies is to attempt placement of children domestically for a period of 6 months before referring children for international adoption. The social worker told me about half of the children we saw would be adopted domestically.
After our visit, we headed back next door to the SWS offices. Kam was back from his physical by then. We sat down with the Foster Mother and Father and reviewed all of his care particulars we had learned a few days before. SWS gave us a written report. We were walked through the bags of things they were sending with us--his favorite toys, a mobile, several sets of clothes, his bowl and utensils, lots of bottles, 3 cans of formula, diapers, and several portions of jook (rice porridge) to take the pressure off us for his next meals. Kamron's Foster Family put a lot of effort into bringing everything they thought he might need as he transitioned to our care. We are so appreciative of that.
With tears in her eyes, Kam's Foster Mother told us, through the social worker who interpreted, that she gave him her best care and lots of love. What a wonderful family.
SWS likes to keep these transfer meetings relatively short and controlled, which makes sense given the intensity of emotion in an experience like this. After about 40 minutes, we were told it was time to go. We walked with everyone to the elevator, where I had the chance to give his Foster Mother and Father big hugs. I put on our Ergo and Kamron was transferred to me. He didn't cry, just looked at my face curiously as we were immediately shepherded into the elevator; we were told the Foster Family would stay back until we were out of sight.

Out of the elevator, we said good bye to the social worker who had escorted us down and walked down the street, me with a confused baby on my front and Dan loaded to the gills with bags of stuff. We kept waiting for the crying to start, but it didn't. "Calm before the storm", I remarked to Dan.

Down the road at Starbucks, Ned ran to greet us, "LITTLE BRUDDER!!! It's youuuuuuu!!!" She checked him out, he checked her out. And so it begins.
On the cab ride back to our hotel, Kam fell asleep. And stayed that way for hours. So we went for a walk in the park.
Afterward, we headed back to the hotel where Kam woke up and starting playing. Dan said, "Maybe he's just calm?" To which I responded, "Calm before the storm, buddy. Calm before the storm." And, as if on cue, Kam starting screaming. And I mean top-of-his-lungs, ear-piercing, painful-to-witness screams. Poor baby. But I was glad for those screams. Because he should have been be screaming and scared.

All night he screamed. We tried everything we knew to do, knowing full well that he needed time to scream and grieve and just tell us how mad he was, but as parents, even to a child you've only known for a few hours, you just want to fix their hurt. Tough times. I remember those times with Ned clearly and, in my most difficult moments that night, I thought about Ned and the love we've built since then and found much comfort, for him and me, in that.

Thankfully, there was a Korean War veteran event at our hotel and our immediate neighbor told me not to worry about the noise because he couldn't hear anyway. Pheeew. ;)

After what seemed an eternity, the morning light came. Korea is known as the 'land of morning calm', and thankfully, that was our experience Friday morning. Probably due to sheer exhaustion, but calm nonetheless. But that's another post, because someone just woke up. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What's with me and cliff-hangers?!

I know, I know. The post-adoption cliff-hangers on this blog are now two too many. :)

We are home and adjusting well, despite four horrible cases of jet lag! We've made the best of it with a couple middle of the night marathon play sessions, but I am hopeful tonight we will turn a corner and everyone will get the sleep we all need.

Kamron is such a lovable, squishy and delightful guy. He was tremendously serious at first, but the past couple of days we have seen more and more of his goofy side as he giggles and plays. He loves to play with toys and go for walks outside. Oh, and he loves to eat. This morning he pounded back an entire waffle and a handful of peeled and chopped grapes. With 6 teeth. Tonight he ate 10 sweet potato gnocchi and some toast. Amazing. He's only 10 months, but he's been enjoying table food for a while now and knows what he's doing with those 6 teeth!

Ned is doing a great job. She handled the trip like a pro and, even in the midst of terrible jet lag, has been very patient and kind with Kam...until he starts chewing on her clothes, that is. "Kamwun, dat gwoss! Don't suck on clothes; they're for wearing, not eating."

Good times. Anyway, more to come over the next couple days, but wanted to at least get a small update out there to say all is well! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seoul Day 6: Insadong

Day 6. Wednesday. The day before Kamron joins our family. I hope I remember how babies work! :)

In the morning, we had plans to take the subway to Insadong to have a chop made for Josiah and pick up a few gifts. An then there was that little outstanding issue for me and Dan of finding just the right piece of art to remember this trip by. We had seen some things we liked, but not anything yet that was an instant "that's it!" for us. So we thought we'd spend a couple hours in the morning, while it was still quiet, in Insadong.

First things first, we wanted to visit the Buddhist temple there. Buddha's birthday is coming up in May and the preparations we've seen around the city have been really neat; brightly colored lanterns seem to be multiplying overnight! When we arrived at the temple, a service was underway and the chanting combined with the spectacle of the magnificent lantern display (still under construction) was a really neat experience.
I mean, really, can you believe how cool looking this is?!? Now imagine standing under this canopy and listening to the chants of the monks while the lantern tags blow in the breeze. Neat.
A group of ladies worked together to craft lanterns in front of the temple. They did every part of the process starting with bending the wire frame.
After the temple, it was chop time. Josiah really liked Kamron's chop and wanted one of his own. Dan decided to take a back alley to cut through to the chop shop when we came upon this fantastic little one-artist gallery. And there it was. The piece. The artist carves stone to make stamps and then does block prints of them. He sells the prints (they're gorgeous), but he also works a few of his retired stamps into wall hangings. And that's what caught our eye. The piece is a small piece of dark wood with a stone stamp set into it. The stamp is of two simplistic owls, one littler and one a tad bigger, and there is ink staining of blue and green on the stone stamp. And get this. I started talking to the artist about the piece and he said it was called "Owl Brother" and that owls mean good fortune in Korean culture. How perfect is that? So now that I've described it (ooooh, it is soooooo cool), I really wish I had a photo of it to put up. But it's sitting next to me bubble-wrapped to the max. I think I might sleep with it. Kidding. Well, kind of. :) So here's a photo of the artist by his shop. He is such a cool guy.
Now on to Josiah's chop. He and Lisa sat and watched the artist carve it and then Josiah got a lesson in using the ink properly.
That brush/chop shop is such a delight for a photojunkie's eyes. I mean, just look at these chops.
And check out these bunches of calligraphy brushes. Man oh man, I could have photographed in there for a while.
Remember when I wrote that we planned to be in Insadong for a couple hours? Yeah, well, Insadong is really cool. And somehow a couple hours turned into, oh, ummmm...all day. I think we all enjoyed the wandering and relative "down time" given our busy past few days. And you can't beat the street food options. Josiah, Nedy, Dan and I are ga-ga over these fried peanut butter and honey doughy things--sort of like a really hot greasy doughnut stuffed with peanut butter and honey. Had a few of those today. And Dan discovered a new favorite this afternoon in the form of some sort of bean paste fried dumplings.
Oh, and it happened again. I swear, Dan is a freakin' magnet for kids working on their English interviewing projects. It's hilarious, given that he's the shy one.
Before catching the shuttle back to the hotel, we stopped at Tapgol Park for a little stroll. Dan brought Nedy and Josiah here yesterday and they wanted to show us what they saw. See that stone pagoda? It's 500 years old and is a relic of a Buddhist temple that sat where the park is now. It is protected by this really modern glass structure; interesting.
I love these next couple photos--they're just so Ned.
So that's about it for today. Sorry for the abbreviated post, but it was just a relaxing, hanging out kind of day as we await that change that tomorrow brings...!!! Next post will be from a family of 4!

Seoul Day 5: Seoul Tower, Namdaemun Market, Kamron's chop

We woke up Tuesday morning to another lovely day of 60 degrees and sun. We have been so lucky in the weather department! Our attempt to take the cable car up to Seoul Tower Sunday night had been a bust with the line wrapping around the building's multiple levels given the beautiful weekend day. Tuesday morning we decided to give it another try and climbed up the hill to the cable car station again. On our way, we stopped at the outdoor portion of the Seoul Cartoon Museum.
And then it was time to continue our trek up to the cable car station. Nedy and Josiah were both pretty excited about riding the cable car that "floats" through the air on cables above, much like a ski lift only with a very large enclosed car that holds maybe 50 people, to reach the base of the Seoul Tower. Thankfully, we were there early enough and there were just a few other people in line ahead of us. We bought our tickets and climbed aboard the cable car. Nedy went over by the window to look out when a huge tourist group plowed (and I do mean PLOWED) into the car and separated us. "Mamaaaaaaaa!!!," she yelled. "Nedy, follow the sound of my voice! Nedyyyyyyyyyy!!!," I yelled to her. And before long her tear-streaked cheeks pushed through the many legs surrounding her and she hopped up into my arms and buried her little face. "Mama, I soooooo scared when dose people push us apart and den I remember we talk about if I get yost at a store and I start yelling for you just yike you said and den I found you!" Wow, I guess she does listen to me sometimes. :) Poor baby, she was was so scared.
Up at the tower's base, we bought tickets to ride the crazy elevator up another 700-some feet to the observation deck, but not before making Ned and Josiah pose for more photos.
At the top, the views were magnificent. Obviously, Seoul is a huge city. But seeing Seoul from this vantage really gave perspective on just how huge this city is. And, let me tell you, it's HUGE. It goes on and on seemingly endlessly in all directions.
I heard that the bathroom was the coolest bathroom on earth. It's a nice place to do your business, that's for sure. Nedy even decided, "I wash my hands not one time, not two times, THREE times because dis is neat in here. I can see all da city in dis bathroom. And I can weach da sink all by myself with no stool! Well, on my tippy toes."
After the ear-popping elevator ride back down, Dan gave Ned and Josiah each a padlock we brought from home to take part in the tradition of affixing a "love padlock" to the fence and topiary forms at the tower's base. The tradition is really supposed to be about lovers attaching a lock and throwing away the key as a symbol of their undying love, but we used it more as an "I was here" kind of thing. They both thought it was super cool.
Funny thing. Me, the person who photographs every freakin' thing somehow neglected to get a shot of the tower itself. So, you'll have to settle for the view of it as seen from our hotel room window:
After the tower, Lisa and I decided we wanted to brave the madness that is Namdaemun Market. Namdaemun is a market of 10,000 shops/vendors in a tight area of city blocks. We all walked down there together, but the crazy chaos of this place, even at 2:00 on a Tuesday afternoon, was too much for the kids--we feared losing them in the madness! Really, craziness. Vendors everywhere. Goods strewn all over the streets. Piles upon piles of clothing. Chatter and laughter everywhere. Absolutely vibrant.
Dan, the great guy that he is, offered to take the kids to Insadong to have Kamron's chop made while Lisa and I braved the chaos in search of the fantastic kids clothes that Korea is known for. And did we ever find them! An entire mall of children's clothing, only instead of traditional stores in a mall, the vendors sat booth next to booth, much like a flea-market style set-up. So booth after booth we blew won after won. Ohmygosh, did we find some amazing stuff--and had fun along the way attempting to communicate about sizes and bargaining for deals. Just look at the look on Lisa's face after finishing up two hours later:
So while we were planning our kids' wardrobes for the next 3 years, Dan and the kids went to a brush shop in Insadong (recommended to us by our friends back home) to have Kamron's chop made. This artist does a gorgeous job and carves the stone right there while you wait. It takes about 30 minutes. (Interesting that Nedy's chop from China is carved into hard wax on the end of the stone, but Kamron's is carved right into the stone; makes me wonder if this is related to the artist's quality or just a difference between Chinese and Korean chops...) Anyway, his chop came out beautifully. It's just gorgeous. Thanks, E, for the recommendation!
Lisa and I decided to pick up pizzas (yeah, I know) before catching a cab back to the hotel. And it's a darn good thing we did, as Dan and the kids were just about to head out the door for dinner of BOILED PIGS FEET at a place with a name that translates to "Fat Grandma's." Apparently Fat Grandma's specializes in boiled pigs feet. So we come in with pizza and Ned goes, "Awwww, Mama, nooooooooo! We were supposed to go to Fat Grandma's for pigs feet!" So we ate the pizza, but as we did Ned and Dan decided that maybe Kamron would like pigs feet and they would maybe take him on Friday. Hmmm, wonder what they're planning on doing with me? :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Seoul Day 4: Meeting Kamron

The day we've all been waiting for! :)

Nedy woke up at 4:00 this morning, shook my shoulder and whispered in her not-so-much-a-whisper whisper, "Hey Mama, dis is da day we go to da Foster Mudder's house and meet Kamron, right?" She didn't go back to sleep after I confirmed for her. "I sooooo esited!" she kept saying. Too cute.

I spent the morning today trying to catch up the blog, wrapping gifts for the Foster Family and SWS staff, and mentally preparing for our big day. Dan and Nedy went for a long walk down by the river.

Our instructions were to meet at SWS (the agency in Korea) at 2:00 where we would be transported with Kamron's social worker to the Foster Family's home for our visit. We arrived at 1:45, a first for us to actually be early. :) The SWS office was an interesting place--many babies were there, I presume with their Foster Families, and we all enjoyed watching them interact while imagining what Kamron would be like.

At 2:00 we piled into the SWS van and rode 30 minutes across Seoul to the Foster Family's home. They live on the 15th floor of a high rise building. When we arrived, we were greeted by Kamron's Foster Mother and her adult daughter who is heavily involved in his care. They welcomed us so warmly to their beautiful home that we were immediately at ease.

And there he was, looking at us curiously and timidly and clinging to his Foster Sister. "They want you to know he is shy of new people," his social worker told us. Indeed he was. So we hung back and all sat down on the floor surrounding a large play blanket that was laid out for him. Nedy moved in by him and gave him a toy, a panda rattle she brought from home. She stroked his face a few times and helped him shake his rattle. And then she started bringing him toy after toy from his bin of toys on the floor near us. He looked right at her with such curiosity in his eyes. And when she got in close enough, he reached over and grabbed her arm. "He touched me, Mama!"

For the next hour and a half we asked questions and listened to the social worker translate the Foster Family's care instructions, all the while Kamron sat and watched, as if trying to figure out all that was going on.

The care he received from his Foster Family was no doubt outstanding. The love and nurture this mother and daughter team provide him is very evident in their every interaction with him. He is so loved by this family. We are so grateful to them and are very hopeful for a continuing relationship so they can be part of his life as he grows older.

Kamron's Foster Family gave us a photo album containing photos of him in chronological order. It is wonderful to have such a nice record of his earlier months. They also gave us the most stunningly gorgeous hanbok for Kamron's first birthday celebration. Oh my goodness, it is just gorgeous. Really, really beautiful.

After we were there a while, Foster Mother brought out a table with a variety of traditional Korean baked goods (YUM!), strawberries, kiwi and juice. They were so kind and wonderful to us. I feel so lucky to have had the experience of meeting with them in their home and seeing where Kamron's early months were spent. Foster Mother also brought out a bowl of fruit for Kamron. She began feeding him pieces of strawberry and kiwi and then asked me to come over and feed him. I did so, and he accepted pieces, albeit hesitantly. Nedy decided she wanted a turn and I gave her the small plastic fork. She fed him a few pieces and was so pleased with herself. But then he turned his head and she accidentally poked him with the fork, which upset him just a bit. She felt bad about that. "I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean to hurt you!"

The social workers from SWS took notes, allowing us to focus on being there in the moment. They will provide us a written report when Kamron is transferred to our care. Speaking of which, it was interesting how that date was set. The social worker asked us when we would like to have Kamron in our care, and of course part of me wanted to say, "Is now okay?", but seeing the love and care he is receiving and knowing how hard it will be for both Kamron and his Foster Family to deal with the separation, I said, "Whatever is best for the Foster Family." In consultation with the family, it was decided Kamron would transition to our care on Thursday at 11:00 a.m. at the SWS office, meaning we will have him a full day and then some before boarding the plane on Friday. There is something about him that tells me he is a sensitive soul, and just thinking about the change ahead of him makes my heart hurt for him. While I know he will grow to trust and love us with time, I am hopeful that at the least in the immediate we do a good job meeting his needs and providing him comfort.

Before leaving, I gave gifts to the Foster Family. I explained to the social worker that one of the gifts in particular was very special, as it was an art piece crafted by Dan's Dad. Foster Mother opened it right then and was so happy with it, commenting that she would hang it on her wall. That was a neat moment, knowing that one of Dan's Dad's pieces would be hanging in the home of this amazing family.

As we were walking out the door, I got the chance to hold Kamron for a bit. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about that, looking intently at me as if to say, "Uh, lady? Why are you holding me?" He is such a sweet, adorable baby. His disposition seems timid and calm. It sure will be fun to see what develops as he gets to know us over the next few months.

Our ride back to SWS was nice. I sat in the back of the van with Nedy and the social worker and we just gabbed about all sorts of stuff. Come to find out, she remembers our nephew Samuel from when he was in the care of SWS from baby until age three. Her face lit up when I said his Korean name (incorrectly, I should note, but she understood me anyway) and she was happy to hear how well he is doing now. Small world.

We could not have asked for a better visit. We came back to the hotel after a brief stop for dinner and coffee and met up with Lisa and Josiah (who spent the day at markets and the aquarium) to share our news, photos, and videos of the day.

And finally, photos! (Sorry for the blur factor. Sadly, in our rush to be on time, we forgot our flash today. I know, of all days, right?!?)