I still remember a pleasant evening when A and I met one of our cousins for dinner... I don't remember the exact date, but I remember it was a Cheesecake Factory restaurant and how hungry we were after a long wait. We had a small, round table near the back of the place and dinner was progressing nicely when my little sister set off a small tactical nuclear device: it had always been her plan to be a mommy by the time she reached a certain (now close) age, and thus she was now in the preliminary phase of adopting a baby girl from China. I remember our cousin and I looking across the table at each other, happy but shocked, and joking about needing advance notice of when A planned to tell our folks so that we'd have a chance to be out of town... out of the state... perhaps out of the country...?!?
Well, yes, there were fireworks (appropriate, considering where they were invented). There was back-and-forth, and some very noisy discussions, and some of my journal entries from the time are still unpleasant to read... But we are a tight-knit family and once we've finished reacting to something -- sometimes with perhaps a touch more honesty than diplomacy might require -- we back each other up and that's exactly what our shocked parents did. So there we were as a family, beginning what many prospective adopters call "paperchasing," secure in our expectation of there being a new family member in (give or take) 18 months.
Oh, wow, was that figure ever wrong...!
A had an extra bedroom in her house (which she had evidently planned as a baby's room for a lot longer than the rest of us)... Not too big, not too small, just a place that needed some minor tweakage to serve its new intended purpose.
Meanwhile, the paperchasing went on (and on and on and on and...) After a long delay, Mom convinced A to start getting a lot pushier with the FBI(!) over not hearing about her fingerprints... and discovered that we'd been waiting for news for 3 months while the FBI was assuming we somehow heard them thinking about the fact that they couldn't read A's fingerprints. She got reprinted, and this time only waited about a month before bothering them... with the same result.
This, unfortunately, was a harbinger of things to come. Those of you who know us can ask A for the down-and-dirty details, those of you who have adopted or are currently paperchasing already know what it's like... but the expression "sheer unadulterated hell" kinda sorta begins to cover at least 1st base. Have you ever seen kids misbehaving in public while their parents totally ignored the carnage and wondered, "who gave those idiots a license to be parents?!?" Well, if you're adopting, you ARE being licensed to be a parent. You have to supply fingerprints, official documents proving you're an upstanding citizen with no nasty police run-ins, official documents from every place you've ever lived saying you're OK with them, official documents saying your home is good for a child, official reviews from a licensed social worker saying your home is an appropriate environment for a child... there are even quite literally official documents you have to provide that do nothing but state that the other official documents really are official documents...! Add to the mix the fact that various authorizations and proofs and documents have varying expiration dates and... well, it ain't fun. (Quick aside: Why the [bleep] do fingerprints expire? I mean, c'mon -- they don't change! If they expire, doesn't it mean the person they're attached to also expired?!?!)
In any case, the weeks became months, and the months stretched into years. Not too far into the process, another massive monkey wrench was thrown into the works (even more massive than the home study agency A contracted with deciding to stop operating in our state without advance notice): the U.S. signed onto the Hague Agreement, an international set of standardized rules & regulations governing international adoptions. All of a sudden there were discussions of, "are you a Hague family, or pre-Hague?" and questions about whether an agency would be able to continue operating, what kind of new documentation was needed, whether old forms (whose 18 month or 2 year lifespans were once upon a time long enough) could be renewed or if adopters had to switch to the new forms and new rules and new fees and.... Oy. Not fun, not easy, definitely something this family (especially A) lost a lot of sleep over. There were also so many U.S. government bureaucrats whose sole purpose seemed to be to misplace, forget, or delay the documents that I began complaining that our problem wasn't the damn Commies, it was the Damn Yankees!
Oh, did I mention that even without all the changes and renewals, the cost had already bumped up almost into the 5-digit range?
Anyway, time crawled on. Since A wasn't sure I'd be able to take time from my work, she had arranged with our cousin (who, like me, had failed to reach Minimum Safe Distance when A told our folks) to travel to China together so she wouldn't be entirely on her own. What I neglected to mention was that I'd basically have to be dead to be kept from going on the trip. (This is my baby sister, after all!) Early in the process, the entire family attended a day-long seminar by A's agency for adoptive parents, and one of the first things done was to go around the room -- a big room, with a lot of people sitting in a very large circle around the edges -- and introduce ourselves. I included the tidbit that yes, I was indeed tagging along... and spent the rest of the day being ribbed by everyone else there because of A's shocked reaction. (It was pretty funny, in retrospect.)
And time crawled on... The whole family became involved with a couple of local groups (e.g., Families with Children from China, Waiting Moms, et al.) and attended, then began volunteering at, different events. We met and became friends with a bunch of waiting families who happily included me as one of their own even though I was "just" the uncle-to-be (as I put on my nametags) instead of a daddy-to-be. We all began tracking each other's progress through the paperchase, bemoaning the ever-increasing slowness of the CCAA (the branch of the Chinese administration handling international adoptions)... When A first applied they were handling roughly 1 month's worth of paperwork each month; by the time we'd been in the queue a couple of years, there were entire months in which they'd process less than a full week's worth of papers.
All along, I noticed the entire family was beginning to get a little... well, a little more crazy than usual. Mom & Dad learned what to not ask their daughter on certain dates, and which subject to not broach once she'd mentioned receiving an update. A would forward all the monthly updates from the agency to us in email, and we quickly learned to identify those months in which we just didn't say anything until she was able to bring it up. Meanwhile, I began to cringe every time I heard the word "China" in the news. Melamine in the milk! Chemical spills in the water! Pollution-based birth defects on the rise! Earthquakes and floods killing thousands! It got so bad that at work I avoided walking the halls around the time most patients had their TVs tuned to the news...
We had one ray of semi-hope in early 2009 when A's agency held a travel seminar. We were back in the same room somewhere in Pennsylvania, but there were somewhat fewer faces and (at least at first) a more subdued mood. The moderator even said that they used to hold the seminars on a monthly basis, but now they only did it quarterly and were thinking even that might be too often. Still, we absorbed as much information as we could, bringing along all the information they'd emailed in advance just in case there were new gems of information to add. (I had -- still have! -- mine in a big 3-ring binder with a 72-point, computer generated sheet reading, "B's Big Book of China" as its cover.) One nice, unexpected outcome was that we got to meet another family with the same check-in date... so we'd eventually be traveling through China together. We spent some time talking & exchanged email addresses, and then all returned to our respective homes wondering how much longer we'd have to wait.
There was another milestone of sorts in September: A (finally) got the last squares for her daughter's bai jia bei ("hundred wishes quilt"). She had sent out announcements of her adoption plans many months earlier, asking recipients to contribute a square of material & some written wishes for the quilt. What came back was enough squares and loving wishes to make a quilt big enough for the entire family... with more squares trickling in as the months went by. Finally, the last(?) holdout gave her two squares, one with wishes for her daughter as a baby and one with wishes for her daughter when she was grown. I can't give away the name of the last, super-late holdout, but I can say that he's one of A's siblings. Oops! (Seriously, I held back because I had seen A slowly backing out of attending events where there'd be a lot of little children -- especially Chineses adoptees -- and didn't want to add to the anguish. It just seemed that it was finally the right time, and we all needed some kind of positive milestone by then...)
And time crawled on... and then we had the winter of 2009-2010, quickly dubbed "Snowmaggedon" by the pundits.
It was a mess in December...
It was a mess in January...
It was a mess in February...
I mean, we really got walloped...!
...until it seemed like China was very, very far away, and the outlook for adoption was about as warm as the view out our windows.
Eventually, the sun came back out... the white stuff began a slow, slippery retreat... and we began to see processing dates from the CCAA that were moving ever-closer to A's check-in date.
The date crawled closer... and closer... Being the family computer geek, I joined the Rumor Queen's website/forum ("You know you're adopting from China if you don't know who the Rumor Queen is, but you know who the Rumor Queen is!"). I began logging in every night, sometimes for 2-3 hours at a time, trying to collect as much information about the process as I could and breathlessly following along as A's check-in date crawled closer. I'd walk into her office when I got to work (our shifts overlap by a couple of hours) and tell her the latest rumors, sometimes having a pleasant conversation and sometimes beating a hasty retreat when I pushed too many of the wrong buttons. The latter, in fact, began happening more frequently (with both of us) as March became April... then we moved into May...
And then... Just after 4:30pm on May 10th, I was on my way down the hall to A's office when she paged me on the PA system. I got through the door as she hung up, and she came out from behind the desk and half-whispered, "I got the call today!" I have to admit I gave her a blank look, but then just as I realized what she meant she said, "I have a baby!" I gave her a big bear hug, then held on for a couple of minutes until she stopped crying (which I almost did, myself). The facility's part-time Dietitian was at the other desk in the office, and thinking we'd just gotten some horrible news began to excuse herself asking if we needed some alone time. A sniffled out the news and everybody kind of jumped up & down a few times.
Almost 5 years to the day after filing with an adoption agency, my sister had her baby. :-)
PS - I double-checked on Wikipedia... it really is "WABAC" and not "Wayback" that Mr. Peabody is saying! :-)