Monday, September 24, 2012

The Paper Chase

So, obviously, there was a gap my blog posting.  You might think that my problem with blogging is that we have six kids and things are busy here, but that is not really the issue.  The problem is that we are adopting again and adoption involves a ton of paperwork.  Only a government agent could grasp just how much paperwork we are talking about here—gazillions of pieces of paper full of nit-picky details that have to be just right.  There is no fudging anything.   This is a bad medium for me. 

If it seems like I’m exaggerating with that gazillion, trust me, I am not.  Among other things, we’ve had to hand over all of our legal certificates (birth, marriage, former adoptions, etc.), all our financial information (income, out-go, two years of w-2’s, tax returns, car/house payments, investments, deeds, etc.), our driving records, our medical records, proof of life/medical/dental insurance,  two sets of fingerprints, a criminal record check for every state we have lived in since we were eighteen and a copy of our dog's license and vaccine record.  The checklist for our US homestudy was seventy items.  The checklist for the China study is fifteen SETS of documents, and I don’t have patience to figure out how many that is in total. 

Here is the story of just one set of forms.  I want to make sure everyone knows how much I am suffering here, even though this is not my fault (mostly).  I am not making any of this up. 

We started thinking about adopting sometime in December 2011.  I found a child sometime the next month-- January, found a homestudy agency in February, started the interviews in March and started the paperwork in April. 

There were two sets of physical exam forms that we needed to have filled out by our doctor.  One set for our US homestudy agency and one set for our dossier that will go to China.  They were essentially the same forms, both involving a general physical exam, blood work and a urine sample.   The exception was that the China form required extra blood tests and notarized signatures.   Bill and I went to our doctors office on separate days, with both forms in hand, so the doctors could fill out the forms and get the blood work started.  I miraculously found a date in April that all four of us could meet (me, Bill, the doctor and our notary, who is now like a member of the family).   By that time, I thought  the results of the blood work would be in and we could complete all four forms in that one day. 

Visit Number One:  All four of us met at the doctor’s office.  The two physicals for the US homestudy were completed, the blood work results filled in and the doctor handed them over.  This is an entire box checked, which is no small feat.   We started on the papers for China, only to find that Bill’s entire China form was missing.   He had left his forms with the doctor, while I had taken my forms home so I could keep them safe.  We can call Bill’s China Forms: Missing Papers Number One

There was a scramble in the doctor’s office as three nurses and two office managers searched high and low looking for the missing form.  I noticed that they focused specifically on a letter size wire basket in the front office, painstakingly looking at every paper in the basket.   No form.   I did not want to arrange another meeting.  So, I was about to call the Chinese agency to see if they could fax a blank copy, when the doctor found Bill’s form.  It had already been electronically downloaded into their medical records system.  We printed a copy of Bill’s China Form and as they were filling out the blood work portion, the doctor realized that Bill and I needed extra blood tests for the China forms.   Bill and I gave another vial of blood, the missing tests were ordered, and we all agreed that the easiest thing to do was to notarize the doctors signatures now* and then fill in the results for the missing blood tests when they arrived. 

Visit Number Two (Still in April):  The blood work returned, the forms were completed.  The receptionist retrieved them from the wire basket with what I now consider remarkable ease and I sent them off to our Chinese adoption agency along with a two inch pile of papers to be added into our dossier headed for China.   I naively checked off another box.

Visit Number Three (Sometime in May):  I got an  e-mail from our China coordinator that said this:  “I just received your Mailer 1.  The only concern I have is on the medical forms. The HbsAG test is not circled on your form or Bill’s form- negative/positive. Your form is also missing the liver function test- normal/abnormal. In order to avoid having to redo and re-notarize the forms, can you have the doctors write up a letter stating these tests were completed and the outcome? They can scan and e-mail the letter to me or fax it.”  (NOTE TO THE READER:  you must not fault my doctor for this.  That form is endless and unorganized, with check boxes everywhere.)

It would have been so easy if I could just forward this e-mail to my doctor, but they protect his e-mail like it’s the recipe for Coca-Cola.  I left a few messages with the receptionists, but I never got a call back and after a few attempts, it looked like I was going to actually have to make an appointment to get these three letters.  Thanks be to God, sometime in June, I actually saw the doctor at our local pool.   He is an outgoing, friendly sort and I was able to walk straight up to him and explain the situation.  He asked me to print out the e-mail (WHY did I never think of this?), drop it off and  he would write up what I needed. 

Visit Number Four (Sometime in June):  I got a call.  The letters were done.  I couldn’t get to the office before closing, so they decided to put the letters in an envelope and tape it to a back door for me to pick up over the weekend.   I’m not really sure why we didn’t just use the USPS, but for some reason,  the plan was that I would pick up the letters at the office.  Of course, I didn’t get to this over the weekend, and it actually wasn’t until Tuesday that I was able to stop by the office.  I checked the back door.  The papers were not there.  I asked at the front desk and the receptionist went to that same wire basket.  She did a quick glance through the papers. And when she didn’t find any letters, she grabbed a bar stool and got comfortable.  Then she painstakingly looked over every paper, taking them out one by one and making a pile next to the basket.  While she was looking we chatted a little about her family.  Her dog didn’t seem to be doing well and they were about to hold a yard sale.  Her daughter was leaving for college in August.  She finally got to the end of the basket and came up empty handed.  She checked a few more spots, then admitted defeat.  We’ll call these letters Missing Papers Number Two.   The receptionist said they would have to print up some new letters.

About this time, Bill joined some sort of company wellness program and needed proof of a recent physical.  Bill handed over the form and asked me to drop it by the doctor’s office.  Bill was essentially in the dark about what was happening with the adoption paperwork.  I told him I’d get to it, but the truth is there was no way I was going to complicate things by adding another form into the mix.  I kept it in the car. 

Visit Number Five (Also in June):  I got a call.  The letters were done.  The receptionist walked over to the wire basket, picked up a stack of three letters and handed them to me.  Everything would have ended right there, but I made a tragic mistake.  I thought the liver function letter was for Bill.   Something about his liver is always screwing up blood tests (he can’t give blood) and I stupidly thought we needed a liver letter for him.  So, I left my liver function test letter with the receptionist and asked her to make a copy for Bill, sending us ALL back into the frying pan.

Visit Number Six (Also in June):  I sheepishly stopped by the office a few days later.  By now I’d figured out that I didn’t need a letter for Bill, but hoped I could just pick up the two letters and no one would ever know.  Of course, when I saw the receptionist, she walked over to the fickle wire basket and took out one sheet of paper that was on top of the pile.  It was the liver function test letter for Bill that we never really needed.   I asked her if she still had the liver letter for me, but sadly, I’d said that it wasn’t necessary and they had shredded it.  I now had to admit my mistake and ask the doctor to write up a THIRD liver function test letter for me.  I was so embarrassed, I got out of there as quickly as possible.  I forgot to ask about the dog.  

Visit Number Seven (Now it’s July):  The receptionist saw me walk into the office and headed straight for the wire basket.   After the customary glance through the pile, she reached over and grabbed the bar stool.   While she was looking, we chatted about her daughter, her still ailing dog and the sale of her family car.  We were just about to enter the realm of her husband’s upcoming operation when she hit the bottom of the wire basket.   She didn’t find the third liver function test letter for me, but, she did find an envelope at the very bottom of the basket.  She smiled, walked back to the glass window and gleefully handed me the original envelope, with the tape still on it, that was  waiting for me at their back door sometime in June.  Missing Papers Number Two had been found.

Now that I had all the letters I needed for China, I went back to the car and got out the Employee Physical Form for Bill from the glove compartment and I handed it to the receptionist.  I explained what we needed and, by force of habit, agreed to pick up the forms in a few days. 

Visit Number Eight (still in July):  I stopped by the office to grab the Employee Physical Form for Bill.  The receptionist went to her perch next to the wire basket (the stool was already in place) and started going through the papers.  In case  you are wondering, her family was fine, but the dog had died.  Well toward the bottom of the stack, she looked up at me, smiled and walked back to the window.   She triumphantly handed me a form with Bill’s name right at the top.  It was the medical form for China that had been missing since that first meeting back in April.  I am not making this up. Missing Papers Number One had been found.   

I thanked her and explained that, while this was very helpful, what I really needed was the Employee Physical Form, a different form, a green form, that I’d dropped off a few days ago.  She looked around a few more places in the office and finally decided the form was missing.  She would talk to the doctor and give me a call. 

Visit Number Nine (the end of July):  I got a call.  The form was found and ready.   The receptionist saw me walk into the office and headed straight for the wire basket.  I remembered not to ask about her dog.  She grabbed a form at the top of the pile and handed it over to me.  It was the Employee Physical.  I smiled, thanked the receptionist for her help and gave her a warm handshake.  We both knew that this meant goodbye for a while, at least until flu season. 

This is why I haven’t been blogging.  Adoption paperwork is always like this.  The thought of putting words on a page was enough to make me vomit.  Think of it as a type of paperwork induced morning sickness.  It’s almost as annoying as pregnancy and it certainly takes longer.  Nevertheless, we got all our paperwork done last month and sent everything into the INS in early September.  And now we wait.


*NOTE: a notary doesn’t verify that anything on a form is true or false.  A notary just verifies a signature—that the person signing the form is writing his true name. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Baby Left Me

My first born son, Matt, turned 15 the other day.  This is a picture of him taken last week, when he was about four years old and more or less cooperating with me in the whole aging thing. 
Cute, right?   ...Lately, he’s been absolutely incorrigible.   He not only turned 15 without my permission, he also grew about seven inches overnight (he’s as tall as Bill now, plus or minus that ½ inch that kicks in when one of them remembers to stand up straight) and he can do more pull-ups than me. 

Besides the physical aging, he’s been regularly ticking off the family “rites of passage” with annoying efficiency.  He acquired a stinging sense of humor over the summer,  a love for books that hit him on a slightly deeper level than Harry Potter, a desire to discuss them, and a knack for one of my new favorite games, “Find the Heresy!” in whatever sermon, lesson or song we are listening to together. 

I’ve been homeschooling him for the past three years for his sixth, seventh and eigth grades.  I do this because middle school is miserable, and as a friend of mine pointed out once, “I want my kid to be in a safe place for a few more years.”   …Yup.  Besides, I enjoy my kids.  We laugh together all the time.  They are every bit as fun as the people I knew in college with an additional bonus; I can send them to time-out if they get annoying. 

Homeschooling is so much fun, as a matter of fact, that when I realized middle school was over and I was about to send my baby into packs of howling wolves, I tried to talk him into hanging with me for a while longer.  I told him what he was about to face: early mornings, bus rides, annoying teachers, belittling peers, etc. etc.  Then I made my pitch and said, “So, I could always homeschool you for a few more years.  There’s no reason to rush things!”  He merely paused the video game, turned toward me and said, “A person can only take so much of you, mother.” 

I’m going to miss him! 

I realized though, that, since I was about to send him into a cess-pool of danger and sin, I needed to prepare him for what awaits.  After the self defense courses, installation of the iris-cam, and memorizing the Bible from cover to cover, my next step was to give him an article from The Art of Manliness (love that blog) about how to make conversation.  

Matt is a clone of his father and his father is an engineer.  They don’t actually talk to people.  Both of them are so quiet that I believe on an average day they exchange more X box controllers than syllables.  Matt read the article through the same day I gave it to him, thanked me three times over that week for telling him to read it, asked why I hadn’t given it to him SOONER (it was just published last month), and keeps coming home from school telling me how he used principles from the article to make new friends.   Thank you God!  Occasionally, we hit the nail on the head.

The next step was to introduce him to a book I’ve been reading called, “Women in the Middle Ages,” published in 1978.  I know it sounds unpromising as parent/teen reading, but I have found it to be both informative and quotable. 

For example, apparently, there was a problem with monasteries/convents co-existing in the middle ages.   At first, the Catholic Church insisted that women’s convents could not exist except as chapters of male monasteries.  After all, one must have a priest in order to give confession.  However, some church leaders feared that the situation would impede the sister’s chastity.  Apparently, there was a debate sometime after 1100 during which Cistercian Bernard of Clarivaux made this point, “to be always with a woman and not have intercourse with her is more difficult than to raise the dead.  You cannot do the less difficult, do you think I will believe that you can do the more difficult?” 

Thus, women were ousted from the monasteries and left to run their convents bereft of male leadership. 
Things were relatively quiet until a group of rogue monks calling themselves the Premonstratensians attempted a “fresh version of the double monastery.”  This was short lived. After the death of their founder, they also expelled women from all their mixed settlements. The deciding Abbot wrote: “We and our whole community of cannons, recognizing that the wickedness of women is greater than all the other wickedness of the world, and that there is no anger like that of women, and that the poison of asps and dragons is more curable and less dangerous to men than the familiarity of women, have unanimously decreed, for the safety of our souls, no less than for that of our bodies and goods, that we will on no account receive any more sisters to the increase of our perdition, but will avoid them like poisonous animals.”

I was so enamored with this passage that I showed the whole thing to Matt a few days before 9th grade.  I wanted him to be prepared.  He paused the X-box, read the passages, handed the book back to me and said, “Well, ….I think he’s right about the anger part.” Then, he went back to killing zombies. 

Amen Son!  I told him to memorize it, but he ignored me.  So instead, I just recite key phrases to him every morning while he’s on his way to the bus stop.  If I skip the fluff and start off with “THE WICKEDNESS OF WOMEN IS GREATER THAN ALL THE OTHER WICKEDNESS OF THE WORLD…”  and talk quickly, I can usually get to, “MORE CURABLE AND LESS DANGEROUS TO MEN THAN THE FAMILIARITY OF WOMEN”   by the time he gets to the stop sign.   He never responds, of course.   He just shakes his head quietly, no doubt amazed that he has such a wise and caring mother.  Of course, my other children who are sleeping started to complain about the daily yelling, so lately I’ve been shortening it to, “REMEMBER THE ABBOTS!”  Then I watch him get on the bus and endure the daily stab, knowing that part of my heart has just walked off and is about to disappear around the corner.

So, anyway, “Remember the Abbots!” has become sort of a code for us and I was able to use it just the other day when I took him to the first Young Life meeting for our school.  You can read about Young Life here:  My son was willing to check out a few meetings, but, since he’s been out of the loop and homeschooled for the past three years, he didn’t know anyone at the meeting.  I drove him there myself and was planning to drop him off and scoot, but he asked me to stay for a few minutes.  The meeting was at a local home.  We walked to the back yard together where there were about 25 teens milling about like electrons within a cloud.   It was a little intimidating.  Right away some girls came over and started talking to Matt.  Luckily, he Remembered the Abbots and got involved in a soccer-type game of Frisbee while I started talking to some of the Young Life leaders and tried, as a 46 year old mom, to blend in with 15 to 17 year old high school students. 

When the Frisbee game was over, I tried to leave again, but again, Matt asked me to stay.  All the other kids were clustered around a few tire swings, so I hinted that it was really time for him to saunter over and start to mingle.  When he didn’t go, I suggested that we go together and started walking.  He yelled, “NO!” so loudly, that I believe half the crowd turned to look.  If I was blending in before, it wasn’t happening any longer.   There was nothing to do then but take out my phone and glide silently over to the nearest picnic table while I waved him off. 

He hesitated, then walked, alone, over to the crowd of perfect strangers and started to mingle.  Another family rite of passage.  Not exactly the same thing as killing an animal with a spear, but daunting all the same.   After a while, my presence as a lingering parent became so ridiculous that I found out when to pick him up and walked back to my car.  As I was driving away, I saw the students walking into the house to start the meeting.  I yelled, “Remember the Abbots!”  and waved goodbye.  Then I headed toward home with that nagging sense of emptiness that I always have whenever my kids are more than twenty feet away. 

When I picked up Matt that evening, he nearly talked my ear off, telling me all the details of the night.  He’s been hanging out with some of the rougher kids in the high school.  I told him before he went to school that his purpose was to be “salt and light” and to look for the kids who were usually by themselves because they were the ones who would need friends the most.  Apparently, one of the young life students rides the bus to school with Matt and saw him talking with an undesirable.  That night, she took him aside and told him “You know, you really shouldn’t be talking to that kid.”   Matt told me that he answered, “I know, but how can I be Jesus to him if I don’t talk to him?”  I smiled quietly inside and started mentally ticking off all my fellow Jesus-Freak parents who would be hearing about THAT comment, when Matt gave a little smirk and then he said, “I got her.  Didn’t I mom?” 

Four more years.  I get four more years with him, and then he’ll be going off to college.

I wonder sometimes, if I fully understood how much I was going to love my children, whether I would have been able to muster the courage to have them.