Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Richmond? Richmond!

On the list of romantic getaways two harried parents could sign up for, Richmond is probably pretty far down.  But it worked for us.

Start with the fact that it is within driving distance; even with Memorial Day traffic, we made it in less than five hours, which is doable for a four day weekend.  Given the uncertainty of our schedule, not having to factor in plane tickets was a necessity.

Our accommodations were, by themselves, worth the price of the vacation.  The Jefferson Hotel has some eye-popping fanciness to it.  Even if we felt way too low-brow to partake in the restaurants or the high tea, it was fun to enjoy the lobby and the room as well as to play paparazzi to countless high-end functions.

As it is the capital of Virginia, Richmond also has a surprising number of really good sights, especially since we are fans of gardens and museums.  Without keeping too ambitious a schedule (since we've learned that vacation is for chilling), we were still able to walk through three great green spaces (Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Hollywood Cemetery, and Maymont Nature Center) and take in four museums (Virginia Fine Arts Museum, Civil War Museum, Museum of the Confederacy, and Virginia Holocaust Museum).  Four of those seven places were totally free, too.  Just to give you a sense of how close together everything was, on one very short (~3.5 miles) morning run, I was able to see the Virginia State Capitol, Canal Walk, Historic Tredegar, and the Virginia War Memorial.

I will admit that our first evening there was a bit dicey.  It was Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, and our part of town was more abandoned than a ghost town.  It didn't bode well that two of the restaurants I had scoped out ahead of time were both closed by 5 and not to open again until Tuesday.  But we didn't give up, and were rewarded with a nice stroll through Carytown and excellent brunch spots in Shockoe Slip and Shockoe Bottom.

Of course, the best part about a kid-free vacation is catching up on sleep and exercise.  Sleep was helped by our room's thick curtains, which made midday naps divine.  And exercise couldn't have been more convenient, since the hotel fitness center was open 24 hours and a YMCA was literally right across the street from our hotel.

We missed a few things but four days was as much as we can spare.  Glad to have gone.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Feast or Famine

This is a picture from earlier in the month, when I took the kids to Chinese buffet, but it's an image I often see at the dinner table.  There are meals where Asher eats everything in site.  Believe it or not, there are also meals where Asher hardly eats anything at all, whether because he is distracted, picky, or just not hungry. 

Jada and Aaron were like this too, feast or famine.  Asher may end up being bigger and stronger than both of them combined!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Affirmation is Always Life-Giving, But Opposition is Not Always Life-Altering

For most of us, parenting is a lifelong lesson in having healthy self-esteem.  We are constantly questioning our strategies and tactics, getting down on ourselves when things go sideways, feeling raw about our fundamental worthiness to shepherd a helpless little child into functioning adulthood. 

Some of us face additional challenges.  Being poor means having fewer resources – financial, social, and otherwise – for a task that seems to always require more.  Special needs of many types make for extra levels of difficulties, panics, and preparations, to say nothing of the weariness of dealing with others who are ignorant, insensitive, or downright cruel.   Adoption, such as what we have gone through, comes with it its own challenges, from having to jump through extra hoops to prove you can be a parent to dealing with additional social and cultural nuances so that your children can be all they were born to be. 

Which is why I think it feels so good to give and receive affirmation to and from other parents.  Whether it is a “love” on Facebook, a knowing guffaw while comparing bedtime horror stories, or a kind handwritten note sent across many miles, we desperately need to receive such life-giving care and so we are heartened when we receive it and take every opportunity to give it freely.

Affirmation is always life-giving.  But the opposite of affirmation, opposition, is not always life-altering.  Affirmation builds us up.  But opposition does not have to tear us down. 

Sometimes non-affirming words, even if given inartfully, are the tough love we need.  There’s a difference between every child is unique and every parent knows what’s best for their child, versus we always make good choices and never need correction.  For sure, sometimes we need to learn the hard way.  But sometimes we need to be told that we’re wrong, that we’re going in the absolute wrong direction, and need to do an about-face.  That kind of opposition does not have to tear us down, and in fact can be a precious part of building us up.

But that’s easy to envision.  Of course we need to be corrected every once in a while, and thanks be to those who are willing to say “I disagree with what how you’re looking at this.”  But some opposition is deeper and is thus harder to overcome.   Family expectations, cultural mores, and religious upbringing fall into this category.  No matter how independent we are in our thinking and life choices, this kind of opposition weighs heavily on us, because it gets to the core of what we believe is right and wrong. 

It is wrong to blindly subscribe to a “I am the captain of my own ship” approach to life, that scoffs at any sort of outside code that would seek to bind us from freely making whatever choices come to mind.  This can be a fairly American way of thinking but is not necessarily the wisest way forward for a parent.  Family, culture, and religion leave incredibly important imprints on who we are and how we should live, and there is a lot of good in that.  But those influences do not always reconcile with each other or with what we consider to be what’s best for ourselves and our families. 

Without getting too personal, I can say that I have had to rethink all three of those things as I consider how to take care of myself and my family.  As I have encountered opposition of all kinds – whether and how to add to our family, whether and how to adopt (and then to adopt outside of my race), what sorts of parenting approaches to take in certain situations – I have had to examine what of my familial, cultural, and religious foundations are worth hewing to and what need to be ignored. 

I am shaped by a myriad of forces.  Some are in-born: not long after Amy and I first met, she described me as someone who, if I was told to go right, would immediately go left to see what that was like.  Some are faith-based: I am not afraid to do what I think is the right thing, regardless of the cost, because I worship a Savior who did the ultimate right thing and as a result paid the ultimate cost.  And some are environmental: Amy and my decision to adopt an African-American baby (and, hopefully, another) was moved in part by the contemporary experience of blacks in America. 

Some of this, too, boils down to being a parent, and getting older, in that I care less what others will think of me or if they will be disappointed in me or angry at me, and I care more about being spent in the service of taking care of my family.  Not being liked and being disagreed with isn’t pleasant for anyone, but as parents it will invariably happen.  Whether we allow it to alter our lives in detrimental ways is entirely up to us. 

Friday, May 12, 2017


Something I often tell my younger staff members at work is that as you get older, you have to prune your life down to fewer and fewer things.  In our youth, we really can have and do it all: family, school, church, sports, music, friends, clubs, social.  Through the seasons of life, we learn we have to pare down and say no, as our obligations get deeper and our need to focus gets sharper.

Mostly of her doing, Jada is arriving at this important life lesson.  She enjoys all of her extra-curricular activities, and enjoys that she has a lot of them.  But she knows there is a trade-off in terms of time and energy, especially for school.  And, knowing that she wants to do better in school, she is making some preliminary decisions to cut out some activities so she is able to hit the books harder and stay on top of assignments better.

Just to clarify, I am not on the "kids are overscheduled" bandwagon.  Learning how to juggle is an important life lesson that gets learned in childhood when you have to take responsibility for multiple things and not have anything fall through the cracks.  Jada likes everything she is involved in, so it's not a matter of dissatisfaction or burnout.  But, on the margins, saying no to one thing allows her to give a better yes to other things, and she has decided that having more space for school is worth losing things that she otherwise likes and would want to spend time on.

I'm proud of her for reaching these conclusions, and for the motivations and thought processes that went into arriving at those conclusions.  I think she's going to be alright.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Still Feeling Empty

It's been three weeks since we got the fateful final call from our lawyer in Memphis to tell us that the birth mother had decided for sure to keep the baby.  Since then, our lives have been quite full, juggling work worries and house projects, shuttling kids to extra-curriculars, celebrating Asher's 2nd birthday.  But we're still feeling quite empty.

The preparation, logistically and emotionally, for a newborn baby is extensive.  There are things to buy, things to do around the house, and space to make in the family schedule.  We had done all of that, and now have no actual baby to fill the space.

What we have made space for during this time is to grieve, to take care of ourselves, and to enjoy time together as a family.  That's been good.  We are reminded, daily, of how blessed we are to have each of our kids in our life.  We love them dearly, deeply, and fiercely.  They bring us so much joy.

We especially dig when they are all together.  Playing, laughing, squirming, even fighting.  Each of them is precious to us, and together they are all the more precious.  God has been very good in assembling our family. 

Paradoxically, though, it has been those moments where we feel both the most full and yet also the greatest sense that we are still missing one.  Amidst the giggles and the shrieks, Amy and I will say to each other, "there should be another one, a little baby, in the mix,." and we'll allow ourselves to imagine a newborn in a carrier adding their gurgles and coos to the cacophony of sounds.  Or when Amy was doing battle with Asher and his hair in the bathtub - conditioner and comb in hand, Asher's wails piercing the air - I said to her, "we should have two babies in that tub, one big fat one and one tiny little baby one." 

The crazy thing about adoptions is that we could get a match today or we could get a match never.  How's that for a time range: somewhere between now and never.  Maybe we will soon be paired with another baby to be, and that hole in our hearts will be filled in that way.  Or maybe it is not to be, and we will need to let go of that hole.  Either way, we do feel full.  Even if right now we don't yet feel complete.

Friday, May 05, 2017

A Pox on @AllianzAssistUS, Kudos to @AmericanAir

The failed adoption we experienced last month is still an open wound in our family’s heart.  We are so appreciative of everyone rallying around us with love, warmth, and wisdom, because we sorely need it.  In our time of weakness, you are all strengthening us. 

To add insult to the injury of losing a baby girl, our travel insurance company, Allianz Global Assistance, denied our claim for reimbursement for the plane ticket and luggage fee that we ended up not needing.  I’ve pasted their cruelly formal language below.

Thank you for choosing Allianz Global Assistance to protect your recent travel investment. We are sorry that your travel experience did not go as planned.

We have completed our review of your claim, and unfortunately are unable to provide benefits under the coverage you purchased because:

As your insuring agreement indicated, this is a named perils travel insurance program, which means it covers only the specific situations, events and losses included in this document, and only under the conditions we describe. Unfortunately, travel cancellation due to a change in adoption proceedings, is not among those reasons.

Based on the claim documents you submitted, we regret that we are unable to honor your claim.
Please refer to your copy of the Certificate of Insurance/Policy and Letter of Confirmation for more information on the specifics of the policy that you purchased.

If you have additional questions, please call us at 1-800-628-5404.

I have never purchased travel insurance before in my life, as I’ve seen it as a bit of a rip-off.  However, given the uncertainty of our situation at the time, I decided when hastily booking our flight that I ought to take this precautionary measure.  To have to jump through a bunch of hoops to file the claim, to wait for many days, and then to get a soulless boilerplate letter in response, is reprehensible.

In contrast, I made my case to American Airlines, which we booked our flights through, and they provided a full refund.  It is, financially, a trivial amount in the grand scheme of things.  But, symbolically, being made whole on this one part of our adoption experience feels like a step towards being made whole over all, for which I am grateful. 

To the extent that you make your own travel decisions based on the testimonials of others, please consider our story when choosing your vendors.  I salute American Airlines for helping us find out footing, and a pox on Allianz Global Assistance for kicking us while we were down. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Huang Family Newsletter, April 2017

This whole month was about low-level prepping for a baby, having that prep escalate severely once the birthmother went into labor way earlier than we were ready for, holding our hearts in our hands as we were told she was having second thoughts about going through with it, and then absorbing the stomach punch of the adoption not happening.  So it's been a hard and tiring slog, and we are still feeling a bit lost seeing as that we had oriented our whole lives around adding a newborn into the mix.  But we are thankful for what we do have, which is three beautiful kids and a growing hope that there is still one more to come.