Monday, November 29, 2010

Celebrating holidays

One of the delights of childhood for me and for my daughter is celebrating the religious and cultural holidays. I grew up in England and I have very pleasant memories of Christmas. Our family had very specific rituals and traditions even though my family was not very religious. These rituals and traditions I have passed on to my daughter , we have kept a lot of them, thrown out others and created some of our own. We eat Christmas Cake, well maybe just the icing (I am one of the few adults in Northern California that loves fruit cake!!) decorate a Christmas Tree; buy a new ornament each year; attend a performance of the Christmas Carol ; watch the Nutcracker; open presents on Christmas morning; sing the Hallelujah chorus and take a hike before dinner with friends. Since being in America I also love to make bread each year. I often make Challah and take a loaf to share at the Chanuka celebration of our Jewish friends.

At this time of year , we celebrate Chinese New Year, by going to our favourite Chinese restaurant. We eat the same favorite dishes and watch the Lion dancers weave around the tables and chairs.

Both of us have adopted Thanksgiving and it has become our favorite holiday. Why? Because holidays and traditions for us are about celebrating with family and friends - being in community. My daughter is learning that an important part of gift giving at holidays is sharing food and laughter and conversation in a community of friends, who are very much part of our extended family. What traditions do you pass on? What traditions have you created together as family?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Your child as a US citizen

I was looking at articles on the Families with Children from China website and read one by a lawyer talking about how our children get official documentation as proof of citizenship if they are children adopted from a foreign country. (for additional information see article at ) In the year 2000 , one of the last policies/acts Clinton signed into being was the child citizen act of 2000, which decreed that all children adopted from abroad and now residing in the US will automatically become citizens. When I adopted my daughter 6 months after this act came into being my daughter automatically became a US citizen. I had waited one year before my citizenship paperwork was finalized and I attended my ceremony of being sworn in as a citizen in San Francisco.

The problem is , I received a certificate documenting that I am a citizen, my daughter never did get one due to there not being official paperwork during this time period. The fee to obtain this documentation has now increased to $520 and can be obtained whenever the parent or adoptee feels it is important to do so. This only applies to those children adopted from abroad between 2000- 2004. As an adult immigrant myself, I recommend that if this is your situation you do obtain this documentation and/or obtain a passport.

As an adult immigrant myself, I have run into situations where I have to prove my citizenship, job applications, social security number etc and I find it is becoming more and more necessary in more and more situations, during our present times.

Proof of citizenship is also a passport. I have a passport for my daughter. A passport is renewed every 5 years. The renewal process entails: an in person appearance with the application paperwork and be prepared to give up the original documents for proof of adoption + her state adoption certificate + the old passport while the application is processed.

Living in America is wonderful and for all immmigrants, at times it is challenging if you do not have the right piece of paper on hand when you need it most to prove citizenship.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Help baby calm himself

How does your child sooth himself when he is emotionally upset? This is a good thing to know about your child. Is your child able to sooth himself? how long does it take for him to calm down? Even more important , how do you maintain your calm and sometimes your sanity during these times? How do you reconnect with eachother after such an energetic disconnect?

We come into the world with all the potential ingredients to learn to calm and sooth ourselves. In the ideal world, our nervous systems learn quickly with the guidance of an attentive parent. In the first month of life the baby is encouraged to suck on a finger or thumb or little fist or pacifier for comfort; to be held close and rocked; to look up into the eyes of an engaged parent etc. This is the ideal and it is something very few older adopted children got to experience. Their ways of managing or calling attention to their 'upset' are often very skewed and can be extremely damaging to themselves and to their close relationships. So what to do?

I am not encouraging parents to treat their older children like babies. However, it is useful to feel into this deficit to understand more about your child and what might be needed during these times. Give a quick reassuring hug or hold your child; sit quietly together, or apart in the same room or if necessary apart in different rooms for a short period of time; talk to you child about what is happening to her; reassure your child that you know this is not all she is.
Responding to the body cues and facial expressions of a teenager and maintaining your own cool, can help a lot more than being lost in an intensely emotional maze of words and decoy of cognitive debating that can go on for hours.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Parent classes for Adoptive parents

I went to a child and infant CPR class on Tuesday night. The class was packed with parents and child-care educators. I am so glad that I had a refresher class as the last time I took this class was pre 2006 at my daughter's nursery school and the recommended techniques have changed.

Adoptive parents often do not think of going to these basic infant care and safety classes while they are in the busy- ness and all consuming experience of the adoption process. So here are the must take classes I would recommend to put on your list of things still to do while preparing your daughter's bedroom and safety proofing the house and getting finger printed for the 3rd time!:

1) CPR and first aid class for children and infants(2-3 hour class)

2) A basic infant care class with hands on practice with dolls, if you are adopting an infant. It is a great way to gain information about vaccinations;sleeping safety;swaddling etc;ways to hold and comfort a baby; early childhood development etc (all day 5-6 hour class usually).
The medical centers where I have taught classes UCSF and CPMC in San Francisco have classes. My 'welcome home' classes will cover some of this infomation also post adoption and are geared specifically towards adopted infants whereas the classes at the hospitals are specifically geared to pre-birth biological parents to be.

3) Car seat safety. Do this before the child gets in the car. ie. pre-adoption. Go to Highway patrol or fire station or AAA (you do not have to be a member) You do need to make an appointment and learn how to fit your child's car seat securely in your car. (I thought I had the seat secured safely and sturdily until I got the highway patrol treatment test. (It only takes about 10 mins to get it right.)

4) Obtain your' local emergency medical services' phone number for your area and program it into your cell phone. I found out in the CPR class that if you call from a cell phone with 911 you will be put on hold for many minutes, and you may not have that kind of time in a medical emergency. Call you local police station or fire department to get that number.(Takes a few minutes)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Adoption is viewed as a single event........and yes , 'gottcha day' or the day that you adopted your child is a time to celebrate and honour each year. However, adoption is an on-going event that is part of the fabric of each day for both child, siblings and parents. In small and indisriminate ways and in large obvious ways, not necessarily a good or bad thing, it just is.

Such as looking at your parent's face in the morning; remembering her birth parents on her Birthday each year - or when you discover your child has been hoarding food in his bedroom, and you are trying to understand the meaning of this behavior so he will just finally stop doing it. Differentiating between what is an adoption issue and what is a 'kid issue' is not always easy for parents. However, as parents, our own capacity and practice at managing the good, the bad and the ugly in life can be part of the way to guide our children through these more tumultous times. We are the anchor through the calm and the storms.

Losing and loving is part of life for all of us and it takes practice and a life time to manage both well. So it should be of no surprise that many adopted children who often experience loss early on without the cognitive ability to understand its meaning act out when subsequent losses occur in their lives. As consequence, they develop a sensitivity to transitions and separations and changes in structure or routine. Loss - small or large - can cause temporary disorientation or it may cause internal distress that is acted out in disruptive behavior. At these times , your child needs the guidance of a patient parent well versed in managing loss and love, ready to listen and willing to understand.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Touch stimulation and socio-emotional development

When I began working with infants and their caregivers in the fostercare system just 6 years ago I was often met with skepticism and questions from other mental health professionals like: " you know this client is an infant?! Why does an infant need a therapist?" I believe they had pictures in their heads of me sitting behind a couch , notebook in hand, with a baby lying on it pondering a mobile?!!!! Times have changed thanks to brain research and the evidence that early childhood intervention is beneficial due to the plasticity of the brain during the first 18months (particularly as regards attachment) and then first 5 years of life.

If your baby has been in an orphanage or foster-care (this is especially true of internationally adopted children) prior to joining your family you know that their basic needs have been taken care of : feeding, clothing, sheltering, medical attention. However there is often not the time, or the motivation for that caregiver, to encourage the socio-emotional development by holding, hugging, touching, playing, laughing with the baby.

Now your baby is home, the best toy is you the parent and the best stimulation for the brain and nervous system are all these fun interactions.
Infant massage allows focused time for all these interactive experiences. It is duirng these times with the adoptive parent that the baby understands that he/she is special and precious in the eyes of his/her own parent.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The power of a story

We all love a good story to take us away from reality into some fantastical world or a reality that can reflect what we know. One of my favourite past times at present is to read children's books. My daughter and I go to the Mill Valley library , take out 2 copies of the same book and then we have a race to the finish. We got through the whole series of 'Harry Potter', the 'Crispin' series and the 'Thief Lord' this way and now we are embarking on the 'Golden Compass' after finishing 'The City of Ember'!!!

I realized today while reading, that their is a common thread to all these modern day children classics. They are all about orphans or about children who have lost their parents ; are adopted by relatives or living with caregivers who are barely around. In this fantasy world, this absence of adult supervision, allows the protagonist to grow up in a blink of an eye and accomplish amazing feats. The heroes and heroines end up solving mysteries, saving cities and conquering the dark dangerous forces of the world. They often become leaders.

So I was just thinking and it is just a question and I do not know the answer - Where does the fantasy end and reality begin for some adopted children when reading these books? Or even watching a Disney movie? Those children who have encountered the true reality of the dark hurtful forces of the world or survived multiple losses, can these stories be healing for them or are they a painful reminder of their past? Or is it both? I do know that some of my clients have benefited greatly from identifying with sports figures and actors who are celebraties, who they know have been adopted or been in the fostercare system. Our stories can be so powerful for us, both in the telling and in the reading.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Resources for newly adopting parents

I have taught newborn parenting classes and infant massage classes at two hospitals in San Francisco for 9 years to biological parents to be. For adopting parents the resources in the Bay area are limited although the infant massage class I teach is certainly open to adoptive parents. There is a great emphasis on the adoption piece and safety proofing the home, of course, when our families are being created and not so much on the basic parent piece.

I have found that newly adopting parents can benefit greatly in taking some classes in basic infant care/infant massage ( if adopting infants) infant/child CPR/ basic parenting classes. Also, understanding basic child development can help a lot in coming to understand your child and their needs. Here are some resources that you may find useful: has wonderful parenting classes and specializes in mixed racial/cultural adoption. is a CPR class taught in Marin county by a colleague Georgia Montgomery.
My 'welcome home classes' located in Mill Valley are an attempt to fill this gap in support for newly adopting parents. is a fabulous and informative web site about child development.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Answering questions about adoption

November is National awareness adoption month. One of the most informative and wonderful sites about adoption on the web is , as it covers the whole vast spectrum of adoption and topics about adoption. This morning I was reading an article about "Questions come with the territory" by Leigh Schindler Powell.

As an adoptive parent , born in England and living in America whom adopted my daughter from China, I get many opportunites to educate and inform strangers and friends and relatives on a daily basis about adoption - if I choose to. I say choose to, as one thing I taught my daughter right off the bat , was that we always have a choice about whether to answer a question when asked, depending on how the question is asked and who is asking. These are also opportunites to advocate for my child's positive sense of self as these are times when she feels that she is different and our family is different.

I am reminded of the times in the local Mill Valley park when children would innnocently come up to me and ask if I was the nanny and I would proudly say "no I am her mother". Then there was the time when an adult stranger ,who out of the blue, asked me 'how much did she cost?' Initially, I felt surprised and angry at her insensitive question but then I replied that my daughter is priceless and moved on. However, my daughter, who was about 5 , and I had a very juicy and interesting conversation later on at home as her wonderful bright ,curious and observant Nature, had been really chewing on this comment and wanted more information. It was one of those times when the adoption photos came out and I told her story again, in a new way.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our stories of celebration and resiliency

We each have our own poignant story to share and understand. Here is mine, told and retold many times in many different ways. When we arrived home from China and the front door to our home finally closed , leaving my daughter and I - baby and mother - to begin our lives together, I was both scared and excited. Those of you who have been through this know what I mean.

Becoming an instant parent without 9 months of going in the same direction in the same body can be a shock to the system! Then think on those parents who adopt older children , school age and teenagers - when adoptive parent and child finally decide to live together it is a colliding of worlds and histories and rhythms and cultures and sometimes fully formed personalities. Adoption is certainly not for the feint hearted and it is definitely the right thing to be doing for a lot of people. It can be very rewarding to both parent and child given time and patience and love.
As an adoptive parent in 2001, there were no post-adoption professionals to help support my journey as an adoptive parent. The adoption agency had been supportive on the road to adoption and now except for the final check up visit from the social worker, that was it. In the beginning I had begun reading many books about adoption, most of which I stopped reading as they scared me with worst case scenarios. The books that were most important for me to read, and are still important were the books about Chinese history and culture.

I did not have someone to give me reassurance when I had questions or fears about my baby’s development or the possible impact of her first months of life in the orphanage. I had friends who had also adopted children, that was helpful. The best advice I was given by one of these friends ,was to follow the lead of my daughter and not impose on her whom I think or want her to be. Another perspective that helped me was to see myself as Guardian of this precious child.

So I decide to just begin, by closely following the non-verbal cues of my daughter and responding the best way I knew how to become her parent. She taught me to slow down; deal with my anxiety and to trust my instincts. We got to know other adoptive families and we joined a nursery school co-op. Professionally, I became an advocate and therapeutic support for adopted children and their families.

A book to give guidance during stressful times

Here is a book that I have found very helpful. Rick Hanson , a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, wrote the book "Buddha's Brain" with Richard Mendius, MD. Do not be put off by the title. You do not have to be Buddhist to understand the information and get support by applying the simple exercises in this book.

It is a paperback book, reasonably priced, that I keep near by, to consult every so often when times become disheartening or stressful for me. It is a powerful reminder to me at these times that I have all I need physiologically to recalibrate my nervous system from flight or fight into relaxation. Whether I am caught up in worry and anxiety or intense excitement I am reminded that I am only human and by breathing in and out 5 times in a focused way I can be kind and compassionate to myself. It just takes redirecting my attention and focus. Chapter 5, titled "cooling Fires" gives many effective exercises you can follow and he then gives an explaination of how these exercises impact your nervous sytem and brain chemistry. I was given this book by a dear friend , and I in turn have given this book to other dear friends!