Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Early Shower For An Early Flower?

As the saying goes, "April showers bring May flowers". In our case, we're hoping that a March shower may bring an April flower...our son Zachary.

On Sunday, March 21st, we had our baby shower. It was a wonderful day that we won't soon forget. But before I describe the day, I'm going to go back a few months to set the stage.

Shortly after we received our referral for Zachary, Laura and I started talking about what we would like to do for our baby shower. Our dear friend Candy had already told us that she wanted to plan our baby shower, so we didn't have to worry about anything. Very quickly, we decided that we didn't want to have a traditional baby shower. Since our adoption of Zachary was the beginning of our family, we wanted to celebrate this by having a baby shower that I call a "family style" baby shower. We decided that we didn't want our baby shower to include just women or be a couple's baby shower. We chose to have a baby shower with families...women, men, and children.

After deciding on the type of baby shower, we started searching for the perfect baby invitation. We chose an invitation that was a cross between a baby shower invitation and a baby announcement. The invitation wasn't just a way to invite people to the shower; it was a way for us to introduce our son to the family and friends that we love. The invitation included a magnet with a picture of Zachary sitting in his bumbo seat (taken at 5 1/2 months) and the following wording:

Zachary Holden Se-hun Townsend
Born July 9, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea

A little boy born in a far away land,
God has chosen us to hold his hand.
Our new little boy has so much love to share
a little blessing forever in our care.

Join us in a couples baby shower for
Daniel & Laura Townsend

Sunday, March 21st, 2010 (2:00– 4:00 p.m.)

Hampshire Neighborhood Center
6006 Hampshire Circle
Waldorf, MD 20603

Hosted by Candy & Jason Vestal
RSVP to Candy by March 7th

* Children are welcome *

Once the invitations were sent, all we had to do was wait for the special day to arrive. We knew the baby shower was in capable hands with Candy and her family of helpers. Over the coming weeks, she started receiving responses. She kept most of the responses a secret so that we would be surprised when everybody arrived at the shower. About a week before the shower, Laura started to wonder if her parents might try to surprise us by arriving even though they said they weren't able to make it. She knew that her dad said that he had to work that weekend, but she began to suspect that she wasn't getting the truth. She talked to them several times during the week and they continued to deny that they would be at the shower. The Friday before the shower, I received a call from Laura's dad. He asked me what we were doing that evening. Now I was starting to wonder if they were planning something. At this point, my curiosity overcame my good senses. I decided to do some online research to see if the story that her parents told us really checked out. I found that the reasons that Laura's dad gave for not being able to attend the shower were not true. I told Laura. I won't go into all the details of the next 24 hours, but in the end her parents and brother showed up at our house on Saturday afternoon. Their plan had been to show up at the shower and surprise us. Unfortunately, I ruined that surprise.

Now that Laura's parents were here, we decided to make the most of our time together. Since it was late in the afternoon, we started to discuss going out for supper. I'm not sure who made the suggestion, but it was decided that we should go to a Korean restaurant. Laura's parents had never tried Korean food, so we wanted their first experience to be a positive one. We chose to eat at Han Gang in Annandale, Virginia. Laura and I had been there several times and always enjoyed our meals. Since it was her parent's first time eating Korean food, we suggested that we all share a Korean barbecue...a good introduction to Korean cuisine for people that want to start slowly. We chose several meats including bulgogi (marinated thinly sliced beef) and galbi (beef short ribs). While the waitress was cooking the meats at our table we also had a variety of panchan (a variety of small dishes of food) including the most famous dish in Korea...kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). Laura's parents were very open to trying all of the foods. Their favorite was the bulgogi. We had a nice evening and were happy to share a little bit of Zachary's culture with Laura's family.

We awoke on Sunday morning to a beautiful sunny day...a perfect day for a baby shower. The shower was at 2:00pm. We gathered up everything we needed for the shower and headed over to our community center about 30 minutes early to get ready. When we walked in, we were both overcome with emotions. Candy and her family had done a great job setting up the room. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Table at the room entrance (everybody signed the mat around his picture)

Table decorations

Notice the small cards containing words written in English and Hangul

The cake table (including a couple of photos of us)

Close-up of the cake

Gift tables

The baby shower started a little late (we couldn't help mingling with everybody). Candy kicked things off by welcoming everybody. Next, we got to enjoy some great food. We had sandwiches, chips, meatballs, macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, vegetables, and home-made punch. Laura and I ate first then made our way around to all the tables to get our pictures taken with everybody. After that, we started opening our gifts. As you can see from the pictures above, we have very generous family and friends. We received many cute outfits, fun toys, and practical items too. It was a great mix. There were also a number of cards that had some special messages that brought tears to our eyes on more than one occasion. In particular, my sister, her husband, our nieces and nephew sent us a hand-made card with the following poem...

Family Tree
We've add to our family tree,
a stronger one to make...
A child from another plant,
has become our new namesake.

Just as a limb is grafted
from one tree to another...
It alters and improves the plant,
making it uniquely, like no other.

Our family tree has been improved,
adoption made this so...
For love, much more than bloodlines,
makes us thrive and grow.

You chose to share your life and love,
and all the joys to come...
Our "Family Tree" has blossomed,
with the arrival of your son!

It took us quite a while to open the presents, so at 3:30 we took a little break to play a quick game. Candy handed out a piece of paper to everybody and asked people to correctly spell Zachary's Korean first name. To our surprise, 7 people got it right. We were impressed that so many people not only knew his Korean name, but were also able to spell it correctly. For the record, his Korean name (and the name we will use for his second middle name) is Se-hun. The shower ended around 4:15 as we gave our tearful thanks to everybody.

It was a very special day that was everything we hoped it would be and more. As we sort through the gifts and finish getting his room ready, we realize that we are another step closer to traveling to be with our son. We're hoping that our wonderful March shower will bring us our little April flower.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Two Whirlwind Months

Just over two months ago, we received our referral for Zachary. I intended on updating the blog with the latest information, but it always seemed like there was something more important that needed to be done. I'm sure all of the parents reading this will tell me it's great practice for what is to come...too much to do and not enough time to do it all. A few days ago we received updated information on Zacharay so I figured it was time to get everything down in writing as soon as possible.

After receiving our referral, we scheduled a meeting with our social worker to discuss what we had to do for the next phase of the adoption. We met with her on January 15th. The majority of the meeting was used to explain the next round of adoption paperwork that we would need to complete. We also talked about some of the things we would need to do when we bring Zachary home (for example, writing status reports and a visit to our home from our social worker). After the meeting, we knew that our first priority was to get our paperwork completed as quickly as possible so that it wouldn't slow down the process of bringing Zachary home. While the paperwork wasn't as extensive as the initial adoption paperwork, there was still much to do. To give you an idea of what we had to do, here's a list of the primary documents that we had to complete:
  1. Acknowledgement of Child Information (acknowledgement that we received specific informaiton about Zachary)
  2. Adoption Placement Agreement (list of policies and items that we agree to abide by in order to proceed with the adoption)
  3. Parent Escort Travel Form (statement that we intend to travel to Korea and escort Zachary home)
  4. Statement of Adoption (statement that we intend to adopt Zachary...this is used to assist with the issuance of his emigration passport)
  5. I-864 Affidavit of Support (form filed with Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) that is used to sponsor Zachary's immigration)
  6. Birth Certificates and Marriage Certificate
  7. Tax Returns
  8. I-600 Visa Petition (form filed with CIS to classify Zachary as an immediate relative)
We were able to complete the paperwork quickly and send it off. The majority of the paperwork was sent back to the adoption agency. We also had to send some of the paperwork to CIS for processing.

Even though we had a lot of paperwork to complete, we still had many other things we wanted to do. Most important to us was sending a small care package to Zachary and his foster family. As soon as we received his referral, we knew we wanted to send him a few special items that he could enjoy and be his first connection to us. After much searching, we came up with the following items...
  1. An infant photo book that contained photos of us, Critter, the house, and Zachary
  2. A small stuffed moose (a little touch of Maine) with rattle and teething rings
  3. A fleece blanket that matches the bedding in his room
  4. Two disposable cameras (with the hope that we'll get some photos of him and his foster family)
  5. A beautify book of watercolor images of the DC area for his foster family
We sent his care package out on February 1st with the hope that he would get it in a few weeks. Laura even made sure she had a tracking number to follow it's progress. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the information provided by the post office so the tracking number was invalid. We had to hope that the package would get there safely. It took over a month to find out the status of the package, but I'll save that story for later in the post.

With our receipt of Zachary's referral, we realized that we had to get on the ball and get his nursery put together. We had already ordered his furniture (see earlier post) and received a call from Great Beginnings that the furniture was ready for deliver. Before they delivered everything, we wanted to make sure that we cleaned all of the "junk" out of his room so that we could get it painted. We decided to go with two wall colors with the facing wall sharing the same color. We took his bedding with us to the local Lowes store to make sure we got the exact colors that we wanted. We settled on "dusty yellow" and "guacamole". We brought home all the supplies and over the next week, we spent most of our free time getting the room ready. I started by putting a fresh coat of white paint on the ceiling and installing a ceiling fan. After that, Laura and I worked together putting down a coat of primer than two coats of paint on each wall. We finished up by repainting the closet doors, room door, and window trim. We completed it near the end of January, just in time for his furniture to be delivered on February 3rd. Now we're working on all the final decorating to make his room is extra special. Once that's done, I'll update the blog with photos.

Amidst all the happiness of getting everything ready for Zachary, there was also a tiny bit of sadness. A while ago, Laura and I talked about whether she would like to go back to work or not after we bring Zachary home. Because our journey towards parenthood has been a long one, we knew that we wanted to be there as much as possible to experience every part of Zachary's life. After discussing it in depth, we decided that the best choice for us as a family was for Laura to be a stay-at-home mom. At the end of January, she decided that her last day at work would be April 10th. It was a bittersweet moment when she gave her notice to her district manager. Even though she was sad that she was losing a job that she had loved for over 8 years, she knew she was gaining so much more with our son.

As the reality of the referral continued to sink in, we realized that there were a lot of items that we would need in order to take care of Zachary when we bring him home. We made several visits to a couple of baby stores and did a lot of research in our Baby Bargains book so that we could figure out what we needed. We had a lot of fun registering for all the essentials (and also some fun items) as we imagined what it would be like to have Zachary with us. At the same time, our close friend Candy started planning for our family baby shower that will take place in just two weeks on March 21st.

During the last two months, we also received a couple of updates that provide information about Zachary's development. In some ways it can be sad to see this information because we know we're not there to witness and share in all of his progress, but it also brings us so much joy to read about his accomplishments. Each report is another connection between us. The first report was written on January 15th. It started out with information about his height (24 inches) and weight (17.2 pounds) from late December. His development is going well. Here are some of the more interesting comments:
  • Lifts up chest lightly if laid on tummy and pushes around the entire room
  • Sits up briefly if helped to sit but falls sideways soon
  • Keeps standing with good force in legs if helped to stand and tries to bounce up and down
  • Laughs and giggles when he feels good
  • Recognizes his bottle and likes (that's evident based on the pictures of our chubby little man)
  • Does not sleep deeply during the day and frets before going to sleep (this may be our biggest challenge when he comes home)
The second report was written on Laura's birthday (February 18th) when he had his well baby check-up. He had grown to 25 1/4 inches and gained a little over 2 pounds to 19.4 pounds. He's still eating well, drinking 6 ounces every 3 hours plus enjoying Gerber baby food and rice. His development continues to remain on track for his age. For his gross motor skills, he rolling over, crawling, sitting alone, pulling to a standing position, and walking with the support of furniture. It sounds like he's already very mobile, so I'm sure we'll be chasing him all around the house. He also responds when he hears his name and enjoys playing peek-a-boo. His language skills are also progressing. He says single syllables, imitates speech sound, and can say dada and mama.

On top of the updates, we also received another photo of him. As I said earlier, we sent a care package to him at the beginning of February. When we received his photo, we knew that the care package was received because the picture was of him, his foster mother (this was our first chance to see a picture of her), and his "exploration" of the items in the package.

The first thing we noticed in the picture was the wonderful smile of his foster mother. You can just see the pride and happiness in her face. I know that when we travel to Korea and she has to say good-bye to Zachary, it's going to be an extremely emotional time for everybody.

Our experience of the past two months closed out last week as we attended our monthly PIPs meeting and also celebrated a Korean holiday. The PIPs meeting was last Tuesday (March 2nd). Prior to the meeting, we attended a Korea travel meeting that was led by several families who had recently traveled to pick up their children. They shared a wealth of information about what they learned including airline reservations, places to stay, and the experience of meeting their child for the first time. After the travel meeting, we had our regular PIPs meeting. We started out be welcoming home three children (2 from Korea and 1 from China). It was extra special for us because one of the couples lives close to us and we've quickly become good friends with them. It was great getting to see little John for the first time. The final part of the meeting was a presentation about adoption lifebooks. A lifebook is a book that you put together to share with your child to explain his/her adoption story. It's meant to be a private book that contains information about the child's birth, birth parents, country of birth, and other information about their adoption story. The focus of the book is on the child's story, not the adoptive parents story. The lifebook helps the child to understand their personal adoption story and gives them a sense of identity, showing them that their life didn't just start when they were adopted.

We ended up this week as we celebrated the Lunar New Year at a local Korean church. The celebration was supposed to occur in February but was rescheduled to yesterday due to the blizzard we experienced in February. It ended up being a perfect day. We decided to invite Laura's brother so that we could share a little bit of the Korean culture with him. The celebration was organized by a group called Korean Focus. The group promotes Korean culture with a focus on the Korean-American and adoptive family communities in the Washington DC area.

As soon as we arrived, we felt right at home. There were many adoptive families with Korean born children. We could imagine what it will be like when we bring Zachary in future years. We started by mingling with everybody, getting to know some of the families. Zachary quickly became the topic of discussion as Laura shared her "brag book" with his photos. Even Uncle Pat got involved as he kept suggesting that we share Zachary's pictures with anybody that was interested. It was wonderful experiencing the joy and excitement of family, friends, and total strangers. It's amazing to have so much support.

We enjoyed some Korean food for lunch, then went to watch the opening ceremonies which included both the Korean and American national anthems, a Korean traditional fan dance, and a Korean pop music dance performance. After the opening ceremonies, we decided to explore all of the activities that were offered. We learned about Sebae which is a New Year's bow that is performed to elders to show respect. A little 3 year old girl dressed in a traditional hanbok performed the bow and wished us a happy new year (speaking in Korean). She was so cute!!! After that, we went to see Korean calligraphy. We told them our American names and they wrote them for us in Hangul (the Korean alphabet). We also asked them to write Zachary's Korean name (Se-hun) which led us to sharing his pictures with a Korean woman. When she saw him, she got very emotional and thanked us repeatedly for sharing the pictures with her. As she handed the pictures back to Laura, she bowed, kissed the photo book, and thanked us. We could tell it really meant a lot to her. We're not sure if she had a previous experience with adoption or if she was just thankful that a child of her heritage was going to be loved and cared for. It was a very emotional moment that we didn't expect to experience but will always remember.

As you can see, the last two two months have been filled with wonderful chaos. We continue to stay busy getting ready for the big changes that will come and hope that in another two months we'll be travelling to see Zachary to bring him home.