Monday, December 31, 2012

The wait ends, the wait begins

Dear Eli,

I really wanted to have our Letter of Approval (LOA) for Christmas. In fact, if there had been no presents under the tree, just an email in my inbox, it would have made for a perfect Christmas. People in our Facebook group seemed to be getting them so quickly, after 32, 34, 37 days, and on Christmas Day we had been waiting 54 days. But the call didn't come, the inbox didn't ding. And as I tried to focus on the kids here at home,  I couldn't help but think about you in Xuzhou, and how you didn't even know it was Christmas. You're too little to care, but that didn't make it any easier.

I thought the call would come on the 26th. We went to see Les Miserables and I put my cell phone on vibrate and tucked it in my shirt, sure it would ring while we were at the movie. It didn't.

I thought the call would come on the 27th. We went to your Great-Uncle Bryant's funeral and I turned the phone off, convinced that when we left the church there would be a message waiting for me. There was no message.

By the 28th, I was not just sad-- I was mad. I read about someone on an adoption message board who got their Letter of Approval after just three weeks, and this was a family who had no special circumstances-- just good luck. I went to my adoption board on Facebook, hoping to be able to vent and find some solace, but there were all sorts of announcements that other families had gotten their approvals too, in record time. I went downstairs and found my godmother, Annie, and spent about an hour whining to her about how unfair the process can be, and how I wasn't sure I could bear much more.

And then, of course, the phone rang.

We waited 57 days for our approval, which is six days fewer than we waited with Rose last year, but I've never been a patient person, and I am, sadly, an intensely competitive person, so when other people started getting their approvals quickly, I wasn't happy for them, I was mad for myself. Both this year and last I've been forced to confront this ugly side of myself before the letter finally came.

But now it's here! And we have official approval to become your family!

So what comes next? We'll move back to the US side of the equation for the next three steps. We have sent off the paperwork for the I800 approval, which is our approval from USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration) to adopt you.  It typically takes about three weeks to get that approval. After that, the National Visa Center will cable our file to the US Consulate in Guangzhou (that step takes another week). After that, our Article 5 letter (official approval for your visa) will be approved by the US Embassy, which usually takes about two weeks, but will probably take three in our case because I expect that it will be held up by Chinese New Year. Once all of that is squared away, we will receive our Travel Approval from the CCCWA, which usually takes at least two more weeks. That all adds up to about nine weeks, or two months, which means we can probably expect our TA around March 1st. We hope to have you in our arms before the end of March.

Within three months, you will be our son. Rest assured that you are already my son in my heart.



Book Review: Sugarhouse by Matthew Batt

Title: Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into our Home Sweet Home
Author: Matthew Batt
Enjoyment Rating: ***
This book would be rated: PG-13 for some language
Source: Personal Copy
Books I've read this year: 131

There have been times when I've thought about writing a memoir. But I've lived a fairly pedestrian life-- without embellishing or seeking out crazy experiences, what would I write about? In some ways, I feel like Matthew Batt wanted to write a memoir, but like me, he had a pretty stable, boring life. But when you're working on your PhD in Creative Writing, you've gotta be writing, right? So Batt ended up writing about the most important thing in his life at the time-- remodeling his house in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City, with family issues with his wife, mother and grandfather providing the levity that varnishing wood floors and finding scratch-and-dent appliances could not.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was seeing Salt Lake City through Batt's eyes. He and his wife came to the city so he could go to graduate school, and it was never more than a temporary stop for them. As a non-Mormon and a non-Utahn, it was fun to see him process the city's liquor laws, quiet streets on Sundays, and all the other things that make Salt Lake a unique place to live.

Book Review: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Title: Telegraph Avenue
Author: Michael Chabon
Enjoyment Rating: ***
This book would be rated: R, for language and sex
Source: Library Copy
Books I've read this year: 130

While the back jacket said the book was like Middlemarch, but set in Oakland in 2004, I found that it was not as much fun as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or as sweet as Manhood for Amateurs. The novel centers around Brokeland Records, a second-hand music store run by Archie Stallings and Nat Jaffe, whose wives, Gwen and Aviva happen to run a midwifery business together, and whose sons also happen to be sleeping together, but I am getting ahead of myself.

When a Virgin Records-style conglomerate, owned by a black football player from Oakland, wants to set up shop down the street and revive this part of the city, Nat and Archie know that their days as business partners are numbered. Against the backdrop of this main story are dozens of other stories, happening as far back as the 1960s, all of which work together to seal the fate of Nat and Archie.

I read this book months ago and forgot to blog about it, and while there are parts that seem very real months later (Archie is a particularly cool character, and Chabon's obvious love for Oakland, his hometown, comes through on every page), I never felt swept up in the narrative. I felt more like I had to talk myself into reading more. So the book felt like a good book, but not a particularly enjoyable read.

Book Review: Red Thread Sisters by Carole Antoinette Peacock

Title: Red Thread Sisters
Author: Carole Antoinette Peacock
Enjoyment Rating: ****
This book would be rated: G
Source: Personal copy
Books I've read this year: 129

When Wen was eleven, it was finally her turn to be adopted. Her new family traveled all the way from Boston to China to come get her. It should have been the happiest day of her life, and probably would have been if it weren't for the knowledge that she was leaving her best friend, Shu Ling, behind at the orphanage.

Carole Antoinette Peacock's new novel, Red Thread Sisters, manages to fictionalize the experience of an older adoptee from China while staying (mostly) true to the timelines and facts of how the adoption process works. When Wen arrives in Boston, she starts on a mission, first to convince her new family that they should adopt Shu Ling, and then to make sure that she makes good on her promise to bring her best friend to America before she turns fourteen and "ages out" of adoption eligibility.

Peacock's writing is good and she has clearly done her research. After I finished the book, I gave it to my ten-year-old to read, and she was a little bit disappointed that Shu Ling and Wen did not end up as "real sisters." But I think that was fitting-- it felt more realistic and less like a fairy tale the way Peacock wrote the story. All in all, I think it's a great addition to YA books in general and to books about adoption in particular. 

Book Review: The Twelves Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen

Title: The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Her Royal Spyness #6)
Author: Rhys Bowen
Enjoyment Rating: ****
This book would be rated: PG
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 128

When we meet Georgie in the latest installment of the Her Royal Spyness mysteries it's Christmas time again, and faced with the prospect of spending the holiday at Castle Rannoch with Fig and her extended family (including a very handsy brother-in-law) Georgie escapes to the tiny village of Tiddleton-Under-Lovey, where she lands a position as the token royal at a big house party. While Georgie knows that her mother, grandfather and Noel Coward will be staying down the street, she's unprepared for some other surprises-- including the arrival of Darcy, her erstwhile boyfriend, and the murders that start happening at regular daily intervals.

Sometimes I want to shake Georgie because she can be so dumb, and since I figured out the pattern on the first murder, there was at least a hundred pages in the middle where I wanted to say, "Duh!" But there did turn out to be a deeper mystery in the story, and while there wasn't much advancement in the overall plot during the first five books, fans of the series will find this story very satisfying.

Book Review: Twinspiration

Title: Twinspiration: Real-Life Advice Through Pregnancy and the First Year for Parents of Twins and Multiples
Author: Cheryl Lage
Enjoyment Rating: **
This book would be rated: PG 
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 127

When we bring Eli home this spring, we're going to have two one-year-olds. They won't be twins, but in the adoption world, we call two kids living in the same family who were born less than a year apart "virtual twins." Since there aren't any books written about virtual twins (but there should be), I decided it might be helpful to read a book about twins. So I asked a friend who has two sets to recommend her favorite book, and she said that Twinspiration was the only book worth reading.

I'll admit that I skimmed a lot of this book. Lage's twins were her first children, and while she writes engagingly and honestly, the first half of the book is about the time leading up to her pregnancy, the pregnancy, and the delivery, none of which applies in my case. And while the rest of the book might be a great resource for a mom of actual twin infants, I found that chapters on sleep schedules and wardrobes don't apply as much to virtual twin infants of opposite genders. So I'll keep looking. And maybe writing.

Book Review: Elsewhere by Richard Russo

Title: Elsewhere: A Memoir
Author: Richard Russo
Enjoyment Rating: ***
This book would be rated: PG or PG-13-- I can't remember anything objectionable. Maybe some bad language?
Source: Library Copy
Books I've read this year: 126

There are upsides and downsides to most families. I've made conscious decisions to do some things like my parents did, and to do other things in opposition to the way they did things. I wouldn't be surprised if my kids grow up craving quiet houses with lots of space they can call their own. Novelist Richard Russo grew up as the only child of a bipolar single mother, and he seems to use Elsewhere as a kind of therapy writing-- he recounts the good times and the increasing bad times, and the burden of being the center of his mother's universe (for example, when he got into college in Arizona, they both moved from upstate New York, where his mother had lived her whole life so she could be close to him).

While Elsewhere was interesting and as well-written as Russo's fiction, it was also a hard book to read. While I'm sure that my kids whine about me and I've been known to whine about my own mother from time to time, it feels a little unsettling to read a book where the main objective is to write about how difficult his mother was. He has PLENTY of stuff to write about, and I'm sure it was difficult, and I think it can be both immensely healing to write about and such a relief for people in similar situations to be able to read a book like this, but I also spent a lot of time wondering what his mother would think if she were still around to read what Russo had written.

Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Title: The Secret Keeper
Author: Kate Morton
Enjoyment Rating: *****
This book would be rated: PG
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 125

When Laurel Nicolson is sixteen, she decides to hide from her younger sisters in the family tree house during a birthday party. Just as she's gathering herself to rejoin the party, she spots a man walking up the driveway. Her mother, Dorothy, at the doorway to the house, also sees the man, and when he approaches her mother, Dorothy takes the knife she was holding to cut the birthday cake and plunges it into the man's chest.

Nearly fifty years later, Laurel is a successful actress (along the lines of Helen Mirren, I imagine), who returns home for her mother's ninetieth birthday party. While she's been home many times over the last five decades, this time it's different-- Dorothy is dying and Laurel suddenly feels compelled to figure out the mystery of the man's death. At the time it was written off as self-defense (there was a stalker in the area) and no one in the family ever talked about it again. So Laurel begins her search, and readers are treated to the story of Dorothy's as a young woman in wartime London, along with those of her best friend Vivien and her boyfriend Jimmy.

I'm reluctant to write too much about The Secret Keeper, because I don't want to give away any of the twists of the plot, but I will say that it is a rich, intense, deeply-layered story with fabulous turns of plot and a very satisfying ending. In fact, I think it's probably Morton's best novel so far. 

My only quibble (and I think it's a small one) is that Morton seems to give her historical characters much richer personal lives than her modern characters. In The Secret Keeper, I was interested in Dorothy's life, but I wanted to know more about Laurel and it seemed like she was more of a vehicle in telling her mother's story. I felt the same way with The Distant Hours-- Edie's own story was only significant in it's relationship to her mother. As a result, Morton leaves out the complications of love lives and families and things like that, and the modern characters feel a little flat.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
Enjoyment Rating: **
This book would be rated: R, for language, sex, and adult themes
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 124

It took me months to finish The Casual Vacancy. I had it on the Kindle app on my phone, and while I'd normally take a few minutes to read while waiting in the carpool line or at the drive-thru (yeah, I do that), I always found myself opening Facebook instead of the Kindle app as long as I was reading this book. Like most Harry Potter fans, I had high hopes for The Casual Vacancy. I really wanted Rowling to make the jump to being a successful author for adults (although I was fully an adult when I read HP and I enjoyed every minute of the seven books). I know there were a lot of readers out there who were disgusted by the fact that when Rowling writes for adults, she uses language a lot stronger than Ron's "bloody hells" and instead of furtive kisses beneath the shadows of Hogwarts, the teenagers in The Casual Vacancy are getting fully naked under the bushes.

I'm a libertine, at least when it comes to reading about other people getting up to no good, so the sex/drugs/language wasn't what bothered me most about The Casual Vacancy. In the opening pages of the novel, Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Pagford town council, drops dead in the country club parking lot on his way to celebrate his anniversary with his wife. With his seat open (the titular "casual vacancy"), Rowling's narrative focuses on the people who throw their name in for the seat, their families, and others who have a stake in the game. It's an interesting premise, but the way the story unfolded was problematic in a couple of ways. First of all, there were lots and lots of characters presented relatively quickly, and it took me a while to sort them out. Secondly, most of these characters were fairly repugnant. The boys are bullies. The head of the town council will stop at nothing to get his son seated. Everyone snipes and backbites. The one character who I feel that Rowling sort of wants her readers to like, Krystal Weedon, is the foul-mouthed teenage daughter of a junkie who wants a boy to get her pregnant so she can drop out of school. While I don't want or need my characters to be Pollyannas, the unlikeability of these characters reminded me of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom or Jennifer Egan's The Visit from the Goon Squad. Rowling had me on the verge of hating the characters too much to care what happened to them.

Last week, I gave myself a deadline to finish this book. I sat down and forced myself to read, mentally composing a "literary bombs" review as I gritted my teeth. And in the last thirty pages, all of the loose ends of the dozen or so main characters came together, and there was actually a story there, after all. And it was a pretty good (if a bit preachy) story. The bummer is that it took 480 pages to get there.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Staying connected, one click at a time

Dear Eli,

One of the big differences in expecting an adopted baby and expecting a biological baby is that you can't feel them. Your big brothers and sisters made me feel sick and tired, gave me heartburn, and kicked the heck out of me. I can't feel you, hold you, or watch you grow. Every so often we get pictures of you, but those are way too few and far between. But now that I hope we've entered into the second half of our wait for you, I've been allowing myself to feel connected in one of the few ways I can-- I'm shopping for you.

I know, this sounds so crass and commercial, and maybe I am a bad person, but buying things for you helps me feel like you're actually going to be part of our family. I love imagining you in the cute little outfits we've bought, especially the ones that match Rose's. A few weeks ago I decided that I'd let myself get you just a few basic essentials-- some stretchy pants and soft t-shirts; the kinds of clothes that would be forgiving if you're a little bigger or a little smaller than we expect. So I got a few, then a few more, and I added in a swimsuit and some onesies and socks and a pair of soft little shoes and a snowsuit (so I can keep you bundled to China granny standards). It was a delightful couple of hours, picking things out and dreaming of you. And then I sat back and realized that other than a pair of shorts and a couple of pairs of pajamas, we now have everything we need to go to China to get you.

And that's great, because we're prepared, but it also stinks, because what am I going to do to pass the time for the next four months? I needed to pace myself!

There's a scene in Mary Beth Chapman's family/adoption memoir Choosing to See in which she and a friend learn that unless they get on a plane THAT DAY they won't be able to get their daughters for months (because of SARS, I think). So they had just a few hours to buy everything they needed, get packed, and get on the plane. Once I realized that I'd bought everything we needed for you, that I hadn't gone slowly enough to stretch things out, it made me wish (and not for the first time) that someone would call and tell us to get on a plane today. Give me an hour to pack and I totally could-- nothing would make me happier, in fact. But that's not gonna happen. I need to go slow, to keep the demons in my brain that have started whispering that our paperwork might not chug along like it should at bay, to breathe deeply, and to be grateful that this waiting time helps me realize just how much I want you to become my son.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

On numbers

If you follow my book reviews, you know that I've always kept track of the number of books I've read each year. I started doing this a long time ago-- back in 2005, I think, when I came across the "50 Book Challenge" as a blog meme. I wanted to make sure that I could read 50 books in a year, so I started reviewing them on my blog (this was back at a time when everything I did made it onto the blog), and I kept track of how many I'd read just to make sure I could hit fifty. I met the goal and then signed up for another year, and another, and another. Most years, I read more than I'd read the previous year, but I did have a few years that were a little slow. I did this mainly for myself, because I wanted to know how much I'd read, but after 2012, I'm abandoning the running ticker.

I'm doing this for a whole bunch of reasons. First of all, I realize that having a running ticker is a little braggy, which was not my original intent. Secondly, I sometimes find that I shy away from long or challenging books that I know will take me a long time to read because I know that they will mess with my average. I don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity. Back when I started back at school a few years ago, I thought my average would go down because I wouldn't have much time to read, but I found that between listening to audiobooks for two hours each day and doing lots of reading for class, I actually read more than I'd done previously. But with a toddler underfoot all day, and a job, and four big kids, I am definitely not reading as much this year. And next year, when I have two toddlers, I have a feeling it's going to be worse. And I don't want to have to stress about how much I read, since reading is supposed to be a pleasant escapism, not a death march. So there you have it-- starting January 1st, I'll still be providing short book reviews, but I'm abandoning the annoying counter of exactly how many books I've read. Add them up yourself if it's important for you to know.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Title: Back to Blood
Author: Tom Wolfe
Enjoyment Rating: **** (although I am embarrassed to admit this)
This book would be rated: NC-17 or X for extremely graphic sex scenes
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 123

A few days ago I was reading the newspaper and saw that Tom Wolfe's novel Back to Blood had been nominated for a "worst sex in fiction" award and I laughed out loud. I'd just finished reading Back to Blood and I was having a hard time sorting out in my mind if Wolfe was a genius or just a dirty old man. I will say this-- I did a LOT of fast-forwarding through this book.

Back to Blood takes place in Miami. Maybe that says it all. Wolfe says that "New York is the city of money. Washington D.C. is the city of power. Miami is the city of sex," so it shouldn't come as a surprise that everyone thinks below the belt in Back to Blood, a story populated with (hot) Russian oligarchs, (hot) Cuban police officers and nurses, and (hot) Haitian college students. The main characters, Magdalena and Hector, start the book as a couple, but Magdalena dumps Hector for the (hot) white doctor she works for. As Magdalena and Hector grow apart, the new situations they find themselves in have a way of working to bring them back together, under much different circumstances. The book deals with power, corruption, race relations, and lots, and lots, and lots of sex.

One thing that I really enjoyed about the book is that Wolfe creates two main characters who are both deeply flawed, but also sympathetic. I wanted Hector and Magdalena to gain a bit of self-mastery, but also to find success and happiness in Miami.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: The Phantom by Jo Nesbo

Title: The Phantom
Author: Jo Nesbo
Enjoyment Rating: ***
This book would be rated: R- for lots of drug use, language, violence
Source: Library copy
Books I've read this year: 122

You know after you've read a whole bunch of books about the same character, they all start to blend together? Like it's hard to remember if the Triwizard Tournament happened in the fourth Harry Potter book or the fifth? That's how I feel about Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole books. I finished this book a few weeks ago, and it took a few minutes for me to stop and figure out the plot, because this story folds into the one before it in a way that makes it hard to separate them.

At the beginning of The Phantom we see Harry Hole returning from Hong Kong, where he has lived for the last few years after quitting the Oslo police force. But he's not coming back for a vacation (no, that's so not Hole's style), he's back because Oleg, the boy who is the son Harry never had (he's actually the son of Rakel, the love of Harry's life, but they are both too messed up to have a long-term functioning relationship), has been arrested for murder on drug charges. While he knows that Oleg's life had gone off the rails since he went to Hong Kong, Harry doesn't believe it's possible that Oleg actually murdered his friend and fellow dealer. So Harry returns to Oslo to sort things out.

The Phantom was an entertaining read that I busted through in a few days. I felt that it was more predictable than some of Nesbo's other stories (I figured out who one of the baddies was way earlier than Harry did, go me!), and it also had more pathos. But I've decided that it's hard to read so many books about someone who is emotionally kind of bankrupt, and who has opportunities to actually talk about hard things, but refuses to do so. I'm sure I'll read the next book (if there is a next one-- the ending was kind of nebulous to this story), but I feel that the books no longer pack an emotional punch for me. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Wonder by RJ Palacio

Title: Wonder
Author: R. J. Palacio
Enjoyment Rating: ****
This book would be rated: PG
Source: Library Copy
Books I've read this year: 121

Last year, when we were waiting for Rose, I read all of the books I could about kids with cleft lip and palate. There were quite a few boring non-fiction books, a few truly awful memoirs (shudder), and other than Precious Bane, no fiction that I could find. In Wonder, fifth-grader August Pullman has a facial deformity (including a cleft lip and palate). His parents have home schooled him, but now that he's old enough to go to middle school, the family has decided that he will attend a school nearby.

While this story could easily be sappy or depressing (and honestly, I did find the last few chapters a little sappy), what interested me about Wonder was not Auggie's story itself, but how Palacio makes him just one of a whole cast of characters. We hear from his sister, her sister's friends, the kids who bully him and the kids who learn to become his friends despite what he looks like. Annie's class was reading the book at school at the same time I was reading it at home and I think it was a great story for both of us. I know that Rose and Eli's disabilities, although evident, are as serious as Auggie's, but this book helps me see the kinds of ways that kids may react to them as they get older.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Enjoyment Rating: ***
This book would be rated: PG-13 for teenage pranks and lots of language
Source: Library Copy
Books I've read this year: 120

It's been so long since I last reviewed books that I will undoubtedly forget some that I read. In fact, I've almost forgotten the plot of Paper Towns, and I certainly would have forgotten that I'd read it if it hadn't been for the draft here on Blogger. This has been the year of John Green for me, and now I think I might have read all of his YA novels. In Paper Towns, Quentin and Margo are high school seniors living next door to each other in suburban Orlando. Quentin has always had a thing for Margo, but she has always seemed distant-- aloof, removed, too cool. Then one night, he finds Margo at his window and she leads him on an adventure all over town-- a night he will never forget. And then, Margo disappears. The thing is, though, that Margo has disappeared in the past, so no one seems overly concerned-- in fact, her parents just want her to turn 18 so they don't have to worry about her any more. But Quentin is focused on finding her-- and he thinks she has left clues to let him know where she is.

I don't want to give any spoilers here, but one of the things that surprised me most about Paper Towns was that Green was willing to write a story where the ending wasn't entirely happy. He does a great job capturing teen dialogue (particularly the kind of raunchy talk that we, as parents, desperately hope our kids don't engage in). He also does a great job with characters-- I felt that both Quentin and Margo were richly drawn and complicated, and I loved Quentin's nerdy psychotherapist parents.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Title: The Distant Hours
Author: Kate Morton
Enjoyment Rating: *****
This book would be rated: PG or PG-13 for adult themes
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 119

I read Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden a few years ago, and although I vaguely remember enjoying it, I hardly remember it at all. I must have read it when I was feeling preoccupied about something else. Anyway, my friend Michelle was talking about Morton on one of our early-morning runs, and I decided to download The Distant Hours, mostly because I switched my Audible subscription from two books a month to one, so I've been buying long books lately (in the past, I used to buy short books, because I could finish them quicker, therefore boosting the number of books I read in a year, but that is a subject for another post).  Anyway, I started listening to The Distant Hours and at first, I wasn't sold. Although I know that Morton is an author living in Australia and writing about England, it bugged me that the narrator, Caroline Lee, had a decidedly Australian sound to her voice when she was reading about an English story (Lee is a wonderful, gifted reader, by the way, but as an American, that inconsistency felt jarring).

Like many of Morton's stories, The Distant Hours has a modern-day protagonist who sets out to discovery a mystery from the past. In this case, Edie Burchell is an editor living in London who has a difficult relationship with her mother, Meredith. Edie discovers that her working-class mother was sent from London during the Blitz to live at Milderhurst Castle, which was inhabited by three sisters, Percy, Seraphina, and Juniper. When Edie gets lost in the countryside and finds herself at the castle, she starts to look into her mother's past, which leads her back to a Gothic murder-mystery that has overshadowed life at the castle for more than fifty years. It's a lovely book with many layers of story, and Morton is a natural storyteller--she knows just when to break away from the 1941 story to the 1991 story, always leaving readers wanting more.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: The Red House by Mark Haddon

Title: The Red House
Author: Mark Haddon
Enjoyment Rating: **
This book would be rated: R, for language, sex, and general peevishness
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 118

Oh wow, it's been a long time since I've written any book reviews, and when I was going through my draft posts, I happened on this book, which I read back in the summer but never reviewed. So take my review with a large grain of salt because it's sure to be even foggier and more outdated than the others.

I really enjoyed Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time so listening to The Red House felt like an obvious choice. The book is about two English siblings whose mother has recently died. The brother, a wealthy doctor living with his second wife and her daughter, invited his sister and her family, including three children, to stay at their vacation rental home in the countryside.The book is one of those where it feels like the author is trying to show the reader how smart he is-- while the story is chronological, it switches perspective from character to character with no notice, and we often get the stream of consciousness thoughts of characters. Basically, everyone fights, a few people have epiphanies, and the reader is left feeling entirely hopeless that any person in that family will life a happy (albeit fictional) life.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Things I Cannot Change

Dear Eli,

When I was a little girl, we used to go to Pittsburgh to go visit my Nana several times a year. I loved going up to her bedroom and going through her jewelry, and on the dresser, near her little cup of clip-on earrings, she had a wooden sign with the Serenity Prayer written on it:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

In choosing you, there is an element of having the "courage to change the things [we] can," but that's not what I want to write about tonight. We chose you because we want you to be our son, not because we're do-gooders who are out to save the world. I don't ever want you to think that you're our service project-- you're our baby boy, and we love you just like we love your brothers and sisters. Don't ever forget that.

I've been thinking a lot lately about waiting for you and waiting for Rose. I think part of it is because we were at the same stage in our wait at exactly this time last year, and I was a bucket of nerves. I actually told my friends to stop calling me because it made me nuts every time the phone rang and it wasn't the adoption agency.

It just seemed so damned unfair that Rose was living in an orphanage, where she was literally tied down so she wouldn't learn to sit or roll, where she wasn't fed anything besides formula, where she was cold at night and her caregivers had to split their attention on a whole room full of babies, when she could have been here with us.

None of the steps made any sense to me, and the step that made the least amount of sense to me was the LOA wait, because I knew people who got in the short line and people who got in the long line. I'm always a little bit bitter at the grocery store when the checker in the next lane goes twice as fast as mine. The whole process felt so cruel and illogical to me that I don't think I really believed that we would get approval to go to China and they would actually hand over the baby whose photo we'd been staring at for six months.

But we did get the approval, we did get on a plane, and on a cold March afternoon, Rose was placed in our arms. My faith was tested, and proven.

So that makes the wait a little bit easier this time around. I won't say it's easy, or that we don't think about you, but it's not the same kind of agonizing drag on my heart that it was last time, and I think a large part of that is because we've seen the end from the beginning with Rose, but also because I've had to do a certain amount of accepting uncertainty in order to remain sane.

The things we cannot change:

 - The fact that when you were one day old, for reasons we can only guess at, your birth family decided that you would have a better shot at life without them. We don't know if their choice was courageous or cowardly-- we probably never will. But let's try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

- Your special need. We can do our best to give you fully functioning hands and feet, but they will never look like other people's hands and feet. It doesn't matter one bit to us, and we hope that it won't matter to you, or to the people who take the time to get to know you.

- That you will spend your first year and a half in an orphanage. We saw your photo even before it was posted to our agency's website. We decided you were our son one week later. Ever since then, we've done our part, working as quickly as we could on each step. But there are lots of steps, and not everyone in charge of those steps is your mother, so sometimes the steps take longer than they might if I were in charge. But I promise you that until we get you in our arms, we are not going to let it take one week, one day, one minute longer than we have to.

- That we are going to take you away from everything you know. We got an adorable picture of the babies in your room the other day. You're all lined up for the camera, and a bunch of the babies are tackling each other. We're going to take you away from your posse of little guys, your walker, your Chinese pop music, and everything else you know. We're going to turn your life upside down. And as excited as I am to get you in my arms, I know it might not be a comforting place for you at first.

- That you have a nasty skin thing going on. I worried so much about Rose and her eating while we were waiting for her. When we got updates from her orphanage, all I wanted to know was whether or not she was eating and gaining wait. I was a little obsessed. You probably have scabies. You're shaved bald, and you have little bumps on your hands and feet. Last year I would have schemed and hemmed and hawed about how to get you the lotion you need to get rid of it, and it would have been futile. So we'll bring the lotion and treat you when we get you. It's all we can do.

- That the phone won't ring until it rings. I'll pray and hope and cross my fingers, but really, that's all I can do. This year, I hope not to alienate my friends or tell them they can only text until I get that all-important call from Seattle. And when it comes, you bet your biscuits that I will sob just as hard as I did last year when I finally got the call about Rose.

I really think that accepting the things you cannot change, of relinquishing control, takes courage too-- the courage to change ourselves. And while I don't want to wait one more second for you, I am thankful for this waiting experience for the way it's working to transform me into becoming a better, more patient mama to you and your brothers and sisters. Of course, we're only a month into the wait, I'll probably be feeling a whole lot less serene if we haven't heard a month from now.