by TEJ | Nov 1, 2022 | Parenting and Family humor
This is my family (2012 photo). At left is our younger daughter Emily. At right is Rachel (older by one year). The guy next to Michele, attempting to hide their receding hairline, would be me.
My wife Michele is originally from Toronto, Canada. I was born in Albany, NY. Somehow, through an odd circumstance of good fortune, we ended up moving to Seattle in 1991. (But that’s a story for another time). We are adoptive parents of two high-spirited daughters, Rachel and Emily. I often tell people Rachel is the greatest Christmas gift I ever received, while Emily is the greatest birthday present I ever received. I will explain why in this story about how our rather international family came to be.
When we began thinking about starting a family, we eventually learned we would be unable to have biological children. While for some couples, this is a source of tremendous grief and loss, I never felt that way. To me, it just meant we would start our family in a different, admittedly unexpected way – through adoption.
We eventually decided to adopt from China – in part because we had read that each year there were tens of thousands of children without families – mostly girls – that were forced to grow up in orphanages. And conditions in these orphanages varied greatly from city to city. China required the adoptive parents to travel to China (unlike some nations where the babies are flown to the states to meet their new parents). We would be required to spend roughly ten days in China to complete the adoption and get approval to leave the country with our new baby. We had no idea what to expect.
We quickly let go of the notion that our child might have blue eyes, reddish hair, and freckles. But still, it was more than a little surreal to think that many thousands of miles away in a city we’d never heard of, there would be a tiny, four-month old baby who was somehow destined to become our daughter. And then, twelve months later, we would fly to China to adopt a second baby to complete our family.
Our daughters, Rachel (now 28) and Emily (27) will someday tell their own adoption stories. But this is how I experienced it. In the late 1970s, China adopted a one-child policy. The rationale was to reduce the growth rate of China’s enormous population. (China discontinued this policy in 2016.)
This is a photo from our very first evening with Rachel – while we were still in China. At first, Rachel protested vociferously against going to sleep. I quickly learned to pat the bed next to her in a constant thumping sound, which soothed and quieted her down.
In rural China, the tradition going back 5,000 years was for young couples to move to be near the husband’s family and take care of his parents when they grew old. As a result, in rural China, if you could only have one child, it made economic sense to prefer having a son over a daughter, so you’d have someone to take care of you in your old age. It was a form of social security throughout most of China.
An unfortunate result of this one-child policy was that every year, for decades, thousands of baby girls were abandoned (or worse) – often placed in early morning hours outside of a government building, in the hopes they would be quickly rescued and taken to an orphanage.
In August 1994, we began the paperwork to adopt. About the same time we submitted our application, a tiny baby girl, later given the name of Yong Li by the orphanage, was born in a rural village in southwestern China outside of the city of Kunming. A few months later, we were matched with her and assigned a travel date to fly to China: Christmas day.
As a toddler, Rachel loved food – especially playing with it. On her 1st birthday, she tried a piece of birthday cake for the very first time. At left, she is contemplating what exactly to do with her cake. At right, Rachel about ten minutes later, having annihilated the cake.
But our adoption almost fell apart the night before we would leave for China. We were planning to travel with Michele’s mother. We celebrated the holiday the night before, at my brother Bob’s house. Because I had arrived at Bob’s house from work, we had taken separate cars, with Michele and her mom driving to Bob’s house from home.
Around 9pm, I arrived home before Michele and her mom. I saw that the answering machine had a message. It was from Bob: “Tim, go to Evergreen Hospital as soon as you can. Michele and her mom have been involved in a very bad car accident. They’re in the hospital. I don’t know how serious it is.”
I drove to the hospital with competing anxious thoughts racing through my mind: How badly were they hurt? Would they both be okay? What would happen to our plans to fly to China? Would we lose this baby? Would I be flying there on my own? Once at the hospital, I learned that Michele was okay – badly shaken, but okay. Her mom was badly bruised, but no broken ribs. The car was a total loss. But they were cleared by the doctor to fly to China – barely.
We got to the airport on Christmas morning. Michele’s mom required wheelchair assistance in order to board the plane. We arrived in Kunming in Yunnan province and filled out the first of what would be many rounds of paperwork. The next day, they brought us, along with three other couples, to the orphanage where little Yong Li had been since she was born in late August.
Emmy loved to play with the most unusual toys. She decided to try this new fashion statement, and I think she figured out she was being funny, because Michele and I laughed out loud.
When they presented a little baby girl to us, Michele and I were confused and concerned. The baby they gave us, Michele knew, was NOT our baby – based on the one photo we had previously been given. She handed the baby back and told the orphanage staff person, “That’s not our baby. Can you please look for our baby?”
A few minutes later, our facilitator came with another baby. And we knew in an instant this was little Yong Li. We kept her Chinese name as part of her name, because it meant “forever beautiful” and because we felt it would be a way to remind her of her Chinese heritage.
The moment I first held our four-month old baby in my arms I fell in love. I knew in that instant that I could not possibly love a child more than I loved this little baby. She didn’t look anything like me. I didn’t care. I am convinced to this day, she was destined to be our daughter. I bonded with her in a heartbeat. Then she threw up violently all over my clothes. That’s when I learned about the need to pat a baby’s back after she’s consumed formula.
I thought about how terrifying this whole ordeal must have been for this tiny infant. We didn’t look, smell or talk like anyone she had ever seen. Here we were, two complete strangers ripping her from the only world she had ever known. Then we would whisk her thousands of miles away to a world she knew nothing about. She had no say in any of this. She had to be feeling some level of panic.
We always knew we wanted to adopt a second baby from China. We’d probably wait three years, like many families do between kids. But in the ensuing months, we read news stories that China was preparing to close international adoptions to the United States, in part due to some negative news coverage in the US about Chinese orphanages. Concerned that the door might close forever, we accelerated our plans and filed an application to adopt a second child who we were pretty sure would be another girl. We would name her Emily.
By the time she reached pre-school, Emily overcame her introversion and blossomed into a very outgoing, energetic person. She was always very short for her age, so other kids liked to carry her around like a doll.
When we were approved, we were matched with a baby girl, estimated to be around 3 months of age at the time (but it’s just an estimate – they rarely know the actual birthdate of these babies – unless someone pins a note to their clothing). We were assigned a travel date of January 10, 1996 – my birthday. Ours would be the second to last group of American families permitted to adopt from China, before they closed the door on adoptions with the USA for several years.
We flew to Nanchang, in the province of Jiangxi, China, along with eight other couples. The baby waiting for us was named Jiang Qiu (pronounced “Ji-AHNG Choo”). It meant “Autumn River” (well, technically, “River Autumn”) and we decided we would keep her Chinese name as part of her middle name, like we did for her sister.
When we landed in Nanchang, our facilitator asked us all if we would like to see pictures of our babies. Until that moment, none of us had seen a photo of our matched child. I will always cherish the photo of Emily that they handed to me. In the photo, she had the most intense expression on her face. I remember thinking to myself in that moment, “I have a feeling this little baby is going to be VERY high-spirited.” I had no idea how accurate my prediction would eventually turn out to be.
We were supposed to go to our hotel and get a good night’s sleep before meeting our babies the next day. But then, in the airport parking lot, our facilitator asked, “Would you like to meet your babies tonight?” I distinctly recall thinking to myself, “Um, I really could use one final good night’s sleep” but everyone else shouted, ‘Yes, Yes, Yes!!”
So, we got to our hotel and within minutes, the nine babies were presented, one after another. The very last one called out was “Jiang Qiu” – our baby. She was so tiny – the smallest of the nine infants. And beautiful. Wrapped in five layers of clothing, the outermost layer being a red sweater, which we have kept to this day. Unlike Rachel, who was almost completely bald when we met her, Emily had a full shock of thick black hair.
We had a couple days in Nanchang to go sightseeing. So picture this: nine middle-aged Caucasian couples, walking around, carrying Chinese babies. We stuck out noticeably. We never saw another Caucasian our entire time in this city. I was carrying Emily on my chest. A man wearing a snuggly no doubt must have appeared even more unusual to the local population.
One of the many photos of Rachel (L) and Emily (R) from early childhood. I am guessing they are roughly 5 and 4 in this photo.
Before long, we became a bit of a curiosity for onlookers, especially elderly women, who seemed confused about why all of these white people were walking around carrying Chinese babies. One woman came uncomfortably close to me. She appeared to be scowling in disapproval. Then I presented to her a note, written in Chinese, that I had asked our facilitator to compose. The note read: “We are from America. This little baby girl is an orphan and has no home. We have come to adopt her and give her a forever home.”
Upon reading this note, the woman paused, looked at me, then at Emily, and suddenly her scowl turned into a huge smile. She gave me two enthusiastic thumbs up, then stroked Emily’s cheek gently. She could not speak English any better than I could speak Mandarin. But there was a quiet, unspoken connection, as she nodded, smiled, and showed the note to many of the other dozen women who had gathered around us. All of them started smiling and patting the babies’ cheeks.
By the time we arrived home with Emily, then about four months old, Rachel, almost 17 months old at the time, was thrilled. To her mind, we had brought her back her very own doll to play with. At first Emily was a bit overwhelmed by Rachel’s overpowering personality. But as the months and years went by, Emily stepped out from behind Rachel’s shadow to discover her own equally strong-willed personality.
In their early years with us, every night, we would hold them before putting them down for bed. I would kiss them on the top of their heads and tell them, “I love you to the universe and back.” I have often thought, yes, this is the family I was meant to have.
When Rachel (L) was 17 and Emily (R ) was 16, they traveled with Michele to China for three weeks. During that trip they visited three orphanages. It was their first trip back to China. This was, I believe, a life-changing experience for them. The photo of Emily is my single all-time favorite photo ever taken of her.
When Rachel was 17 and Emily was 16, they went back to China with Michele one summer as part of a group of adoptive families that visited several tourist sights of China, including the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. They also spent several days volunteering at three different orphanages. It was a powerful experience for both of them. Both girls told me how heartbreaking it was to have to say goodbye to these innocent children who most likely would never have the kind of lives Rachel and Emily had experienced.
A day does not go by that I don’t stop to reflect on the miracle that is our adoption journey. Like any other parents, we have had our challenges. And we have made our share of parenting mistakes. Both our girls went through the terrible teenage years in which at times, they would cause us many anxious moments and sometimes endless frustration. But both of them made it through those turbulent years and are leading for the most part happy and productive lives. We are deeply proud of both of them.
I often think about their birth parents and the pain and sadness they must have felt – and continue to feel – over having to make the most difficult decision any parent could possibly make – to let their beautiful babies go, for whatever reasons compelled them to do so. If I could wave a wand and make it possible for Rachel and Emily to meet their birth parents I would do it in a heartbeat. I wish I could somehow meet them just to let them know their baby girl found a good home, had a happy childhood, and is deeply loved.
People have said to Michele and me countless times that our two girls are “so lucky to have been adopted by you guys.” But I don’t see it that way. To me, Michele and I are the lucky ones. As we wrote on our adoption announcements: We didn’t give our two daughters the gift of life. But life gave us the gift of them. And they will forever be the greatest gifts Michele and I have ever been blessed to receive.
That’s the view from the bleachers. And no, I’m definitely not off base.
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by TEJ | Jul 5, 2020 | Lifestyles humor, Parenting and Family humor
Every single day people from all walks of life learn the upsetting diagnosis: They’ve become another statistic in the global pandemic of K.I.D.S. While there are many effective methods of prevention, as of today, there is no known cure.
Just as our nation is grappling with the Coronavirus pandemic, it appears there is another crisis rapidly spreading throughout the world. Over the past 50 years, throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia, there has been an explosion of reported cases of Kronic Incessant Disorder Syndrome (better known by its acronym, K.I.D.S.). No socio-demographic group has been spared by this invasive and intractable outbreak. In fact, I myself have been waging my own personal battle with K.I.D.S. for over twenty years.
According to humanitarian relief agencies’ longitudinal studies dating back to the 19th century, the number of known cases of K.I.D.S. is at its highest level in human history. Alarmingly, it shows no signs of reversing its upward trend. For millions of couples facing the long-term ordeal of K.I.D.S., there is no relief in sight and social distancing is simply not an option.
Scientists have been unable to unlock the mysterious inner workings of K.I.D.S., but its origins have been conclusively linked to a combination of alcohol consumption combined with unprotected sexual contact in the vast majority of cases. Warning signs that you may have contracted K.I.D.S. include an inability to maintain an orderly household and an increasing disregard for clutter and chaos. Another warning sign includes a dramatic degree of social distancing by adults who have not been exposed to K.I.D.S.
What makes this epidemic of K.I.D.S. so debilitating is that there is very little anyone can do to combat it. Once contracted, in the vast majority of cases, the condition, while not usually fatal, typically lasts the rest of their lives. People coping with even the mildest form of K.I.D.S. often report that the condition gets progressively more difficult to manage over time, as the virus mutates in appearance, continually grows in size, and in later stages becomes increasingly resistant to attempts to control it. As people struggle to adapt to living with K.I.D.S., they report that close friends they’ve known for years but who have not contracted K.I.D.S. often avoid them like the plague.
Early stage K.I.D.S. is often associated with significant sleep deprivation lasting up to eight months. During this “incubator” period, common side effects include a significant decline in the victim’s range of vocabulary, typically accompanied by an uncontrollable urge to speak in a high-pitched chirpy voice about successful bowel movements.
Scientists have identified an alarming phenomenon in people suffering with K.I.D.S. – a noticeable deterioration in their mental faculties. They speculate that this intellectual impairment may be caused by prolonged exposure to vacuous television programming dedicated to letters of the alphabet or possibly due to being subjected to endless recitations of drippy songs about Baby Belugas or beautiful days in the neighborhood.
Surprisingly, after a few years, some K.I.D.S. sufferers have reported brief intervals of partially regained lucidity and brief episodes where the worst aspects of K.I.D.S. appear to go into in remission. They can sometimes regain normal sleep cycles and are able to enjoy more adult-themed TV programming. There have even been reported instances in which people living with K.I.D.S. have experienced momentary fits of laughter at birthday parties, zoos, and little league games – but these anecdotal stories have yet to be substantiated with empirical evidence.
One of the most common ailments afflicting people with K.I.D.S. is a perceived loss of control, independence and spontaneity. They often report feeling chained to endless cycles of vehicular transport to soccer games, piano recitals, and doctor’s appointments, taking the place of time previously used for hiking with friends, playing tennis, and working out at the gym. As a result of this hard-to-break cycle, another common side effect of K.I.D.S. is unsightly weight gain and a marked decline in concern for personal appearance.
It is common for people with advanced stages of K.I.D.S. to experience wild swings of emotion and increased levels of stress. If you encounter an otherwise rational adult barking out phrases like who do you think paid for that? or would it kill you to say, ‘thank you?’ or because I said so!, the chances are high the person is battling K.I.D.S. There are many reports of K.I.D.S. wiping out a couple’s entire long-term savings. Some studies suggestion that this steep decline in personal net worth is most severe for people who have been struggling with K.I.D.S. for 18 to 22 years.
The good news is that there are glimmers of hope. For some people facing an uphill struggle with K.I.D.S., symptoms of frustration and exhaustion tend to fade about the time when the financial strain of managing K.I.D.S. has passed its peak. There are dozens of documented cases where victims of K.I.D.S. can resume relatively normal lives somewhere around 18 years from the onset of the condition, engaging in conversations about politics or professional sports teams or taking long drives that no longer require emergency pit stops to eliminate bodily fluids.
Theories abound as to the primary cause of an incurable condition suffered by adults called Kronic Incessant Disorder Syndrome (KIDS), but a recent study suggests prolonged exposure to rainbow-colored aliens with annoying, chirpy voices may be a contributor.
While there are several effective methods for the prevention of K.I.D.S., currently there is no cure. The unsettling reality is that the existence of K.I.D.S. has become a global epidemic. Ever since my wife and I first received the shocking diagnosis more than two decades ago that we had both become exposed to K.I.D.S., our lives have been consumed just trying to manage this condition.
But here is the oddest part about this chronically overwhelming, exhausting condition. Even though coming down with K.I.D.S. has radically turned my life upside down, drained my life savings and caused me endless sleepless nights, I can’t help but wonder what my life would have been like if I had never gotten K.I.D.S. It’s one lifelong condition for which I hope they never find a cure.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020
by TEJ | May 29, 2018 | Parenting and Family humor
Several years ago, someone told me a story about “discovering your grateful heart.” So, I decided to work on that. Over the course of the next year, I sent one thank-you letter each week to a different person who had positively influenced the trajectory of my life. These were people from many phases of my life – family members, co-workers, even a former girlfriend – who had helped me in some way or taught me a valuable life lesson.
But it occurs to me, there are still two individuals I’ve never sent a special thank-you letter to – my daughters. It’s way overdue, because they’re both grown up now (23 and 22) and have moved away, embarking on their own life journeys.
There is so much I would want to tell them. I’d probably start by thanking them for choosing their mom and me as their “forever” parents, as we call it in adoption circles. When they were infants in two different Chinese orphanages, what are the odds they’d somehow get paired with us? Some people say children who are adopted are “lucky.” I say Michele and I are the lucky ones.
I’d thank my daughters for the many evenings they snuggled on either side of me at bedtime as I read them Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Nancy Drew, and countless other books.
I’d for sure express my appreciation for all the handmade Father’s Day gifts, from their cement handprints to their macaroni likenesses of me. And how can I forget to mention the special breakfast in bed they prepared one year. Burnt toast, Raisin Bran, gummy bears, and maple syrup never tasted so yummy.
I’d thank them for all the times during elementary school they would make me laugh out loud as I chased them around the playground, chanting, “Must get Emmy” before suddenly changing direction and shouting, “Must get Rachel,” which always made them squeal with delight.
I’d proudly acknowledge Rachel’s efforts to help her younger sister with her spelling by quizzing her – like the time we were driving past our local grocery store (officially called Quality Food Center, but whose sign only goes by its initials, QFC) and Rachel posed the challenging question, “Emmy, how do you spell QFC? Don’t look at the sign!!”
by TEJ | Aug 22, 2016 | In the News Humor, Parenting and Family humor
While the recent Rio Olympic Games are still fresh in your mind, it’s a perfect time to start getting your own child ready for the 2028 Olympics. The final venue has not yet been decided. I hear it’s down to Buenos Aires, Budapest and Pidgeon Forge, Tennessee. (I hear you. Why on earth is Budapest on that list? Ridiculous.)
First the bad news: If your kid is over the age of twelve, I hate to break it to you, but you waited too long. With only 12 years left until the 2028 games, there’s not nearly enough time to get your teenager up to speed.
If you love your young child, don’t waste another day. First choose a sport. But before you get ahead of yourself and say “gymnastics”, slow down, mom. Unless you plan to starve your child so she tops out at 87 pounds and 4’ 10”, I should caution you – gymnastics gold is pretty elusive. Besides, I checked. There’s this three-year-old from China who looks unbeatable for 2028.
Take a couple minutes (but not more than ten) to think about which sports make the most sense for your child to compete in. Then throw them all out the window, because the only events that will ever bring your future Olympian serious Benjamins from sponsorships are track, swimming, and gymnastics (which the Chinese girl has already got locked up). When was the last time you saw a badminton Olympian on a box of Wheaties? Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a box of Wheaties?
Once you’ve chosen your child’s Olympic specialty, it’s time to launch a rigorous training program. You’ll need a coach – someone who’s an expert in helping kids reach their full potential and crushing their spirit into dust if they make the tiniest mistake off the starting blocks. Choose your child’s coach carefully because he or she will replace you in your child’s life from this point forward. If at all possible, find a coach who bears at least a passing resemblance to you, to help remind her of the parent she once loved. Don’t worry. You’ll still be able to spend time with her every fourth Saturday and on Christmas morning until noon (after which she has to get back to her workout regimen).
by TEJ | Sep 7, 2015 | Parenting and Family humor
Years ago, I had this reckless notion that something was missing in my life which could only be filled by having kids. So we started a family – and got so much more: eight years of Raffi songs, 800 trips to sports practices (and the occasional trip to the ER), $6,000 in orthodontia bills, and a child-proofed house, every square inch of which perpetually resembled a FEMA disaster zone.
Don’t get me wrong – I love our daughters more than anything in the world – with the possible exception of bacon. But it didn’t take long to discover that despite the significant gap between my toddlers and me in earning potential, overall intelligence, and ability not to drool on everything with which I came into contact, I simply was no match for my kids. They routinely wore me out – usually by the time they dumped a bowl of Raisin Bran on each other – a daily 7am ritual.
As a parent of two boisterous young girls, I quickly came to two conclusions: First, the interior of the VCR makes an ideal place to hide daddy’s slice of apple pie; and second, being a parent was going to require Herculean levels of patience. Being a good parent means having the maturity to resist saying the first thing that pops into your prefrontal cortex when your eight-year-old microwaves your cell phone. You need to suppress the urge to blurt out, “Jesus Christ! What the hell were you thinking, spraying the cat with the purple paint, you little twerp?” Such an outburst could permanently damage your precious angel’s delicate self-esteem – much like my angel permanently damaged our precious leather couch with a stick figure etching of her daddy.
Shortly after our girls acquired rudimentary speech, I learned a valuable lesson: Never use foul language in front of young children. When my eldest was barely three, I caught her wielding my $500 Titleist driver into the trunk of our cherry tree, “just like George Washington, Daddy!” While she hadn’t yet mastered conjugating a sentence, she had, to my surprise, absolutely no difficulty reciting back to mommy the entirety of my panicked outburst – verbatim: “Mommy, Daddy said, ‘Holy shit. Look what you’ve done to my club!’ What does ‘shit’ mean, Mommy?”