Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Voyage Photos

Vietnam, 36 hours later!

It took a while to leave Kingston for good because my dear husband had left his wallet at home...  So we had to turn back to retrieve the very important piece of equipment.

Thirty-six hours of travel and we finally made it here, in Vung Tau Vietnam, where Logan and Toan are from.  I'd like to say it was a smooth journey but we had a few small problem along the way.  For start, it is not recommended to forget your wallet when you travel abroad.  Michael realized he had done so as we were almost halfway to the airport.  Then, we managed to drive past the airport... about 20 minutes past the airport!

The take-off in Toronto was fairly rough, thanks to Sandy!  For Michael to almost barf, it says it all!  Myself, as always during take-off or landing, was on the verge of a panic attack.

Eva Airway is fan-tas-tic.  The cabin crew members are stunning beauties, to the point where it's hard not to stare!  The food never ceased coming, always served with the most beautiful smiles: take that Air Canada...!

Taipei airport has beautiful facilities.  I only wish the Toronto airport authorities would have the same focus on customer service, cleanliness and the level of service.

We landed in Saigon and were welcomed by the ever friendly lady who works for our agency.  We left some luggage at the hotel in Saigon where we will be staying from Nov 3 on.  We took a cab to the boat to Vung Tau.

The ferry fleet to Vung Tau consists of former Russian hydrofoils.  Maintenance is questionable but it is a comfortable, fast, interesting boat ride which is also an eye opener.  I would recommend it to anyone who is travelling to Vietnam.  The boarding and unboarding is interesting as you have to cross some wooden planks over open water...  sort of like a wooden ladder laying down, all the while you are lugging whatever luggage you decided to take.

Once in Vung Tau, we took a cab to our hoter, the Green Hotel, situated on back beach.  The hotel is ok.  Listed as a 4 star, maybe would get a 2 star rating in Canada.  But on the upside, it is inexpensive (25$ CDN per night) and has an excellent all-inclusive breakfast.

We went on a stroll by foot after we settled.  Michael and I can't help but try to imagine what our sons' lives would have become had they stayed here.  People look happy though, perhaps due to the fact that this is all they know.  Our western eyes see it all from a different perspective, somewhat shocking.  We walked a good distance, stopped for a Vietnamese coffee at the Cafe Garden III, and then made it to Good Morning Vietnam for a pizza and a glass of wine.

We took a cab back to the hotel as it is dark from 6pm on and it is not recommended to walk in the darkness.  We skyped home to talk to the kids, it felt so good to see them all smiling.

By 7pm, we had absolutely no juice left and we went to bed.  we managed to sleep until 3am, then we both took a melatonine which carried us to 6am.  All in all, a very surprising good night sleep!

We got up this morning and went for a run on the beach at low tide.  Amazing how many people were already there, collecting their work for the day: seafood, seashells, scanning for any metal left by the tide, and the odd expat taking a walk.  We ran 4K, the toughest 4K in a long time.  You say HOT and HUMID!!!  I don't remember ever sweating as much.

We indulged in a nice breakfast, very far from your typical western breakfast, but this is not why we are here.  Vietnamese coffee is exquisite and we had a beautiful view of the beach.

We are waiting for a friend to come and meet us for fun times today.  We might ask her to take us on a tour of a bouddhist pagoda.  We will be going to Lan Rung for lunch and then off to the orphanage where our sons are from.  We brought sidewalk chalk, thanks to people who contributed in helping us find it outside of season in Canada, and we will spend time playing with the children.  Again, seeing those left behind will be sad, for sure.  I hope not to see familiar faces from last year, but I know I will.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Choosing Your Role Models

As every day life goes on, we are in a position to observe a wide array of ways of living and behaviors adopted by different people around us or by people portrayed in the media.  We might agree or not with what we see, we might want to adopt those ways of doing things or not.  Some people push their liking to idolatry.  I find this to be very sad and shallow.  Some people, on the other hand, are genuinely inspired by what or who life has allowed them to come in contact with, without falling in the trap of trying to lose themselves in trying to be someone else.  This is a much healthier way of doing things I believe;)  

There are a few examples of situations or people who have helped us shape who we have become as a family or what we would love to be able to do in the future.

I am the first one to admit that my priorities have changed, and for the best in my opinion, over the years.  I used to look around and think money, fame or wealth brought happiness.  Like a lot of us.  I was no different.  You know, the grass always seems greener next door.  What was appealing to me no longer is.  I like the idea of trying to live simply while still being able to make it acceptable, or *chewable* for my children.  Living with less consumables, fostering family moments, a healthy routine, an appreciation for who we are. 

As a family, we are becoming well-trained upstream swimmers and we like the fact that we are odd birds - well, most of us do...  It is an ongoing exercise!  We are no hero at this, it hurts sometimes!  We try our best to limit our consumption of material stuff, but we still indulge, too much I think.  Don't we all like our comfort?  Don't we all like to complain sometimes?  Often??

I find that a good daily exercise is to reflect on how lucky we are and how good we have it.  Regardless of how miserable we think we are sometimes, there is always someone worse off somewhere.  And it always stops the spirale of ''poor little me'', believe me.  It works for me anyway.  My experience overseas last year to adopt has shaped greatly how I have transformed my way of seeing things.  There is not a day that goes by without the thought of those orphans left behind.  I have seen poverty in dignity.  Proud and beautiful people, hard workers.  Those are the people I look up to.

I also have a deep appreciation for people who do their best to improve the situation of the poor, whether it is here or elsewhere on the planet.  I have been lucky to meet pretty amazing people over the last couple years.

Differences make us stronger and should be embraced.  As the old saying goes, one pencil can be broken easily.  However, when you string a bunch of pencils together, it takes a lot to break them.  Our family is like a bunch of pencils strung together.  I like to think that we are strong!  

Monday, October 22, 2012

So Much To Be Thankful For...

As our travel date is getting closer and closer, I have to pinch myself to make sure this is not a dream.  This is our 3rd adoption and it might be the last.  I am trying to live every moment like I did towards the end of my last 2 pregnancies, realizing that we were getting towards the end of the belly baby era.  Will this be the end of the adoption era, only time will tell.  But all I can say is that I am grateful, and for so many reasons.
Grateful that I woke up some day and decided to get a grip on my health, losing the weight and after taking to running.
Grateful for those running friends I met and with whom I conquered distances I never thought I would be able to achieve.  Can't wait to reach my marathon goal with them in 2013.  You running buddies mean a lot to me.
Grateful for friends who have been so generous in helping us get ready for those twins, or who are there to listen to us without judging us.  They like our kind of craziness.
Grateful for newer friends who are opening their hearts to us and with whom we feel so at ease, confirming to us that friendship goes well beyond the barriers of race or religion.  We love you guys.
Grateful for amazing children who display such a huge openness of heart and mind and trust us through this big adventure.
Grateful for all the people involved in our adoption file and who are dedicated to the cause of orphans.  Thank you for once again helping us reach our dream.
Grateful that I have everything anyone could wish for: a roof over my head, a loving bunch of children, a loving husband, food on my plate, heat, water, democracy.  Wehave it all and we still want more.

And above it all, grateful that I showed up in that place in Aug 1994 and met my life partner, my partner in crime, the guy who is crazy enough to share the same dreams.  Nothing can stop us and it is the most comforting feeling one can have.  The guy who can potentially drive me nuts the most and who I know enough to drive equally crazy;)  I love him more than words can tell and him and I will be the oldest 2 globetrotters, watch us!

Packing is almost all done, amazing what a Logistics officer can put in suitcases;)

Friday, October 19, 2012

What should we bring?

The baggage allowance with your airline will greatly influence how much you can take with you.  As this is our 3rd adoption, and since this time we are talking about twins who are older than our previously adopted children at time of adoption, we will have to do things a little differently this time.  Mainly for comfort for us.  We are getting older and crabbier ;) I guess!!!

All kidding aside, we decided this time that we will bring 2 umbrella strollers for the hotel, where the babies can nap by the pool or during meals if they are not up to eating.  Mainly a place to put them down by our side.  Now, don't think that you can actually use strollers in Saigon.  Sidewalks are very busy with mopeds, people squatting preparing meals, vendors...  With that being said, it is almost a necessity to have a baby carrier with you.  It also helps parents and baby bond together and keeps baby safe close to you.  I love my sling, in fact, all my children have been carried in a sling.  Michael does not care for it, so I went to a consignement shop and got him a Baby Bjorn, never used for $15.  We will each carry a baby on us and switch from time to time.  Since our switch in Taipei is relatively short on the way back, I will probably donate the strollers to the hotel to be used by other families.  No need to bring them back.

Here is a list of a few things I can think of that we will put in our luggage:
-bubble wrap and tape (to wrap breakables on the way back)
-baby cereals and jars of prunes to beat constipation
-baby Tylenol, Advil, nail clippers, a good all-in-one cream (I like Bobos Cream from Souris Verte)
-Rescue remedy (for baby anxiety, even good for parents...!)
-Vitarom Formule 1 for upper respiratory infections: a lot of ba bies end up being a little bit sick when  they come out of the orphanage
-Nix cream (4 tubes in our case) to treat scabies: yes, often the little darlings have scabies so you have to treat baby and yourself as well.  Don't fret, you will survive this!
-Diapers: we decided to bring our, if they fit in the luggage.  Mainly because we already had them
-baby formula: we do not believe it is a good idea to switch their main source of nutrition while over there.  Plan on bringing back formula to transition once home.
-bottles: see what they are used to at the orphanage and buy a few over there.  Transition once back home.
-baby toothbrushes and toothpaste
-nailpolish to distinguish the 2 twin girls!!!
-baby clothes: we think 4 changes of clothes is enough for each girl as we will wash every day over there.  Swimmers for the pool are great!
-a warmer outfit for the trip back on the plane, preferably footless as often, the children are not used to wearing stuff on their feet.  Michael ended up having to cut the ends of Logan's pj on the flight back!  Socks are easier to remove!
-our personal meds and also Imodium (ya just never know when the pipes might start banging...), melatonine (helps reset the clocks), but a lot of stuff is available over there so don't overstuff your luggage.

In addition to all that, you also need to think of gifts for different people over there: the orphanage director, the vice-director, the people working for the agency over there, the nannies who took care of your child(ren).  Your agency will be your best bet to get suggestions and guidance.

We also are bringing with us cases of chalk for the children of the 2 orphanages we will be visiting.  They should have a lot of fun with that!

We also prepare a binder with all the relevant paperwork we need to bring with us.

As far as clothing for yourself goes, you must investigate what the customs of the country you are visiting are in order to avoid offending local people.

That's it for now, I am sure I will think of more stuff I forgot!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

''Getting Ready'' part 2

As I was driving this morning and thinking about my very long to-do list, I realized I omitted a couple important points.

Adoptive parents who are asking for a Canadian passport for an adopted child while abroad must produce a list of references of people who will act as guarantors.  These people will be contacted by the Canadian consulate to verify your identity and that they are aware that an adoption procedure is taking place.  So 4 references of people who know you well and are not family members.  You must have in hand their full names, of course ;) and complete address and telephone numbers they may be reached at.

We also made sure that the household is in order.  First and most important, we redid our wills.  We also prepared a ''Family Binder'' with all kind of important information in regards to how the family works: important phone numbers, health info on the children including a plastic sheet with slots for health cards, family schedule with all extra-curricular activities, school calendar and contact, library passes and gym passes.  I made sure I emailed all the teachers to let them know what was happening.

Contacting the institutions where you have your credit cards to let them know about transactions that will take place in a different setting is also a good idea.

Travel insurance: some credit cards carry a good one, but there is also Blue Cross for a minimal fee.

We filled the freezers to the brim and I also secured a cleaning service to come to the house the day before we come back.

Being organized is the key!

What's in ''Getting Ready''???

You can't go and travel halfway around the world to go get one or two babies on a whim.  In addition to all the paperwork required and all the procedures one has to go through *before* getting a referral for a child, there is still a lot to think about when comes the time to get ready for the travel.  I thought I would sum up what has been done so far as it could possibly help people who are at their first adoption experience.

While waiting for the referral, we made sure all our vaccination was up-to-date and went for some updates.  The travellers' clinic here in Kingston was a good point of reference.  We yet have to take our dose of Dukoral to help prevent traveller's diarrhea.  Since we both have used it within the last 5 years, we only need the one dose.  If you have never used it, you need 2 doses so planning ahead is a good idea.

Michael and I have opted to take the malaria medication as we might travel off the beaten paths.  Maybe we are being extra cautious but hey...

As soon as we got our Giving and Receiving ceremony date, I contacted the travel agent to book our tickets and arrange to get our visas.  The travel agent suggested by the agency offers an excellent service.  Some people want to nickel and dime with their tickets and end up running into trouble if they want to change their return dates.  We will only be an email away from being able to change our dates if the procedures go faster than we anticipate in Vietnam.  The travel agency has made a lot of arrangements for adoptions before and you have to put your trust in them.

Also, for parents who travel alone while the other parent stays behind, you may have to complete power of attorneys that will have to be certified by the embassy here in Canada.  It is the case for Vietnam.

As far as the hotel goes in Vietnam, again, following the advice of the agency is your best bet.  The agency refers mainly to the one hotel/resort with which they have a long standing relastionship and a fair deal.  Also, people tend to forget that if everyone goes to the same place, it makes it a lot easier on the very dedicated person who works for the agency over there.  She is extremely graceful and takes a lot from people.  However, she is not there to service us, she is there to help us and it is our duty as adoptive parents to take our responsibilities and help her help us.  The Somerset Ho Chi Minh has a lot to offer.  A beautiful pool, friendly people who work there, nice gym facilities, very clean, and the food is good.

About the food: when in Vietnam, you should not expect to have North American food like you would have here.  As I always say to my children, ''when in Rome, do like the Romans''.  When in Vietnam, embrace the adventure and take it all in.  That's my thought anyway.

One last point, a very important one for parents who decide to travel alone while the other parent stays home: when comes the time to ask for the Canadian passport for the child, the parent who stays behind will have to go to a passport office in Canada to sign a consent form PPT 028 while the other parent is in the country where the adoption is taking place.  Canada will then fax the signed form to the country.

That's it for now, next post will be about ''What to Bring???''

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Adoption #3 makes it Two More Potatoes in the Pot!

Two more little potatoes making it 9 beautiful children for the Wagner family.

Let's recap here...

We became aware of two little baby twin girls last January.  Two little girls in great need of medical attention.  Possible diagnosis: jaundice caused by either biliary atresia, Alagille Syndrome, either diagnosis resulting in a liver transplant for the 2 of them.  A calling for us.  A scream from the heart: we need help, love, come and get us Jo & Mike!  A scream from our children: GO get them mom & dad, we want them to be part of our family!  Those kids didn't fall far from the tree;)

There are many rules that apply to adoption, one being that 2 adoptions cannot take place within less than 18 months.  Toan was adopted in July 2011.  We knew we were going to have to fight a big machine to get an approval but we were determined to give it all we had.  And we did.  We never had had to justify ourselves so much before in our lives.  Why did we want to adopt two more children, why so fast, and why two children who are so sick.  A lot of back and forth questions and answers between the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services and us.  But they have a job to do and in retrospect, I am happy to see that they challenged us.  Each additional question from them solidified our position and made us realize that that was really what we wanted to do.

I am thankful for amazing people around us who believed in us and supported us and pushed for us.  Our social worker, our agency who never had a doubt that we could do this.

On the other hand, there are judgements coming from all directions, directions sometimes you would not expect, but as my hubby clearly stated, the judgements of others are a clear representation of their limits.  And that is so true.  What we are doing is not for everyone.  And other people do things that are weird to us.  However, respect is what must shine through it all.  We realize that we are subject to the judgements of others and that's fine.  As long as we are comfortable with what we are doing, as long as we are certain that the other children will not suffer from this adoption, as long as we go to bed at night with the certainty that we are doing what is right, I can fight anyone.  I have stated before that my children might never have had breakfast with Mickey Mouse, but they are offered the chance to open their heart to others in need and THAT is priceless.  And yes, they will thank us later.

August 2, 2012 was a beautiful day for 2 reasons: we finally got our approval from the Ministry and a referral from the agency for two beautiful almost 17 months old twin baby girls. Finally, it became more tangible.  We got pictures and videos of our tiny little girls (not even 10 pounds in weight each), so fragile little fighters, sparkles of hope in their eyes....  Who would want to adopt them anyway.  They might not even make it.  WE ARE THE CRAZY ONES.  We are proud to be this kind of crazy.  We accepted without a blink.

I could open a big parenthesis here on our thoughts on the adoption of special needs children, and our thoughts on chosing to wait for the perfect little baby to adopt.  But I will save this for later...  And I am not ashamed of what I have to say!

October 1, 2012, was another big step for 2 reasons: we received from the Ministry our confirmation of Approval of Proposed Adoption.  Also, Article 17 Under the Hague Agreement was produced.  This article 17 letter basically provides approval for the specifically proposed children to be entrusted to us, my husband and I.  It also determines that the children are eligible to be admitted into Canada, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The children are in an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  Our two previous adoptions took place in Vung Tau province.  Setting up a ceremony tends to take a little longer from HCMC province but we got word on Thanksgiving weekend that our ceremony had already been scheduled for October 26.  Pretty fast!  Thanksgiving is lucky for us.  We received the proposal for our first adopted child on Thanksgiving weekend 2008.

After securing our flights and setting up our plans, we received the news that the ceremony had been postponed to November 5.  Flexibility is the key here!  When you are so close to your goal it can get frustrating but I guess that was nothing compared to all the challenges we have had to face so far for our girls;)

So November 5 it is, Giving and Receiving Ceremony in Saigon, Vietnam!!!