Friday, September 29, 2006

The Next Chapter of My Life - "Love You. Mean It" Continues

Gladney Mom Julia Collins (far left in photo) is currently waiting for her daughter from China. She also just published a book, Love You, Mean It. It's best to let Julia tell her own story as only she can, so without further ado here is Julia's post, followed by a link to a recent USA Today article. - Editor

My name is Julia Collins and I am very excited to be adopting a baby girl from China. My dossier has been submitted and I am currently in the “waiting” period. I’m thrilled for this next chapter in my life.

You see, five years ago I would have never thought I would be where I am today. Five years ago, my husband, Thomas J. Collins, was killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. It was a day that changed my life forever, as well as so many others. At the time of Tommy’s death, we were trying to start a family. Although I’d always wanted to have a family someday, I’d never taken it for granted that it would happen, which made it all the more amazing when I began to let myself dream that this was something Tommy and I would do together. We were ready to start this next phase in our life.

After Tommy was killed, everything stopped. My head felt like it was going to explode- like I was listening to people talk but the conversations were taking place somewhere far away from me. My heart hurt so badly, it was like it was being ripped out of my body. I couldn't comprehend how my heart kept beating under such heartache. It can be so overwhelming at times that it is difficult to breathe and you wonder if you will physically survive the loss, much less emotionally survive it.

In the fall of 2001, I was introduced to another September 11 widow named Claudia, and within several months, she introduced me to two other widows, Ann and Pattie. In the months following our meeting, we were drawn together by the unthinkable – ten months previously our beloved husbands had died for no other reason than they had gone to work in the World Trade Center one blue-skied day in September. We soon discovered we had much more in common than our shared suffering. From that first meeting we formed an unshakable bond, one that was grounded in grief’s unbearable intensity and a mutual determination to find ways to go on with our lives.

Taking our inspiration from the men we so desperately missed; me, Pattie, Claudia, and Ann felt this friendship was fated to positively influence what had happened to us. We began calling ourselves the Widows Club, signing off emails and phone conversations with a lighthearted phrase: Love you, mean it. “Feeling this love for one another meant our hearts were beginning to open again. It was a risk—love brought with it the ever-present possibility of loss. But this was a risk worth taking. More than ever, we understood how important it was to put love at the center of our lives.”

We spent the last few years writing a book called Love You, Mean It. ( In this shared memoir of loss and rebuilt lives, the four of us recount the experiences of the coming years, during which time we support and encourage one another toward brave new futures. Love You, Mean It is a book we hope will both console and inspire with its true story of friendship, empathy, and emerging hope. To us, the message is clear: Love is a gift, share it.

In the spring of 2004 I met with Andrea Yonai at the Gladney Center for Adoption in New York City. She talked me through the adoption process. We discussed my various options. I told her I was interested in adopting from China—I had a very good friend of Chinese origin who could help me acclimatize the child and help me keep a connection with the child’s native country. We talked about the process of assembling the documents required by the State, the Federal Government, and the Chinese authorities. Andrea showed me pictures of some of the girls who had been recently adopted. Looking at them I felt my heart quicken—but I pulled myself back from getting too excited until I knew this was even a possibility.

“How much harder is it for a single parent to adopt?” I asked.

She told me that due to a Chinese policy that applies to all U.S. adoption agencies; only 8% of the total number of completed applications in any year could be from single parents. The single-parent quota had already been reached for this year. However, this didn’t mean that I couldn’t adopt, it just meant things might take a bit longer than they would otherwise. “Who knows?” Andrea advised me. “Towards the end of the year, you might get your application in and have your baby by the following year.”

I left the meeting feeling philosophical. If I managed to adopt, then so be it. If it didn’t happen, then other options would come along, I was certain of it. Adoption might take a few years, but that was okay—I still had some learning to do in the meantime and I had been through so much already that I knew I would be able to persevere during a lengthy and complicated process like this one. The main thing was to keep putting my best foot forward.

My dossier is now complete and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be receiving a baby girl. Although Tommy is not here to share this new chapter of my life, I know that he is watching out for me and this new blessing. I’m truly fortunate to have had the time I had with my husband. There will always be loss written into my heart, but I know that he is always with me – he is my guardian angel. Although I never would have chosen this path, loss has given me the opportunity to become more empathetic, more complex and more attuned. Tommy taught me to live each day to the fullest and to look at life-the demands of it, the fragility of it, and the beauty of it—with all its possibilities.

As we write in the book, “There can be hope after grief. Surround yourself with love. Immerse yourself in the many things that make life, not just bearable, but worth it. Cherish the love you receive.” I can’t wait to share this love with my new daughter. Julia Collins

And here is a link to the USA Today article about the "Widows Club" and their new book, which appeared over this past Labor Day weekend:

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Kathryn and Whitney Journals (7): A Few of our Favorite Books!

Having been a kindergarten teacher for several years, I had the privilege of being exposed to many wonderful children's books and authors. In fact, one of my favorite components of teaching was literature. Buying books, discovering new authors and illustrators, and reading as much as possible to the children. Knowing that our daughter Whitney was coming home, I decided to stock her bookshelf with some of my very favorite titles. Although Whitney is just 19 months old, we have over 50 books for her collection. We are in the process of collecting many of the Caldecott and Newberry Medal books.

My list can be broken down in so many different ways. The best place to start is my favorite adoption related books. Just about any book by Karen Katz is worth owning! Her colorful illustrations feature children of all different races. We own most of her books and Whitney especially likes the "lift the flap" books. Her books, My First Chinese New Year and Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale , are truly worth owning. When Whitney is a little older, we will read her I Love You Like Crazy Cakes (Rose Lewis), Tell Me Again about the Night I was Born (Jaime Lee Curtis), Shaoey and Dot: Bug Meets Bundle (Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman), I Don't Have Your Eyes (Carrie Kitze), Families are Forever (Craig Shemin), The Day We Met You (Phoebe Koehler), The White Swan Express (Jean Davies Okimoto), and A Mother for Choco (Keiko Kasza). There are many, many, many more books but these are what we have for now.

Anything by Sandra Boynton! Her stories are silly and the illustrations are fun. Whitney can't get enough of these books. We read them over and over and over again. Also, DK Publishing has a really sturdy "lift the flap" boards books that can't be ripped by tiny hands. We particularly like the Peek-a-Boo series and Baby Fun series (Old MacDonald, Five in the Bed, Humpty Dumpty, One Little Duck, and Twinkle, Twinkle). The color photographs are so engaging and Whitney tends to prefer these books to any other on her shelf.

Whitney has a true love for ducks. Perhaps this can be traced back to our hotel in Chongqing. The Marriott gave each adopting family a set of ducks for the bath tub. Whitney's first English word was duck, she will be dressed as a duck for Halloween, she has many, many rubber ducks and she has numerous books about ducks. The following photo is a picture of Whitney "reading" Five Little Ducks (Raffi) to all of her duck friends (please excuse the outfit :0):

A great source for books for children and adults is through Adoptive Families magazine. The following link will take you right to their impressive collection of titles and reviews:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Kathryn and Whitney Journals (6) - Fall Transitions in Brooklyn

The end of August brought several changes to our household. James got ready to give up summer pleasures for the rigors of first grade.:-). Kathryn started going to the babysitter full-time...and the reason for that was that Mom went back to work after 6 months off with her!

Of course I was filled with trepidation, just as I had been when I first returned to work after leaving James five years before. But this time was a teensy bit easier because we already had our beloved babysitter (yes, the same one who started taking care of James 5 years ago). Barbara is a natural with kids, a 62 years young grandma who raised 5 children of her own and is now her grandchildrens' favorite "Nanny." (from Nana, not as in The Nanny). James has been an honorary grandson for a long time, and she was so excited when she first heard of our adoption plans.

I started bringing Kathryn to Barbara when I had meetings for the one project I was still working on at work while I was out on maternity leave. Then, as my official return-to-work date approached, I started bringing her a couple of times a week. So by the time the fateful day, August 21, arrived, Kathryn was very comfortable with the environment at Nanny's. She likes being around Barbara's two small grandsons and blows kisses to Nanny. So this transition was very easy for's Mom who's having the harder time getting back into the work routine! Of course in a few months I'll be taking more time off when we go to China for a second adoption, so that has eased my pain somewhat.:-). Now if I could just get used to the morning rush...I will, eventually! Work itself is going great and it's fun doing storytimes at the library and having adult conversations during the day again.

We do plan on exposing all three children to Chinese culture as soon as the girls are just a little bit older, through events and classes in language, culture and history--perhaps at the China School!

James really likes his teacher and class so far. He is proud to be in first grade. And of course the glue that is holding us all together through this transition is Chris. He worked so hard to make it possible for me to stay home for twice as long as originally planned and he is our rock!

The picture shows Chris and the kids ready to leave the house to start their days one recent rainy morning.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Olivia Cai Hua Starts Her Second Year of Pre-School!

Our daughter, Olivia Cai Hua, started her second year of pre-school today. We adopted her on 11/29/2004 and she turned 3 last month. Her Chinese heritage is very important to us. We have a full-time Chinese nanny who only speaks to Olivia in Mandarin. She understands everything, but still prefers to speak English, although she is starting to speak more Chinese. We have enrolled Olivia in several Chinese dance and language classes and are considering putting her into a Chinese playgroup for toddlers. Olivia now understands the difference between English, Chinese (and even Spanish). Goal- totally bilingual by HS age.

Larry Bennett and Dorothy Crenshaw

Monday, September 11, 2006

Post-Placement Visits & Reports - A Social Worker's Perspective

Once you are back home and reveling in the excitement of having the child you waited so long for finally in your arms, we know that the last thing you want to think about is…more requirements! However, your post-placement requirements are incredibly easy to comply with and a great chance to show off your new child to your social worker. The visits, which are required at 6 and 12 months after placement, are a wonderful chance for you to sit down with a social worker and share all there is to know about your new baby (see, that’s not too bad!). It is also a great opportunity for you to ask your social worker any questions you may have as you adjust to having your child in the home. Post-placement visits are some of our favorites to do and we love seeing the happy families that we have helped to create.

Working with Gladney to complete your reports in a timely manner is essential towards maintaining our excellent standing with the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) and ensuring that our China program is here for families in the years to come. Your post-placement reports are a sign of your commitment to China and to meeting their adoption requirements even after placement. CCAA takes these reports very seriously and keeps track of each family that has adopted and monitors if their reports are submitted. It is important to them to see how the children they have placed for adoption are doing in their new homes and feel confident that they are in a safe and loving environment. These reports will also be part of your child’s permanent record in China.

By Andrea Yonai, LMSW,
Coordinator of Social Work, Gladney's New York Office

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Kathryn and Whitney Journal (5) - Whitney's First Day at Playgroup!

Although our little Play Group doesn't exactly qualify as school, I still wanted to share our first experience. Whitney has been home for a little over six months now. She is 18 months and we are very ready to join some organized activities. We want to meet some children her age and some mommy friends for me :0). Today, we had our first official play group at St. James church in Manhattan. Whitney made every attempt to bring her best froggy friend with her. However, froggy is larger than some adults so we settled on her little lamb instead:

For over an hour, Whitney played with other children and had access to more toys than she could have ever imagined. There were great climbing toys, play kitchens, electronic and push toys, stuffed animals, books and almost every Fisher-Price item made in the last five years! It was so much fun and I made some new friends as well. Starting next week, we will also participate in a music class. Whitney's referral accurately noted her love for music and we have the requisite pink and white Hello Kitty CD player in her room!

In the spring, we will join a Mandarin-speaking play group. There are several in our area and I look forward to learning a few new phrases. My knowledge of the language consists of: hello, good-bye, thank-you and where is the restroom! We are waiting until spring so that Whitney has a solid understanding of English and is speaking a bit more. In addition, we will also be taking a Mommy & Me ballet class!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gracie is Going to Pre-School

Gracie, Queen of the Hill, not more than three weeks ago ...

And, this morning ... here she is ... aging right before your eyes.

Ok, so it isn't often that I take the time to share with you my small moments in life but today was one of them. Gracie is officially a big girl and going to full time pre-school. After much agonizing (mostly by me), we have left the trusted care of our long time day care provider, aka Aunt Dianne, and have decided to enter into the full time realm of preschool.

Gracie was all for it until 3 weeks ago when she realized her reign at Aunt Dianne's was coming to an end and the end of home made soups, one-on-one cuddling time with Dianne, running the show and telling the other kids what to do. This is all being traded in for the big girl stuff, like learning to read, algebra (ok, maybe not algebra but we'll start with the basics like counting), making friends her own age, etc. After some coaxing, and shopping (of course, she is my daughter) for a new princess back pack and some school supplies, she was ready to go. She had a great day and so far hasn't looked back (sorry Dianne).

I cannot believe 3 1/2 years have come and gone so quickly. It feels like yesterday that we just packed for China and now Grace is a big girl going to big girl school. I think I better bore you all with more updates and slow down the hands of time. :) --- Robin Huisking

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Kathryn Journal (4) : Early Intervention: To Do Right Away or Not?

So here's what I know after navigating the Early Intervention minefield since we brought Kathryn home in March: When we go back in the New Year to get our 2nd daughter, Ji Ji (no English name yet!), unless there is something really alarming going on, we will probably feel safe waiting a few months before starting Early Intervention services...if they are recommended at all, of course.

Little did I know when I enthusiastically told the doctor, Yes, please, do contact the Early Intervention Agency, how time consuming navigating this particular beaurocracy would prove to be. Kathryn was recommended for it because at over 1 year of age she wasn't talking yet..."and we want to give her a boost." She also had low muscle tone in her pelvic region. I was taking six months off work, so I thought, sure, why not? It's free and who doesn't want to give their baby a boost?

So the EI agency was contacted...

First, there is a meeting with the Service Coordinator from the Agency.
Then, your child is evaluated by at least 4 therapists--for Special Education, cognitive skills, Occuaptional Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Speech Therapy.

Then they submit their reports to the service agency.

Then the service agency calls a meeting to develop an "Individual Service Plan."

Of course Mommy and/or Daddy must be present for all of these meetings.

By this time it was late May and Kathryn had not actually received any therapy yet. Yes, that's right, the whole process, at least here in NYC, can take up to 2 1/2 months before therapy even starts!

Kathryn was approved for speech and physical therapy. This worked out to 5 30-minute sessions a week. Oh, that's a piece of cake, not much time at all I thought! But have you ever actually scheduled your entire week--activities, outings and everything else around 5 30 minute sessions? And then the therapist is late or doesn't show...

I realize I'm sounding pretty anti-Early Intervention, and I'm not really. I think it's a very important program. Chris and I are still not still convinced that Kathryn really needed it; we think she might have caught up on her own. And it's a pretty significant time commitment.

So with Ji Ji I think I might just enjoy my limited time off with her, unless there's something that needs urgent attention, and then start the process if it's recommended.