Friday, March 28, 2014

Have you considered being a foster parent?

I used to want to adopt children. I still do. Yet, Liao Sha and I are beginning to look at foster care as the option we should pursue.

How many kids are hidden from view, waiting to be found, waiting for a home?

These past few months in Weatherford, I've had the privilege/opportunity to be in regular communication with a Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) employee and a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer. I've heard stories that have broken my heart time and time again. It was from the CASA volunteer that I heard the following statistics, which my CPS contact estimated to be accurate: In Parker county there are more than 350 children currently in or in need of foster homes. In Parker county there are 8 or 9 foster families.

I heard this a few month ago. I recalled it again yesterday morning while with my CASA friend. Does it not seem outrageous? First, that there would be so many children in need of good parents or caretakers is astounding. Second, that only 8 or 9 families here in the heart of the Bible Belt would be willing and able... The word appalling comes to mind. As does this scripture:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

There are a variety of reasons for this unmet need:

  • Honest, innocent ignorance: Many just don't know. I wouldn't had I not interacted with these people.
  • Chosen ignorance: How many people talk to CPS employees or CASA volunteers everyday, possibly even hear a story or two, but never ask what the needs are? I only know because I specifically asked.
  • "Horror stories": There have been people robbed and hurt by foster kids. Some foster parents' own kids have been abused. THIS IS THE VAST MINORITY OF EXPERIENCES. Yet these stories are the newsworthy stories, and the news has had an effect on some.
  • Lifestyle preferences: Some just don't want to have their lives changed or upended.

A friend mentioned that he'd once had friends mention that they considered being a foster parents, but they thought they might get too attached to a child, and then it would hurt too much too let the child go. Somehow this seems the worst of all possible motivations. I thought: "One day your wife or husband will die and that will hurt a lot. Does that mean you should not have married?"

I'm not saying every family should be foster parents. Some are ill-suited for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. Others can't meet the requirements. I'm not sure Liao Sha and I can meet the requirements in Arkansas.

Nevertheless, in our time here, we've been alerted to a need, a need that we could potentially meet. Given how it has affected our hearts, to cast it aside, to forget about it, to allow it to slip from our consciences would be to reject the working of the God in us. For us, this may be the only faithful option available.

A man at men's group this morning mentioned that his father and mother were foster parents up until his mother died. In those four years, 22 children went through their home, from newborns to 16 year olds. When asked why they did it, he remarked that his mother replied: "Because at least once in their lives, I'll know they were loved."

That about sums it up for me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Both homes have their strengths and weaknesses

I naturally gravitate towards thoughts of what I lack rather than what I have. I have to remind myself to look at what I already have and have been given. I would guess most people naturally do the same, but I don't want to presume too much.

Unexpectedly back in the US, I have to remind myself often of the good things I have here. People in China used to ask me whether China or the US was a better place. I used to respond that they both have strengths and weaknesses. Now I remind myself that my life in both places, though different, had and have both good aspects and not as good. Let me alternate through a few, eleven to be exact.

Advantage US: The food is safer here. That is, we worry less that unsafe food is going to hurt us.

Advantage China: Changsha has public transit; it's wonderful. The US built up around car culture, and now we all basically need them and their accompanying expenses. I hate it on a daily basis.

Advantage US: The air is cleaner here. The air pollution in Changsha is is nothing to sneeze at (but coughing is certainly likely).

Advantage China: In Changsha, basically everything you needed for daily life could be obtained just outside your door. In the US, residential and business areas are often quite separate.

Advantage US: In the US, my son can get the medical care he needs. In Changsha, he'd would already undoubtedly be mentally handicapped. (This is obviously a HUGE plus for the US.)

Advantage China: In Changsha my kids had regular playmates. I mean, we walk outside and there are all the kids in the development playing together outside. Here... You all know what it's like in the US: play dates, meeting times, etc. My kids have take a huge social step back.

Advantage US: In the US, I don't have to think about people going crazy about my kids, trying to touch them, prod them, etc. Here we're just a normal family, which I appreciate.

Advantage China: I miss the the renao, the commotion, of China. Social activities and social venues might be loud and busy in the States, but they're nothing line Changsha. On a recent date with my wife, did we pick a quite romantic location? Nope. It was a loud "grill and bar"/ We felt right at home.

Advantage US: The internet in the US is wide open, so I don't need a vpn to access internet content or blog. If I couldn't access Youtube, I'd have no way to take the courses in which I'm currently enrolled.

Advantage China: I had better reading times in Changsha. The 45-60 minutes I spent on buses commuting to and from work were great reading times. Now I'm busy at home (like I was in Changsha). I will be busy at work (like I was in Changsha). But given the lack of public transportation options in most of the US, reading times have become harder to locate.

Advantage US: The US public library system is amazing! Of course it could be better, as could all things, but I certainly won't complain.

Advantage (mostly) China: We're now considered a low-income family. That just adds a stressor I didn't have before. In other ways it's a positive: It will force us to be more creative; we'll rely more on faith; we'll truly be laobaixing. And I can be thankful that China taught me to be low demand with regards to my material environment.

Educating Showman: Teachers need high-quality feedback

Educating Showman: Teachers need high-quality feedback: During university I changed my major to education after becoming enamored with the process of learning and acquisition I saw in children. I&...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Different communities

Saturday evening my wife an I went on our first date since early October. It was everything I could've hoped for. We had coffee. She drove in an empty parking lot. We had dinner. We shopped a bit. I joked about leaving town and not coming back.

It was a rough 5+ months. Obviously we should not wait so long between dates, so why did we wait so long?

There's a certain cultural adjustment that needed to be made and will continue to be needed: Babysitting.

In China, this was so much easier for us.

On one hand, there were a relatively large number of expats (not all American or even North American) who were willing to watch our kids. Some even asked to do so, inviting us to go out. Here the important factor was not entirely cultural, but mostly relational. We'd been there a long time. We knew people we could trust. People knew us and wanted to help. The only cultural aspect was that expats seem to become more helpful toward and rely on one another a bit more than people do in the US, so asking for help is less awkward.

The bigger cultural difference is family.

In the US I have to recognize that my parents have their own lives. They have their own friends, their own interests, and their own events, all of which need to be considered. Given that living with them is already a major act of generosity on their part, asking even more help to watch kids is a bit sensitive. At least, it feels that way to us.

Things aren't the same in China. It's not that Liao Sha's parents don't have their own lives, their own friends, their own interests, etc. It simply that family trumps all in China. As my wife has said, "Family are the only people you never have to worry about asking for help." We didn't overuse their help, but we didn't feel constrained from asking either.

I'm not blaming my parents or praising Liao Sha's. It's simply that the culture is different, and in lieu of having enough money for a trustworthy babysitter or living near people who can/will take care of your children, adjustments need to be made. We're still in the adjustment process.

From the mouths of babes

I took a walk Thursday afternoon and had a thought: If my son could express his thoughts more fully, what would he be thinking right now? What questions would he be asking? What would he think of his daddy?

My eldest taking a picture of my with his "camera".

Below is what I think he might be thinking:

I like it here in the US. I only have to wear one shirt in the house, not a full wardrobe like in China. I wonder when we'll go back and see grandma and grandpa and uncle and auntie. I miss the playground and the other boys outside our home.

I like playing with kids here, but we always have to sit in the car for so long before we see any of them. My favorite is when my cousin comes over. But mama says we won't see him so much. I don't know why they said that, but it makes me sad. They said I'll make new friends. Again?

What happened to our food? What happened to the food grandma used to make. Why do we basically only have spinach? What happened to all the other green leafy vegetables? And what's with casseroles? Seriously, people here eat that?

I'm not sure why daddy's home all day. I like seeing him. He doesn't seem like he likes seeing me. He spends all day typing on the computer or talking on the phone. He gets angry all me a lot when I'm playing, especially when grandpa's home, or when I hit the dog or my brother. He says I'm too loud. He seems sad. I don't what I should do.

I hate doctors. And dentists! Fie on them!

My little brother sure has to go to the doctor a lot. Mom and dad say he's sick. He doesn't seem sick. Well, he does have a runny nose, I guess, but so do I.

Mostly I just need to keep an eye on mama. I remember she was gone for a long time before we came to the US. I can't let her out of my sight now. If she's gone again, maybe I won't find her again. Amos knows what I mean; that's why he cries for mama all the time. Why can he do it but I can't?

I can't wait until grandma gets home so we can play blocks.

My goal over the next few weeks is to give my kids the relaxed fun daddy; I fear they've become too accustomed to the stress-out, on-edge daddy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Years of linguistic effort being lost

My wife's cousin got married in Changsha last Saturday. We were here in Texas. Though she could see lot's of pictures on Weixin, I could tell my wife was sad to be away. Knowing how close her family is, I would've been, too.

A pic from a more studious era: The Hunan Normal Years. This was taken at a classmate's birthday party.

 She wanted to record me saying a Chinese best wishes to the bride and groom. I refused. Why? Is is because I don't like them? Not at all. I loved sitting and talking with this cousin, and her husband (then boyfriend) seemed like a nice guy when I met him. So why did I refuse?

In short, I was embarrassed. I can tell my Chinese is degrading more quickly than I could have imagined. I try to study, but it doesn't always happen. It happened once two weeks ago and twice last week and not yet once during this week. There's only so much and hour of listening or reading or writing practice can do to maintain skills.

Don't let the cake on my face fool you; I was in complete study mode, like a machine, I tell you.

After years and years of hard work and devotion, I am losing my ability, and I see no way to arrest the fall. If I'm here for a year, ok. What about five? Five years from now, if I've been here working, living and socializing in English, will Chinese remain? Will it be like my German: seemingly gone, never to return? (If I try to speak German, I just start speaking Chinese after a few words.)

I'm getting older everyday. Everyday it becomes more difficult to maintain let alone acquire language ability. Add in the fact that my decade in China limited my English vocabulary growth, and I'm in a linguistic state I don't want to be in.

Are relationships supposed to be considered distractions?

Leaving the local public library this morning after the children's story time, I overheard a conversation between two mothers. It dealt with where they chose to do their grocery shopping. It was distinctly American.

The relevant part and point of agreement went something like this:

I don't go to Brookshire's to shop because every time I go I run into someone I know. You stop and chat, and then it takes an hour to finish everything.

It caught my cultural attention because it exemplified a very American value: efficiency. The problem was that running into people one knows requires an investment in time. This time investment disrupts the person's carefully constructed schedule, thus lowering efficiency. Socializing is at odds with productivity. In the end, this mother considered the social aspects of life a distraction from efficient use of time.

I simply can't imagine this being generally true in China. Isn't running into people the very thing that makes shopping enjoyable? Yes, people in China are also busy. In many ways they have less free time than their US counterparts. But that someone would desire efficiency over meeting friends or even acquaintances is virtually unthinkable. Occasionally one might be in a bad mood and prefer to be alone, but it's not a trend. I daresay that meeting people when doing one's shopping is the preferred phenomenon. Efficiency and productivity does not trump social interaction.

There's a lot more that could be said, but it's enough to draw attention to the distinctly different value system. It caught me off guard. Not knowing anyone in this city, I never run into people I know. This encounter reminded me that I'm in a different place.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A chair, a switch, and enlightenment

At some point, Barnabas learned how lights work.

The little green time-out chair

This dawned on me just this morning. A few minutes ago, in fact. From the living room I heard his little green time-out chair being pushed across the tile floor so that he could reach the bedroom light switch. I knew that's what it was because he did the same thing yesterday morning. But today the question came to mind: When did he learn that?

I realize now that he made the light-switch-light-bulb long ago. In both the living room and the dining room I've had to tell him to stop playing with the lights. That in itself is an abstraction, because he wasn't playing with the lights, but rather with the switch. Before that he was telling me to kai deng when entering a dark room.

When did he realize that the switched controlled the lights? When did he realize that he could do it himself? Somewhere along the way I missed it.

I'm somewhat stopped in my tracks. How many other moments have I missed? The number is likely to large to count. But the application is much broader. How many wonderful things going on around me do I miss every day because my mind is focused elsewhere? How many wonderful things about living here in the US am I neglecting to notice because my gaze it set on China or those things I've lost?

How many more moments will I miss?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Like Sinatra, "Regrets... I've had a few."

Sometimes (like today) I regret being a teacher.

In happier days, doing what I loved, with a stack of papers as tall as me.
I love education. By extension, I love teaching. It's what I love. It's what I value. It's in my blood. As my wife says, "做老师很适合你." (It suits you.)

The problem is that such a love or "suited-ness" seems all but useless to me now.

My soon-to-be (I think) brother-in-law came to Texas less than a month ago. He wanted to get into sales. It's in his background, though he hadn't been doing it over the past few years. His personality is definitely suited to a position in sales. Within two weeks he had three good local job offers. He's working now.

Me? Friday will be the four-month mark of my arrival in the US. Still no job. Prospects I've had. One job I had to turn down, as it wouldn't have met family needs. I was a finalist for a program coordinator position that went to another candidate. Interviews await. But as of yet, nothing.

More and more it looks like I'm fitting the stereotype of foreign teachers in China: people who couldn't cut it in their own countries, so they go to China.

Teaching skills simply aren't transferable. At least, they don't seem to be. What can someone who has trained exclusively as a teacher do? Teach. Nothing else really. It's a dead end road in many ways, unless one has the personality to break into other arenas. When your personality is "suited" to teaching, however, alas, there's no where to turn. At least not if you want to be a professional as opposed to an unskilled laborer.

Of course, I could look in the public schools. My teaching license is being renewed. But do I dare? Do I dare try to face an academic culture in the US that is essentially anti-academic? Do I want to deal with stakeholders who find athletics more important than academics? Do I want to be blamed for not motivating students well enough when the real problem lies in a culture (a) that de-emphasizes studies for more important things like social life, entertainment, and the aforementioned sports and (b) whose parents expect too little from their children and are not invested enough in their scholastic achievement.

Sounds appealing.

Perhaps I'll just apply at Panda Express and be done with it. Maybe I could use Chinese there.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The good-natured mechanic

I was talking with a mechanic today. A good guy. A local charity often refers people to him, as he tries to do discounted work for people in difficult situations.

He mentioned that sometimes he feels bad working on people's cars because he knows that, given the state of many of these cars, not long after they leave his shop, they end up needing something else fixed. This led to a conversation on the general state of cars ownership. Oddly, for a man who makes his living fixing cars, we share almost equally negative views on the pitfalls of car culture.

We discussed how difficult cars make life for those of meager resources. People with means buy nicer cars that generally break down less and consume less fuel. Thus, they save money on both repairs and fuel. Those without means buy cheaper, older vehicles that are more prone to break down and generally consume more fuel. Thus, though they spend less on upfront costs, they (the people who can lease afford it) end up paying much more to use the vehicle.

Then consider the time lost for work whenever a car breaks down. People with good jobs tend to have the types of jobs that allow for time off when (rarely) the car needs work. Those one the lower side of the economic scale tend to have jobs that pay by the hour. Frequent breakdowns mean lost pay and, if it happens enough, lost jobs.

Do those who've never been poor understand this difficulty, this impediment?

Our car's been in the shop a lot recently. Hopefully this mechanic can get the final bugs worked out. I've though many times: If I had a job right now, how would I ever get this car looked at? (That's what you have to think when you're a one-car household.)

I liked the mechanic. He's trying to help people the best he can with his skills. Good for him, and good for his community.