Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making Change


Make or become different: "a proposal to change the law"; "beginning to change from green to gold".
The act or instance of making or becoming different.
verb. alter - exchange - vary - shift - convert - transform

A primer for this entry:


I talked to a homeless man.

This happens relatively frequently, but the conversations are short, and usually end with "I don't have any change."

In this case, that was the beginning of the conversation. I walked about fifteen feet, thinking a few things over. I thought about the fact that Yuliya was still 10min from finishing work, and our bus was at least 15min away still. I also thought about the fact that I had a debit and credit card. I thought even more about the fact that Yuliya & I had discussed this, and said that we should make an effort to help more when we're confronted by people who want it.

So I turned around and came back, and offered to buy the two guys some coffee, as they were in the process of getting kicked out of the downtown skywalk (an indoor walkway that joins most buildings in downtown Winnipeg, popular with homeless people because they're heated)  by the BIZ redshirts (private security force funded by downtown businesses to suppress the visibility of social issues).

We crossed the street to Tim Horton's and I got them both a coffee, sandwich, and soup. They adamantly refused donuts. We sat down, and I called Yuliya to let her know where I was. She arrived and we chatted pleasantly with them for fifteen minutes. It turned out that they were from God's Lake Narrows. I asked if they knew Ronnie, whom I met last year in front of Subway.  They did, and asked if I had met Leonard. I hadn't. Their names were Rick and Thomas. Rick called himself Rick Flair, and Thomas was shy with a quick temper. The conversation drifted around aimlessly. I learned that Rick had been in the city a long time, had quit smoking at the age of 15, and that God's Lake Narrows was cursed. He said he was 49 now, and doing my math quickly, he must have come through the residential school system.

Then Rick asked me a good question.

"They told us that God was watching us all the time, and that everyone goes when they're supposed to. Is that true?"

It was rhetorical. He went on to explain that he had lost his brothers, brothers-in-law, parents, wife, sisters, and his daughters to the same disease in God's Lake Narrows - likely influenza. They all died in less than a decade.  He asked in a quiet, husky voice if I thought it was alright for a man to cry when that happens. Then he asked what happens to priests when they do bad things to women and children, and where they go when they die. He explained that he spends all day in the library reading history books, because it's warm there and free.

Soon after that we had to catch our bus. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the two of them. Losing everything in their lives twice - first their language, culture, and innocence in an intentionally hostile and inhospitable educational institution under the care of the servants of a loving, merciful God. The second time losing their families and hopes to an unknown epidemic under the watchful eyes of the elected servants of the people. I wondered at their determination to understand the past which destroyed their future, and what life can mean after that.

And I thought about the deeper implications of the common question - "Can you spare some change?" and the inevitable reply - "I don't have any change."


I wrote that just over two years ago, and it's a hard thing for me to revisit.  Those two taught me the true meaning of walking a mile in someone else's shoes.  The obvious and first question that comes to most people's mind when giving money to panhandlers is:

 "Will they drink this away?" 

I still ask myself that, and I hope they don't.  Sometimes I buy them lunch, but I often don't have time, and pass on some change, small bills, or bus tickets.  My answer to the question has become:

"Even if they do, what business is it of mine?"

I haven't lived their lives and had their struggles or pains.  If I was Rick or Thomas, and things conspired in a way that my entire family and way of life was destroyed before my eyes, I can't promise you now that I wouldn't dive into a bottle to numb the pain.  That's a lot to take on as human being.  So I try not to second guess the needs and requests of those in need, but not always successfully.  Nights like tonight I think about people like them - nights when it's -43c outside, and you see an ambulance picking up a body from the bus shelter in the morning.  I think some people like Rick and Thomas may be past the point of no return - their issues aren't mental health, or being junkies.  Life beat them down, and many that I have spoken to were just happy that someone took an interest in them, and weren't looking for miracles.

While this isn't really about our adoption, it is what our adoption is about in a way as well.  I want to have children to love, nurture, raise, and then unleash on the world.  No doubt about it, but it's also about the realization that my life is blessed, and yes, I can always spare some change.

Monday, January 21, 2013


We try to balance our expectations of our lives, but optimism is infectious and frankly a lot more fun than cynicism or even realism.  Thank goodness we have a healthy mix of those in our household.  I am by far the optimist, and Yuliya keeps my unflagging spirits from carrying the house away on fantasy with a well-tempered if occasionally hard-bitten realism.

This post is an exercise in creating a benchmark for future reference, to list our expectations, not ideal dreams or wishes, for our adoption.  Periodically, we'll revisit them and see how they have played out.

Reasonable Expectations:
Our CFS education seminar will be no later than March - 2 full days and 2 additional evenings - $500 cost

Our homestudy will be completed and dossier sent to the DRC by the end of July 2013.

Our referral will come before Xmas of 2013 (Catholic, not Orthodox Xmas).

Referred children will be cutest things that have yet existed to date.  Really, once we get them, there is no reason for anyone to ever post pictures of their kids again.  Ours are cuter.  Just post pictures of our kids, and say yours are like that - just less so.

We will spend no more than 2 weeks confined to our hotel in the DRC.  Sean will stop shaving entirely as soon as the aircraft leaves Canadian airspace.  Yuliya may shave her legs for the first time in 5 years.

We will return from the DRC with our children (plural!) by September 2014 - Canadian immigration documents for the children will take 7 months after the adoption is finalized.

Total costs with travel shall not exceed  $35,000.

We will raise more than nothing towards that cost, if just.

At least once a month some complete stranger will touch our children's hair without permission or provocation, then demand their entire life story and a paternity test.

Our cats will not willingly be in the same room as our children for the first month.  They have had some unfortunate formative experiences with young children.

Best estimates on their clothing size will be at least 2 sizes too  large at time of travel.

The first month will be spend purging their system of parasites.  We're going to do our best not to loose our minds when we find little crawlies in their diapers.

Wait from referral to travel will be the most arduous wait of our lives.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How we got to this point....

It was a pretty daunting task to figure out exactly how we were going to adopt.  The adoption "market" in Canada is pretty shallow compared to the big 'ol USA, given that we're less than 10% of their population.  It doesn't help that some provinces - not mentioning any specifics, but I'll just say that I'm glad we don't live in Ontario - restrict residents to only using local agencies.  If that was the case, we in dirty Manitoba would be limited to only three private agencies - CAFAC, Eastern European Adoptions, and Adoption Options.

We knew as well that we had to work with a local agency for our homestudy.  We knew that EEA was out based on our preferences, and for the past year CAFAC has been acting like that goldfish you had when you were twelve; belly up one day, swimming around happily the next.  No telling what might happen in there or if we'll end up circling the drain once we ante up.  That left us with Adoption Options, who we dutifully contacted, signing up for their next information session.

At the information session, we learned of their program for the Democratic Republic of Congo, which impressed us with it's lower costs and shorter times than Ethiopia.  We had many questions for the representatives there, but were not able to extract much information.  Most responses to inquiries indicated that information would be available and we could go over all our options once we sign the contract with them.  For people like us, this had the same effect as putting a plate of steamed broccoli in front of a toddler and calling it dessert.  The information session proved it's value though, when they mentioned that intercountry adoptions can also go through CFS - Manitoba Child and Family Services, the socialist version of the CPS.  I say socialist because they do the same job as the private agencies, at break-even costs, and are government staffed, providing the same services as the CPS as well.

After that we connected with A Love Beyond Borders, which by most accounts is a wonderful for-profit (scandalous!) private agency in Colorado.  They will be our facilitators, and CFS will take care of our homestudy, and post-adoption reporting.  Savings going with CFS over Adoption Options will be close to $5000.

So now we're looking at a few other equally daunting tasks.  Namely, of networking with other adoptive families, particularly transracial ones.  This is the issue of the shallow pool again - but we're hopeful and have google on our side.  The second thing to look into will be post-adoption support and care - pediatricians, developmental and speech therapists etc, basically trying to anticipate every possible need our children could have upon arrival.  Good news on this front is that CFS also has a handy list of resources for adoptive parents, and the province covers the cost of any and all developmental, psychological, psychiatric, and educational support - assisting as well in coordinating with school staff to develop individual specific education plans.  So we've got the taxpayers behind us on that one as well.

More to come on the state of the adventure....

Monday, January 14, 2013

So - quick apologies to anyone who has already followed our blog.  Up until now, the layout and everything which appeared was experimental and subject to cataclysmic changes.  This layout is our finished product; other gadgets and links will appear as well, to allow for donations and in support of our favorite organizations.

We do reserve the right to change font colours from time to time, but we promise nothing more drastic than that.

Monday, January 7, 2013

We Are Adopting(!)

I suppose I blatantly gave away the subject of this post in the title. Not to mention the overall tone and topic of the blog. Our adventure has taken plenty of twists and turns, and we're currently looking at complicating our lives to a wonderful degree. I say complicating because that is what children do - but wonderfully so.

Yuliya and I discussed adoptions on what I believe was our second date. To be precise, Yuliya asked what I thought of adoptions, and I said that I was open to having my own biological children, but would prefer to adopt. She heartily agreed. For her, this was a deal breaker in potentially marrying someone - something I didn't know at the time. This stemmed from her visiting orphanages in Ukraine, and the conclusion that it would be selfish to have her own children when there are so many in need. This is culturally frowned upon in Ukraine. It simply isn't done and isn't considered an option or worth doing. For her, this formed part of the realization that she could never return to Ukraine and live there.

For me, the realization came more intellectually as a result of my own studies of global social issues. Our attitudes towards adoption are an excellent microcosm of how our attitudes towards life have formed - mine as a result of thought and study, and Yuliya's as a result of what she has seen and survived.

The first natural step was to study the issue - this is how Yuliya and to a lesser extent I tend to approach an issue.  We have learned a few things thus far:

If it wasn't for A Love Beyond Borders, we would sorely wish we were American. Working through American adoption agencies, adoptions can literally be a half to a quarter of the wait time and half the cost, compared to what Canadian agencies can offer. With a Canadian agency, we would be looking at a cost increase of 25% and a two+ years wait, going up depending on the country we adopt from. Thankfully we found a fantastic American agency which works with non-US citizens.

Not all country's adoption programs were created equally in terms of processing times, ages available, travel requirements, and cost. Some countries require prospective parents to come and visit the adoptive child three times before finalizing the adoption, including stays of up to three or more months. The ages of children available from various countries can range from infants to teens. 

We came upon the possibility of the Democratic Republic of Congo while researching the possibility of adopting from Ethiopia. In the course of an information session with the local office for Adoption Options, they mentioned the DRC program. Upon further research, we learned that the DRC has a much shorter processing time, and lower cost (hooray!). The cultures there largely preclude women from drinking or consuming narcotics, which means an almost zero chance of FASD (double hooray). 

Fortunately for our plans, the DRC processing time is currently at a year, at most. Yes, we are a little terrified by the fact that we could have children for summer of 2014. So we're currently chest deep in the research phase and wallowing towards the homestudy phase. 

It's funny to look up American vs. Canadian experiences on blogs and videos on youtube. A common theme for American adoption blogs is "It took sooooooo loooong we had a lesson in waiting and patience" after waiting eight months. Canadians usually wait two to three-plus years, for adoptions in the same countries. Maybe the difference is that queuing up and waiting quietly is the real Canadian national sport.