Monday, April 20, 2015

How to get your drivers license and stop all traffic!

I have decided we cannot go anywhere without it turning into an event. I blame this on my parents, who can somehow manage to involve the majority of store personnel and finally the manager into buying almost anything. They all end up best of friends, patting each other on the back, and mom promising to send Christmas cards. A slight attempt to find someone else to blame for our antics.

When selecting a behind the wheel class, the primary motivator was money. Trying to do two at once while trying to save for our trip to China might have pushed me into selecting a very subpar school, so much so, that even after completing the class, neither felt comfortable driving. For the next year or so, driving was limited to very short trips in the neighborhood.

They finally felt more motivated when two things happened: Their cousin Gillian got her license and when I explained that if they really wanted to do certain things, they would have to be able to drive themselves, as I was resigning as the driver.

If you have not gotten a driver’s license recently you might not realize just how difficult and complicated it is and how long in advance you must make a reservation for the test Trying to juggle three people's scheduling and finding an agreeable date, pushed the reservation to April 1, yes, April Fool's Day.

The night before I was looking on line at all the paperwork required to take with us to prove their completion of the course work, citizenship, enrollment in school (yes that is required, proof that you attend school if you are under 18), among other details when I ran across a notice that as of April 1, 2015, additional training was required, even if you had completed all the training. A two-hour class of video after video of horrible wrecks that caused deaths and injuries from distracted teenage driving, which was available on line, and they were able to complete before our 3:30 appointment, which required us to be there at 2:30 to register.

Because I never know when we will run into problems, I even packed their birth certificates, which are in Chinese, the adoption decree, also in Chinese, and their Certificates of Citizenship. You can never assume that someone in authority will suddenly HAVE to see it to prove our relationship.

We get to the location, which proved to be one of the smallest offices I have ever seen for a public facility. The place was packed with all ages needing a variety of license and ID cards from the State of Texas. It took a long time to even check in and we were presented with even more paperwork to complete (which later we were told was wrong and we had to do it again), then take a chair, which there weren't any, and wait for our number.

The numbering system is not in order. I am guessing if you are getting a renewal, you are in one queue, but if you need an ID card, you are in another, and commercial in another. Who knows! Anyway, we hovered outside the door of the only restroom in the place, a good unisex facility that had obviously seen better days. After an hour of waiting and our 3:30 appointment looming, both girls started to panic that we had never been called. 

I try to find anyone whose eye I can catch to confirm that they know we are here and why we are here and that our appointment time has come and gone. The best I got was a nod, which I guess, was good enough.

Finally, Grace's number was called and we made our way to the front and away from our friend the toilet. The woman behind the counter was true to everyone's idea of a DMV employee and she gruffly barked orders of documents she needed. On the very last one, the VOE or verification of enrollment, I saw the color drain from Grace's face as she realized that was still at home in her backpack. 

I could tell the woman realized it was an honest mistake and I actually thought she would acquiesce and allow her to proceed but it is a state requirement and her hands were tied. I offered for the school to fax, could we bring it later, could we ????? I am looking at the giant State of Texas clocks to see that it is 3:50, they close at 5:00, we live about 30 minutes away, trying to do some quick math and then come up with the only possible solution.

I can call my dad and have him bring them to us.

The woman looked skeptical and barked, if he can be here no later than 4:15, they would process them. 

You have to understand how long it took to get the appointment, how hard to get off from work, and then for them to get out of school, the thought of starting over made me make the call to dad.

Dad, can you go into our house, look in Grace's laptop bag, finding something that says VOE and bring to South Grand Prairie in less than 25 minutes?

For those who know my dad, you know he said sure.

Within 2 minutes, he calls and says, what bag?

I mentally make a quick inventory of the number of bags we have hanging on our kitchen table at any one point and realize I am not surprised he cannot tell which one. Nevertheless, after much trial and error, he found the right one, grabbed mom, and they raced to distance that originally took me 30 minutes to drive, and they made it in 15.

There have been many times that I have looked up and seen my parents coming and this is just one more of those. I have never been more relieved since he actually made it with 5 minutes to spare. 

We race back in, catch the girl's eye, listen to another person there tear into a tirade about waiting 5 minutes, and patiently waited our turn. 

At this point we have two DMV clerks processing each person's documents as fast as they can; I am signing where I need to, then one of them whispers for me to grab one daughter, get the car, and meet her in the back as quickly as possible.

I did not ask questions and Grace and I ran while Annabel finished fingerprints, eye exams, and pictures. 

The clerk was in the back flagging us down and showed us exactly where to line up. She then explained that she was trying to get us in before the woman whose impatience proved to be the tip of the iceberg for that clerk and our patience had paid off.

Grace went first and to hear her tell it, it was like a drivers ed lesson with people turning left from the right lane, directly in front of her, kids darting into the street, and at the end, he talked to her for a really long time in the car. All I could do was stand outside and pray. She finally emerged victorious and it was Annabel's turn.

All the anxiety leading up to this point was not helping Annabel and the first thing she told the evaluator was that this would probably be the scariest ride he had ever been on. At the end of the end of her test, it seemed like it took even longer and he was pointing and drawing and talking to her, but she finally emerged victorious too. 

We three had to race back into the DMV and get the final processing taken care of. By the time we left, I wanted to hug everyone involved and get their addresses to send Christmas cards. I was so thankful for the many kindnesses they showed to get us through the process, knowing that they probably do turn others away who present the same issues.

But of course, I have to thank Dad the most, one more time of him rescuing us!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where do we go next? College?

In the Spring semester of my junior year in high school, I'm pretty sure my biggest worry was whether or not I would get selected again to be a twirler with the band. I don't remember fretting about college, ACT, SAT, career choices, standing in my class, or any of the things that seem to be worrying my daughters on a daily basis.

I always say that when I went to college, there were really only two choices for women - either teaching or nursing and since I was scared of the sight of blood, then I chose teaching. There was no career counseling or if there was, I did not know to access it, so when I graduated I realized the market was flooded with teacher applicants. It took nine months to find a job and the salary was a whopping $8600 a year! I lasted a whole 4.5 years teaching before I decided I wanted to earn more money and quit teaching and never looked back! At one point in my life, I quit a good paying job, went back for my masters degree and still did not do any exploration as to what this new career would pay. So when I graduated after 2.5 years, I was earning about $20,000 less per year! Brilliant, huh? Loved the job, just couldn't afford to spit with the earnings though.

My girls are looking at salary as a primary determinant in their career choices. They realize our money is always tight and they would prefer to do something to allow them to do more. Salary is not the only deciding factor, of course, but they do see the difference it makes.

My sister had gone to school at Abilene Christian and since I always did what she did, I guess I just assumed I would go there too. I had seen the college when we dropped her off and knew of the one where my dad had attended years before and I think that was my extent of college visits.

The school my daughters go to really emphasizes that everyone go to college so they have taken them to visit a number of college campuses for a visit. They have seen a few that they liked, but none seem to be the perfect match. We hope to visit some other campuses this week during spring break, so they can quit stressing over it.

I found out that all I needed to take was the ACT test and after taking the PSAT, took the test. I did not know about taking prep classes, buying study guides, and the Internet was decades away! My girls worry because most of their classmates have been in a SAT prep class since they were freshmen! When we had a slumber party, one girl had to leave at 6:00 am to attend her prep class! So far we've tried a prep class, but with their schedules, there really was no time to add another class of 4 hours on Saturdays, so we have just invested in a few of the study guide books. Grace is registered to take the test this spring, but Annabel thinks she would like to wait a while.

Not until I was about to graduate, did it dawn on me that my grades would influence anything. I probably should have known that earlier so maybe I would have tried harder. This ignorance followed me to college where until I was ready to graduate, did not know that you could graduate with a special declaration of Magna cum laude, summa cum laude, and cum laude, which surprisingly I received. As competitive as I am, I surely would have worked harder to get a higher rank. The awareness of these honors did follow me to my master's degree, where I worked hard to get straight A's only to find out you don't get those honors! Lesson learned too late.

My girls check on their grades regularly. The school does not allow them to know their class ranking until their senior year, but they know if they are in the top 25%, 50%, and 75%. They fret over this regularly as well. I'm pretty sure I graduated 42 in my class, but that means nothing since I don't know how many were in my class!
I hope to help my girls avoid some of my errors I made in my decisions, but I know each one of those decisions I made, finally led me to them, so I don't regret any of them. I just hope I can be like my parents and accept the decisions they choose as mine did for me. None of us have a looking glass to see how each decision will lead to the next.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What I wish I had known before traveling to China

Because I wrote so much about our trip to China on my blog, I thought I would share my recent post to a group who are looking for information while planning a return trip. As a parent trying to make one of the most important trips of our lives, I delved into every resource I could find. I hope this will be beneficial to you if you are planning a trip, whether it is to China or something much closer.

I feel for all of you who are just now doing their research and planning! I was right there with you last year and in the end, wished I had known just how well we would be taken care of so I could rest easier. These tours are professional. Maybe some have details that others don't. I had to go with one that fit our schedule and our budget, which was Sun. I did not know you could vary from the planned itinerary though, but if I had, I still would not have changed a thing or I would have made myself crazy trying to plan it. We had someone in our group who could not physically do all the activites so Sun had them with fewer stops and on the more active days, chose tours that were easier.

Here's what I wish I had known -

Paid more attention to how to communicate from China - I still don't know about snap chats, skype, getting sims cards there, etc. In some ways though that was a relief. I needed to focus on what was in front of me and not my phone.

If you have an android get ready - your phone, internet will work in wi-fi, but you can't dowload apps because the play store is google based. My brilliant daughters had everyone else download some app so they could talk remotely but never realized that I would be unable to do it after we got to China, so I communicated via them to everyone at home.

I don't consider myself a picky eater, but I got seriously hungry sometimes, but only because I was focused on getting my daughters the foods they loved and missed so terribly from "home", so the night we went to the duck parts deli and any night where everything was very spicy, I didn't find much that I could eat! So maybe I am picky and I should have tried it, but without me eating any they had more, which they loved! I tried McDonalds one night and remembered why I don't eat there even here and at KFC they rarely had chicken! They had their "burgers" but they were out of chicken. I think I remember that one of those two restaurants got in trouble not long after that for serving meat of unknown origins so it was just as well. Please don't bash me for not trying the food. I get sick to my stomach easily and did not want to throw any kinks in the trip.

I would have packed less cotton t-shirts. Those took forever to dry! I probably had us pack too lightly but having hurt my back just before we left, I had to be really careful about what I could carry, but wish I had packed more underwear. There is none in China if you are more than a size 0! OK, slight exaggeration, but I got tired of hand washing! And the laundry costs were way more than I remember from 6 years before. I bought a couple of lightweight dresses from old navy that were ready to go by the next morning. They were probably a poly something blend, very lightweight, cheap, and easy to throw on and go. I also would have made sure I had a pair of shorts the day we rode bikes so as not to embarrass my children quite so much, but it makes for a great story now that the only thing I had to wear was a shorter skirt!

One really important thing - buy it when you see it! You expect to find the exact same things everywhere but we did not. Jade was scarce in Nanchang. I never saw some incredible kites like those I saw at Xi'an. And the street market at Yangshuo was the only place I saw musical instruments.

There is no perfect age to take your kids. Part of my consideration is that I am older (later 50's) and I adopted my kids when they were older (6 and 11). They are both now 17. I had originally told them we would go when they were 14 but realized that would be a dreadful mistake for the daughter adopted at 11 in case she thought I was taking her back. She had not been here long enough to believe that her life truly was permanently in our family and she was well aware of the significance of turning 14 in the orphanage.

We chose not to visit the SWI, neither had fond memories or people they wanted to reconnect with. They were old enough when adopted to still have "fresh" memories of that life. Jeff in this group shared his tour guide from Nanchang, Sissi, who was marvelous. The cost was high in my budget, but she took care of so much before and after that she was well worth it.

OK, this is a lot longer than I meant for it to be, but we want to share how amazing she was. Both daughters had long term stays in foster families. Sissi found those foster families, who had moved often, fielded one of their endless calls concerning our arrival, hired a van that allowed us to transport the entire foster families to a restaurant for lunch each day. The last night there she took us home, had a traditional tea ceremony, then cooked us dinner.

The most incredible part of our time in Nanchang was that she helped us find the "finding" spot for one daughter. The street name had changed since 1998, but she knew where to find it. From there we tracked down the police officer who had actually found her. I will never be the same. He says he did not remember it as there were so many during that time. But we were interviewed for a news story and just the whole thing was incredible. I don't share many details from it as it is way too personal for her, but i have my pictures and my memory and for the first time in this long post, I am at a loss for words on the impact this made.

Just be ready for anything, be open to everything, take more money than you expect to need, and love every minute of it.