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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

Realizing that it has been more than six months since I last wrote, to say the time has flown is a terrible understatement.

We had a fantastic trip to China with Nanchang being our next to the last destination. The time in Nanchang was so emotional/critical/amazing that I feel I am still processing the details. My daughters asked that I not share the pictures of their time with their foster families and of course I will honor that. What I had not been prepared for was the impact it had on me and that is what I feel I am still working through. At some point, instead of showing their "reunions", which has become very popular among videographers/documentary makers/film makers, I will tell about the trip from my perspective. But that will come later.

When we arrived back home, my sister and nieces, along with my parents were there to greet us. It was bittersweet to return home, knowing there was still so much to see and do in China, but reality had to set back in.

My nieces were able to stay with us a few weeks in the summer and we took advantage of that time acting like tourists in our own city, enjoying the sights that we normally just speed by. Then before we could sit down, the summer was over and the girls had to go back to school on August 5.

This is their junior year which is hard to believe, even though I say it often, to actually write it down makes it more real than having lived it the last five months. This has been a difficult semester - course wise, as they both are taking physics, government, US history, then adding on pre-cal, statistics, AP art, makes my head swim, but they persevered and passed all their finals.

Now today is the last day of 2014, a time of reflection, I guess, but I don't think I will mourn the passing of this year. It has been a good year, but also very difficult, a lot has happened in the world that forces you to fight becoming cynical, there have been losses of those too young and others so unexpected, and with each passing year I feel more the effects of my own age on my body and know I have to work harder to accomplish the same things that were easier in earlier years.

For my daughters, I have immeasurable awe and pride in all they are able to accomplish, their kind and good personalities, their desire to give, rather than to receive. I tried to explain some of how I feel about them to my sister but did not do a very good job. I likened it to having a child who almost died and then relishing each milestone, recognizing that only because of the goodness of God, they were able to be here in this life to even have the milestone to face.

We talk a lot in our family about circles of friends and how one circle connects with another, in ways, initially you did not realize, but in retrospect you see. This year we celebrated 10 years of me being a mom and Grace being my daughter. 10 years.

10 years ago I never could have guessed where my life was going and had no clue just how good it could be, and it just gets better. I do catch myself holding my breath, fearful, knowing that the life I know can be shattered in an instant, and have to force myself to take a deep breath and live in the present time without borrowing trouble from the future, worries about things that may never happen.

To you, my readers, I wish for you an even better year in 2015, to find peace, love, good health, and good fortune, and to think of us often and remember us in your prayers.