Sunday, July 29, 2018

Adopting Susanna Rose

Adopting Cordelia in 2014 utterly transformed my life.  Almost four years later, she's thriving--talking more and more, sleeping in a new big-girl bed, and learning to read.  Our days are filled with parks and beaches, favorite storybooks, "cooking" in our play kitchen, and dancing to The Wiggles before bed.  It seemed like life was complete.

But it wasn't; not quite.

I always wanted Cori to have a sibling.  I knew she'd make a great big sister, and I had decided that "one day" we would likely return to China. I often visited the Waiting Child page on our adoption agency's website, idly looking at photographs.  But I was completely unprepared for my response to one photo, my sense that the little girl was staring directly at me, my need to return to it repeatedly over the course of weeks.  Over and over, I read the brief description: three years old, Down syndrome, loves music, outgoing and people-oriented.  But then I'd firmly shut the computer.  I'd just bought a house.  It wasn't time to adopt.

But adoption is never convenient; it's never the "right" time to upend your life.  In March my agency posted the photo I'd been staring at to their Facebook page with a note saying a generous donor had provided a large subsidy to help with the cost of her adoption.  It fell significantly short of covering everything, but seemed to put her more within reach.  I reposted to my own page with a note about how great this was, how great she seemed, and how happy I'd be to answer questions about Down syndrome  adoption.  Then I resolutely closed the computer, again, and went to bed.

And did not sleep.

A week later, I said yes to Zhang Su Yun and informally named her Susanna Rose Zeuli.  Susanna, of course, is for Su Yun--I'll call her Susie--and Rose is for my grandmother.  It's now almost five months later, and I'm working hard to bring her home.  I sold my racing bike to cover adoption expenses and launched several fundraisers.  I bought books about being a big sister and began to read to Cori about what it would be like.  I completed our home study and gathered the stack of documents China needs to consider our application.  I left administration and accepted a teaching position in my school to give me more time at home with both children.

At the end of this phase of the journey lies another trip to China, accompanied by Cori and her grandmother.  We anticipate going in the late fall, maybe November.  We've been honored and gratified by the support we've gotten from friends and family, and we invite you to walk with us as we enter this new chapter of our lives.  Check back often for updates, and thank you for caring.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Gotcha Day

Tomorrow, October 27, is our Gotcha Day.  Cordelia and I were united on this day last year.  Gotcha Day sparkles in your mind like a fairy tale during the months or years you wait to bring your baby home.  You just know it'll be this magical moment, similar to--but a thousand times more powerful than--the instant you looked at a referral photo and just knew that this baby was your daughter.  I've watched dozens of Gotcha Day videos with their heartrending music and incredible encounters.  I even made one myself.

Over and over, I've told Cori her story, and I told it again the other night as we snuggled in the rocker after her bath.  It's this very ritualized, very sanitized tale about how much everyone loved her every step of the way.  It's even true.  It's just selectively true.  I was telling her about the amazing moment when she was first placed in my arms, when I suddenly broke character and asked, "Do you want to know the truth--the real secret of how we got through our first month together?"


No, it's not that magical, is it?  But after that first incredible moment (which she cried through), there are all the moments to come.  She and I were strangers.  I didn't know what she liked and didn't.  She didn't find me comforting.  The concept of comfort coming from another person seemed to be a bit foreign to her.  So she'd cry--because she was tired, because she was confused, because her stomach hurt or she was jet lagged or something frightened her, but above all because she was grieving.  And when nothing else worked, I'd sit her in my lap and feed her Cheerios, and she'd calm down.

I learned this year that relationships are not magical.  Our bond is not magic.  It's all those moments.  I read my travel journal from China and was reminded of our first evening together.  We lay on the hotel bed, for hours, while she stared at the ceiling and I stared at her.  We tapped each other's noses and I was thrilled.  And so we began the slow, hard work of figuring out how to be a family.

And it continued--through late nights and ear infections and the time she got reflux and cried and cried; all I wanted was to hold her until it got better, and all she wanted was to lie on the floor and self-soothe.  It continued through medical appointments (at least 20 this year and maybe more), through painstakingly teaching her not to pinch or bite while equally painstakingly learning why she sometimes needed to, through day after day of tearing myself away at day care and later coming back, through all the times when I was too tired or too frustrated or too stressed and still smiled and played and laughed with her, through poop all over the floor and the bathtub and our clothes.  Cori was home for three weeks before she held out her arms to be picked up, for five months before she let me rock her to sleep, for eight months before she kissed me for the first time.

Yesterday she got up from her nap and we played a game.  She danced around her crib and then jumped into my arms.  I held her tight and kissed her all over her face and neck while she shrieked with laughter.  When I stopped, she signed "more more more."  Then she reached back toward her crib so we could do it all over again.  A year ago, we had Cheerios.  We've traveled a long way to get where we are.

We'll have a lot of Gotcha Days. And maybe the later ones will take on deeper meaning because she'll understand them.  But this one feels sacred.  I'm in awe of my daughter, of who she's become, of who we've both become.  Cordelia, baby, happy Gotcha Day.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cordelia Turns Two!

On Thursday, August 28, Cordelia celebrated her second birthday with a cake I sent her:
I think she enjoyed it!  As you can see, her hair is growing and she just gets more and more beautiful (even with all the frosting on her face!).  I went through an organization called Blessed Kids to send a dragon cake, a "photo pillow" (pillow with my picture on it) and a list of translated questions for the orphanage to answer.
Cordelia looks either transfixed or bewildered or both, and I'm thrilled that she got my cake and that the orphanage staff was able to send pictures of the event for me to enjoy.

Currently I'm waiting for the US Consulate in Guangzhou to issue something called an Article 5, which is essentially a promise to the Chinese government that they'll grant Cori a visa when the time comes.  Once they produce that, it gets processed by the travel division of the CCCWA, which is the central Chinese adoption authority, and they'll send me my travel date.  Everyone's best guess is that I'll travel in late October or early November.

Things are coming together.  I've got a pile of clothes (not enough, though), some toys and books, and both a regular stroller and one for jogging.  The crib is set up, and her room is starting to take shape.

Thank you so much to all who have donated to her fund to help bring her home.  If you'd still like to donate, click here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Meet Cordelia...And Bring Her Home!

This is my daughter, Cordelia. She's waiting for me in an orphanage in Zhenjiang, China.  She's two years old (almost) and has Down syndrome.
I always wanted to be a parent, but none of my options seemed quite right.  Then one day I read an article about the grim hopelessness of growing up with a disability in China.  I felt something click into place; it was the idea I'd been waiting my whole life to have.

I looked into adopting through the Massachusetts foster care system.  There are no fees.  But I knew that a child in this country, even a child in foster care, has access to Western medicine and education. I felt drawn to China, despite the staggering expense of international adoption.  And so I found the China Special Children program at Wide Horizons For Children, which swiftly matches adoptive parents with special-needs children waiting to go home.  I was matched with Cordelia, whose Chinese name is Xin Yi, at the end of January.

To help fund my adoption, I am working with an organization called Brittany's Hope.  Click here to donate.They provide grants to unite prospective parents with special-needs orphans worldwide.  If I can raise $5,000, Brittany's Hope will match it.   Your gift will be tax-deductible, and you'll be part of the community of people who help to show Cordelia what it means to matter, to have a family and a future.

NO GIFT IS TOO SMALL, and I'd be so grateful.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Remembering Bobby Mac

Last June Bobby and I did the Cycle Kids charity ride together.  It was a metric century, notable for its 4,000 feet of climbing, and I wanted to do it because it cost almost nothing, I liked the charity, and I thought the route was pretty.  Various people turned me down but it never even occurred to me that Bobby wouldn't do it, despite the fact that he was still recovering from his eye surgery with nasty complications.  During the summers, Bobby and I rode together almost every day, which meant I should have been an authority on the limitations of his vision.  Instead, I was probably more clueless than most because Bobby was just perpetually up for everything.  Nineteen MPH out to South Acton?  Sure!  100 miles round-trip to Newburyport because I wanted a really good bagel?  Absolutely!  Every ride was wonderful, every idea was a great idea...I took it for granted.  In retrospect I realized that he had made some noises about the climbing, but I was doing a lot of climbing last spring and just didn't see the problem.  You come to a hill, you climb the hill; what's the big deal?

The ride had a rolling start and Bobby and I got there toward the later end of the window, having decided, first, to ride the 15 miles to the start/finish, and second, not to get up at the crack of dawn.  After handing me my bib number, the ladies at registration directed me to "Bob," who was doing the pre-ride talk.  He asked what route I was doing.  "The metric," I told him.

His eyes widened.  "Oh, no," he said. "You're much too late for that.  You'll have to do a shorter route. If you do the metric you won't make it back in time for the barbecue."

"I don't think you understand," I responded.  I've got Bobby Mac with me.  We don't do shorter routes. We'll be at your barbecue."  And off we rode.  Bobby, who overheard the exchange, thought it was just great, and chuckled about it for the next hour.  He also sang, shouted, "Go, team!" at other riders, and consoled me when I got us lost in Sudbury:  "It's okay, Iris--bonus miles!"  But as we approached Stow, the hills started in earnest, and Bobby got quieter.  I knew better than to ask how he was doing, but the dearth of pep talks, dirty jokes, and occasional coaching ("Iris, I think you stand up too much") did have me a bit concerned.

Finally, we made a turn onto a new road and I gave Bobby an opening I was sure he wouldn't be able to resist.  "Look, Bobby, we're on Lover's Lane!"  Nothing.  No lascivious come-on, not even a "Yeah, babe!"  Just silence. God, I thought, I'm killing Bobby.  True to the rest of the route, Lover's Lane was a steady uphill grind.  Guilt overwhelmed me.  What had I done?  At the top of it, as I prepared myself to stop and forcibly suggest gu despite how much that would annoy him, he piped up behind me, loud and clear:  "I know why they call this Lover's Lane.  It's because when people get to the top, they're like, 'Fuck me!'"  And that's when I knew he'd be just fine.

The thing about Bobby was, he believed in being your best self.  I found out only later that he was terrified of this ride, sure he wasn't in good enough condition, couldn't do all that climbing, couldn't see well enough for the fast descents.  But he didn't want to be the blind guy with limited capacities.  He didn't want to be the one others had to look out for.  He wanted to be Bobby Mac, up for everything, champion charity rider and you'd better believe we'll be at your fuckin' barbecue (which we were--take that, "Bob").  He wanted to be what the rest of us saw when we looked at him.  He was overjoyed after that ride, ready for anything, and stopped using his white cane in public.

Bobby once confided to me, probably at the MS ride or something similar, "Iris, you don't know this, but this bike thing sometimes changes people's lives."  I looked at him in surprise, not because it seemed at all like a foreign concept, but because he seemed honestly not to know how much he'd changed my life.  Sure, he taught me all sorts of things: draft, eat before you're hungry, go at your own pace, know what to kiss and when.  But Bobby's real gift to me was a glimpse at my own best self, through his eyes.

I was nothing special before the Quad ride.  Often irascible, frequently isolated, sometimes depressed, more than a little bit shy.  But suddenly Bobby was there, extolling my virtues to whoever would listen.  Road captain!  Charity Czar!  Thousand miles for charity!  The lovely Iris Miranda!  I remember Bobby booming the results of my first race to the assembled multitudes at the end of the bike path: "TENTH PLACE!!"  "Bobby!" I said, mortified, "There were only thirteen women in the race!"  "Shh!" he said sharply.  "TOP TEN IN HER FIRST RACE!"  Last week, in his hospital bed, he told me, "You're amazing.  Everyone knows it.  I don't see why you don't see that in yourself."

I wasn't with Bobby until the end.  I wanted to be, and told him I would be.  I think a lot of us did.  But he had other ideas.  "THERE WILL BE NO FUCKING DEATHWATCH" he texted to me, just a week and a half ago when he got the final death sentence.  And I'm upset and disappointed; there were things I wanted to say and I wanted him to be surrounded by his loved ones. But I wonder if his "no visitors" edict once he left the hospital was his way of preserving his own best self.  So we'd never see him truly fall apart, lose the ability to entertain and inspire, give in to this appallingly swift disease.  He wanted to remain Bobby Mac, the living legend, in our eyes.

And how do I honor that?  Seriously, what tribute would, could possibly, be appropriate?  The group ride will continue.  I'm sure there will be a ride in his name, to raise money for some worthy charity.  While he asked for no funeral, we will gather together for him nonetheless.  But in the end, I think I honor Bobby by trying, daily, to live up to what he thought I was. If I can be that person, even in fits and starts, then maybe I can hold onto the best of Bobby as well.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Harbor to the Bay: Sept. 21, 2013

My day started at four in the morning with that disorienting feeling you get when your alarm goes off in pitch-darkness.  I turned on all the lights to try to convince myself that I was really away.  I got dressed.  I drank a cup of coffee.  At 4:30 my ride arrived and I found Bobby Mac, the blind man who was the whole reason I was doing this ride this year, in the passenger seat in street clothes.  He was too sick to ride.  He was coming in to see me off and help with mechanical support at the start line, but then I'd be on my own.

Shortly before 5, I settled down to breakfast in the basement of Trinity Church.
Bobby sat across from me, looking like Death.  We had coffee and oatmeal.  Various people rushed over to fuss over Bobby and nod vaguely at me.  I told myself the coffee was working

Outside, things picked up when we encountered the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  By themselves, they'd be a reason to do this ride.  They drive around the course, cheering on riders at pit stops.  They're a big part of the quirky spirit that makes me want to be a part of this event year after year.  Another rider caught a photo of me taking a picture of Bobby with a pair of Sisters.
Excitement mounted as the start time approached.  I found a Quad teammate to ride with.  Speakers reminded us that this is an all-volunteer ride, so 100% of the nearly $400,000 raised so far goes to charity.  I love the start-line feeling of people coming together for a common purpose, that ramping-up of energy and spirit that makes something daunting feel completely possible.  It's all the excitement of racing without the fear--just the sense, as you listen to hundreds of pairs of hands applauding through padded bike gloves, that you're part of something momentous.

The ride itself went well, though I missed Bobby.  On a ride of this length (120 miles) you really can't speed up or slow down for other people; you just have to do your pace.  So by Pit One, I'd lost my teammate, though I found more Sisters:

I rode alone for a bit, then spent about 25 miles with a guy who was doing a good pace for me.  On long rides, it's good to find someone who can ride in front of you and block the wind.  Rob and I took turns and this got us to the lunch stop, where we parted ways.

The next fifteen-mile leg was a bit depressing, as I wondered if I now had to resign myself to sixty solo miles into a headwind.  My speed dropped a bit as my motivation flagged.  At the Mile 75 pit stop, instead of quickly refilling my bottles, grabbing some sugar, and hopping back on the bike, I collected an assortment of snacks and sat down on the grass.

Which was when I saw Jane, the teammate I'd lost around mile 10. I was pleased to have found her, and even more pleased to see that she'd dropped her group, who'd been slowing her down.  We did the last forty-five miles more or less together.  Jane's stomach was bothering her--this can happen on long rides--and she dropped back a few times, but always caught up, and we chatted cheerfully for much of the ride while keeping up what I thought was a respectable pace.

Near the end, we came to the dreaded Hills of Truro.  Everyone talks about these with hatred and despair, and every year I sort of sail up them.  I always wonder if this is because of the adrenaline and sugar high, and if the next time I'll struggle.  But this year I finally had to conclude that the hills just aren't that bad.  And they're so close to the end--only five miles or so--that even if they were it really wouldn't matter.

Jane and I crossed the finish line together.  I did 120 miles in 7.5 hours of ride time, for an average of 16.1 MPH.  "Would you like some food?" a volunteer inquired.  "Oh, I'm not hungry," I breezily responded.  "We have some fresh, hot pizza," he offered.  I was halfway through my second slice before it occurred to me that maybe I should take my helmet and gloves off.

A gorgeous day!  A wonderful time for a great cause!  And you can still donate; just click here.  Thanks so much for all of your support.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fall Charity Rides

On September 21, for the fourth year, I will ride 125 miles from Boston to Provincetown with the Harbor to the Bay AIDS ride.  This benefits four local AIDS organizations, most of whom saw their funding cut last year.  The programs were, bizarrely, too effective; the government decided to divert money from Massachusetts to provide funding to states who were struggling.  So these organizations need your help more than ever.

This year, I am not fundraising for myself.  I am fortunate enough to be sponsored by the State Street Bank team so I can ride as a guide for Bobby Mac.  Bobby runs my weekly group ride and has trained hundreds, if not thousands, of charity riders for this ride, the PMC, the Seacoast Safari, MS, and other events.  He is also legally blind due to macular degeneration.  Bobby and I are a great team, completing several sub-six centuries this year, and I'm thrilled and honored to be his eyes on this ride.  Please support us by donating here.

On October 13 I will participate in The Dempsey Challenge, a 100-mile ride starting and ending in Lewiston, ME to raise money for the Patrick Dempsey Cancer Center.  I'm riding in memory of my aunt Jackie, a heart-transplant survivor who passed away from cancer this past April.  Last year, I did this ride in her honor and it was a tough day.  It was 45 degrees and raining steadily at the starting line, and the weather didn't improve much.  I toyed with backing out, but I'd committed to Jackie.  The spectators were amazing--picture small children in head-to-toe rain gear, standing by the side of the road clutching cardboard signs reading "GO DADDY GO"--but even beyond that I was heartened by Jackie's frequent text messages, encouraging me to keep going, enjoy the chicken broth at the pit stops, think about how well I was doing.  It was like she was there with me.  She was an incredibly courageous person and I miss her.  To support me on the Dempsey ride, please click here.