As with most things, adopting from Kazakhstan affects husbands and wives differently. I seemed to be more concerned with the process. And the whole "potty" thing. Renee seemed more preoccupied about how John would adjust and bond to us. This divide between sexes is most evident in the "gift" process.
World Partners explained that we should buy and bring twenty different gifts-- half of them $10 each and half $20 each. In addition we should bring a donation for the baby house. The gifts are not "required," but you get the idea that they're pretty expected.
I was initially a little piqued because it seemed wrong to give gifts after I've already worked, suffered, and paid money for this. Not to mention twenty gifts just sounds a little high. Renee explained it's a way of showing thanks to the people who have worked so hard for our son. I expected that we'd just go down the list and buy what they wanted. And that's the rub. The only direction we had was that the recipients were mostly women, and they recommended that they prefer U.S. goods and look down on products from China. Does the U.S. even make products anymore?
A typical man would go to Target or whatever and start filling his cart until it added up to the right amount. But not a woman. I'm not a chauvinist and this opinion isn't based upon one women's behavior. Renee has told me that this is a hot topic on all of the adoption e-mail lists. So I helped Renee go to several stores to get perfume, stationery, gloves, shirts, hats, and cutlery. Her mother also gave us a slew of gift bags--to which I had to say, "And we have to wrap it too?--and other nice gifts to take.
By the time we left the gifts and donations filled more than one entire duffle bag. Let me repeat it for emphasis. We had to lug more than 70 pounds of gifts in multiple taxi cabs, up three flights of stairs, and across twelve time zones. But don't get the idea that I'm a bitter man.
WPA continually repeated that it's not a big deal, but it sure seems to be. Renee was worried that we hadn't brought the right things or enough of them. And we still had no idea who got what. Fortunately our interpreter was there to help us assemble the gift bags.
Renee spread all of the booty on the bed and the interpreter took a survey and helped decide who got what. The name brand perfume was the biggest hit. You can't go wrong with buying one of the perfume sets and breaking it into individual gifts. It was hard because the Kazak people are so damn polite. I never could figure out if what we had was okay or if she thought we were tremendous cheapskates.
I know the appropriate level for a friend's birthday gift or for mother's day. But what do you give the woman who has raised your son for the past four years? We successfully put everything together, and then we learned that we still had to buy things for other people not at the baby house. When can the present madness end?
This morning delivery of gifts in the director's office in the baby house was anticlimactic. There was probably twelve of us crammed into a tiny overheated office. Most of my effort was focused on keeping John from dismatling the fax machine or from shredding the Important Official Papers on the director's desk. The director gave a speech about John. Since I was getting light-headed from the blistering heat and a mild cold, I can only remember some of the points: that he was a leader, he had a difficult childhood, and again about his outstanding musical ability.
One main thing that really stuck in my mind was that we needed to be careful of "his strong personality." She warned us not to let him ride on my shoulders. That made me wonder if she had seen me giving him a horsey ride earlier, or if this was another "charming" Kazakhstan belief. We decided it was must be an analogy. She also warned us to be consistent in our discipline and that if papa says something then mama should agreed. I laughed at the idea of Renee agreeing with anything that I had to say.
Renee then had to take the gifts from our gigantic duffle bag and distribute them like Santa Claus. This would have been a simple matter if she knew who was who, or if she could pronounce any of the Russian names. Somehow I think everyone got what they were supposed to and in the right order of distribution. Thankfully for the difficulty of the gifts, the donation to the baby house was remarkably simple.
The donation that you give is up to you. Some people buy them a TV, or clothes, or shoes. The only requirement is that it is new and not used. We were extremely lucky to have Renee's industrious mother help us with the donation angle. When Janis heard about our need she snapped into action. Actually I think she slowly eased into it. Initially she was going to make a quilt for John. This then changed into a couple of quilts for us to take.
She had gotten a couple of colorful patterns with animals and shapes and worked some of her Kansas (by way of Missouri) seamstress magic on it. She sewed amazingly detailed designs in the middle of the quilt, applied a complimentary backing, and then hand-sewed the trim around it. The amazing part was that Janis did all of this with the sewing machine her parents gave her for her sixteenth birthday.
We were both blown away with how creative and beautiful the first ones were. I knew how caring she could be, but I was unaware of her artistic side. It was touching that she was so excited about us adopting, and we were grateful to add them to our donation. Only this was just the start of her getting "geared up."
As she progressed she kept having problems with her favorite sewing machine. After repairing it twice the sewing shop suggested that she needed something more "heavy-duty." Now if there's one word that her husband John could get behind it was "heavy-duty." As a farmer he appreciates that you have to get the right tool for the job. Janis had an emotional attachement to the machine and had to be pressured to even consider getting a new one. Finally she relented if it was only for a trial basis. She got that sucker home and never looked back. The Janis Quilt Production Factory was officially in high-gear.
I'd receive daily progress reports from Renee. "It's ten o'clock at night, Dad's asleep, and Mom's working on another new quilt." I couldn't believe her drive and determination. It made me feel like such a slacker to be sitting on the couch watching Friends re-runs, while my mother-in-law was working her fingers to the bone for our donations. Of course I didn't get up to do anything about it. I guess I'll have to learn to live with the guilt.
In the end she produced more than forty quilts in four months. That's ten quilts a month! With Renee's smart use of the miraculous vacuum Space Bags we were able to take thirty. I am so thankful for her gifts. You can tell she made each one with love and care. Everyone at the baby house was impressed with them. The interpreter and another lady studied them intently. They were baffled that she was able to make them herself.
After all of the headaches of the gift debacle, looking at Janis's quilts was a welcome respite. I smile when I think about the colorful blankets that will soon warm these beautiful children. Maybe a child will one night drift off to sleep smiling as she thinks about the dancing cows covering her--all from the kindness of one industrious lady.
[Posted from Taldy Korgan: 19 Mar 04 @ 20:36 local time]