Goodbye, Okinawa.

This morning’s view from our hotel room.

In two hours, a friend and colleague of Russell’s will collect the three of us and our six bags to take us to Naha International Airport. It is striking, but not at all surprising, that we leave Okinawa much the same way we arrived.  We no longer have a home.  We no longer own vehicles.  Our mobile telephone service has been terminated.  We are largely unburdened by possessions, living out of our suitcases, relying on a small fraction of items we carefully selected to accompany us.  Our lives have been pared down to the basics–our family, our friends, some clothes, and currency. 

Our once bedroom in our former house.

Yesterday, [S] told a friend that we live at a hotel.  I laughed at her word choice.  Later, I realized she had spoken the truth.  We do not have a home to which to return.  We do not have an address.   We are transient.

Our friend’s Island car we borrowed.

To many, this is an odd way of living.  Packing out, cleaning up, relying on friends and neighbors for transportation, home cooked meals and  vehicles, and relying on wi-fi for communication.  But for a small segment of the US population, this is familiar, if not routine.  

Walking to the beach playground.

As we leave, I am struck by how two years has altered my reality. Yes, it is a given that our experiences living outside of the United States have broadened and enriched my understanding of the world and human nature.  Just as significant, the past two years have changed the way I perceive self-reliance and independence.  

Today, I leave Okinawa understanding that asking for–or accepting–help, be it someone to watch our daughter so I can clean, bring in our garbage bins from the curb, or borrow a car, is  not an affront to my capabilities or preparedness.  These are requests I would happily oblige, but never quite felt comfortable asking.  That was before.  Before living on a military base.  Before living in Japan.  Before having a young daughter. 

I’d like to think our entire family leaves Okinawa better than we arrived.  We are, I believe, better stewards of the environment.  We are better ambassadors of America.   We possesss a better understanding of Asian culture.  We have a better understanding of war and conflict.  And we are better global citizens.

Most importantly, we leave knowing we can–and do–make a difference, every day we act.  My hope is that we are change agents for the better.  Always.  

The Five-Day Countdown

The movers come in less than an hour.  Yesterday afternoon we received our travel itinerary.  In four days we will fly to the United States for the first time in two years.  There we will be reunited with family and friends not seen for years.  Are we ready?  No, not 100%.  But we are the most ready we’ve been.  The vacuum cleaner still needs to be empty and cleaned.  There are groups of miscellany here and there.  Our toothbrush holder needs a scrub.  But those things will resolve themselves one way or another.

I’m off to drop off our daughter at the CDC for the day, pick up much needed coffee, and head to the housing office to schedule our final housing inspection.  Sometime this evening, after checking in to our hotel and putting [S] to bed, we will be able to relax before selling our car, cleaning our house, and preparing for the final housing inspection. 


A Great Day.

Earlier this week, we received notice of final court approval to adopt our son.  As far as approvals go–and there have been many, including provisional and initial –this is the end of the road.  This approval means our son is ours.  Finally.  It means his birth family has been given the opportunity to assert parental rights and has elected not to do so.  It means we are fit to be parents.  It means the only thing left to do is to take physical custody of our son.  Finally.

Russell and I discussed adopting children during our courtship.  Talking about doing something is wholly different than actually doing it, obviously.  For me, the adoption journey began in 1972 when my parents decided to adopt me from Korea, and a few years later, adopted my brother.  For me, adopting a child from Korea seemed a given.  It is what I know.  It is what I understand.  It is an act of generosity for which I am deeply grateful.  It is love.  

For our family, the addition of our son started in earnest in the Fall of 2015.  A flurry of e-mails and telephone calls were sent to adoption agencies throughout the United States.  The response?  Mostly silence.  As a family living outside of the United States, our communications either remained unanswered or received a terse response beginning with, “I’m sorry . . . .”  One adoption agency told us to contact upon returning to the United States to start the process; another suggested we adopt a child from Japan. 

But AAC, based out of Colorado, took the time to ask the question, “Is it possible for a U.S. military family living abroad to adopt a child from Korea?”  It asked it of the adoption agency it works with in Korea, which, in turn asked the government of Korea, all without our knowledge. 

It was, I am certain, meant to be.  It has been a long, patience-trying path.  And now, despite final approval, the process continues to seem never-ending.  For while we have our approval, a combination of our orders and travel plans, have resulted in our welcoming our son into our family next month, just a few weeks away.  My heart aches the way few parents are able to understand.  We spent time with him.  We played with him.  And then we left him, without ceremony or a proper goodbye and without his understanding that we would be back for him. 

Since [S]’s birth, this is the first time I recall taking comfort in the fact that time marches on, passing far too quickly.

The Importance of a Strong Finish.

Over the past few weeks, I have written numerous posts for FirstCameBlue.  I’ve typed words of high praise for Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time.  I’ve written about finding comfort in the chaos of moving, yet, again.  I’ve written about my deep appreciation for–and admiration of–the Okinawan culture and people.  I’ve written about the process of selling our vehicles.  And I’ve written about my apprehension and joy of transitioning from a family of three to a family of four. 

No, you haven’t missed the posts.  Indeed, dear Dedicated Readers will know that there has been little, if anything, to miss in this space.  To my chagrin, recent posts have been sporatic, short, and, dare I say, even a bit superficial, barely scratching the surface.

Each time I sit down to finish a half-written post, I stop.  As our days left on the Island have dwindled down to a couple of weeks, give or take, I’ve taken the time I should have taken during the past two years.  As with much in life, time is most precious when it is most fleeting.  I’ve been spending time at the beach staring at the blue-green water and marveling at its clarity.  I’ve been cherishing every moment with our now only-child, including lunch dates at the food court.  I’ve been reading for pleasure.  I’ve been finding new restaurants to try and revisiting tried and true favorites.  I’ve been stopping to talk with neighbors.  I’ve been studying Korean.  I’ve been cooking through our pantry.  I’ve been enjoying long lunches with friends, new and old.  I’ve been learning about on-post housing in Seoul.  I’ve been organizing and giving away.  I’ve been meeting with housing inspectors and moving company representatives.  I’ve been showing vehicles.  And I’ve been soaking in the richness Okinawa offers.

This is a special place.  Many of its waterfalls, mountains, and beaches remain pristine, as if untouched by man.  Its people are warm, kind, generous and thoughtful.  It was here, we watched [S] grow from a small toddler to a little girl.  And it is from here we leave knowing that our family is complete, even if not yet together. 


Returning to the Motherland, Again.

In a couple of months, our family will move to the Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea.  While we have concerns relating to this move, we are grateful for the opportunity to be able to continue living in Asia.  I first explored moving to Korea in my senior year of college.  The seed was planted by a young Vermont Law School student I was dating at the time.  He was Korean-American.  He was raised in in southern California, but he learned to speak Korean before he learned to speak English, he prepared kimchi, potatoes and eggs for breakfast, and he socialized with other Korean-Americans.  He had a deep affinity–and respect–for Korea, Koreans, and Korean culture. 

Seoul, Korea (2004).

Ten years later, at the age of 31, I returned to Korea for the first time.  The primary purpose of my trip was to attend the international Korean Adoptee Gathering in Seoul, with exploring my birth country as a close second.  My two-week holiday included a Buddhist temple stay on the country’s east coast (no English spoken), a reprimand by a ROK MP at the DMZ for stepping over a line (literally), and a local television interview asking for information regarding my birth parents.  Of course, I also explored the country’s temples, secret gardens, and famed markets and shopping districts.  But those unexpected moments are what I am able to recall best and most fondly.

Seoul, Korea (2017).

When we learned we would be moving to Japan, Russell and I agreed to take time to explore Korea with our daughter.  We will leave Okinawa this summer without having done so.  Rather, our sole trip to Korea was to meet our son.  Of the five non-travel days we spent in Seoul, three were dedicated to our son, one was spent exploring Yongsan, and one was spent walking around Myeongdong, a tiny sliver of Seoul.  Regardless, we did our best to act like locals.  We traveled by train (subway).  We purchased Korean sweet treats from a local vendor.  We spoke Korean (albeit poorly).  We bowed.

For me, the strangest part of the trip was leaving.  We left without our son.  We left without exploring cultural sites.  We left without seeing tourist sites.  We left without shopping.  We left without visiting a temple.  Yet, we left having accomplished exactly what we set out to do. 

The term Motherland has never been so rich.

My World.

Sea Glass Beach, Okinawa, Japan.

[S] and I spend many days drawing pictures.  Typically, she dictates what she wants me to draw and, like any dutiful parent, I draw it.  Like most young children, her instructions are simple and clear.  Today, she wanted me to draw a butterfly and a boat.  Yesterday, she asked me to draw a fish.  Many days, if not most, she asks that I draw the ocean.  Having spent two of her three years of life living on an island with pretty (and plentiful) butterflies, such requests are to be expected.  We walk the beaches.  We feed the fish.  We study butterflies.  We travel by ferry.  Her world is colorful, filled with bright blues, vibrant greens, and stunning yellows.  It is, I dare say, just as it should be. 

This week, we took our final trip to Sea Glass Beach.  Watching her play alone–contently–in the surf made me reflect about her growth.  Nearly two years ago, [S] arrived to that same beach in tears, terrified of the sand and scared of the waves.  Then, that too–fear of the unknown–was to be expected. 

As our family transitions from one adventure to the next, I spend more time than I care to admit contemplating how our actions will affect [S]’s world.  As a recently minted three year old she craves security and affection, while engaging her curiosity with the spirit of an adventurer. 

When I read of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord, I was saddened.  Aside from the U.S. aligning itself with Syria and Nicaragua rather than the nearly 200 other countries committed to the Accord, his decision is an affront to our future.  And by that, I mean my daughter’s future.  The environment, like many other issues, such as health care and assistance to the poor, doesn’t require one side to lose for the other side to win, just as we no longer need to embrace coal to grow jobs in the energy sector.  Rather, each step taken to heal the damage we’ve caused our environment is a win–rewarding renewable energy sources, implementing stricter emissions standards, restricting the use of damaging chemicals. 

Our family takes great effort to explain why paper isn’t merely thrown away, but recycled.  We explain why we pick-up discarded plastic bottles on our walks.  We explain why we run errands together, rather than separately.  It is my hope that we are teaching her to respect–and care for–her beautiful vibrant world.  Despite this recent setback, I believe with the support of true world leaders, U.S. business leaders, and dedicated U.S. city mayors, we can Make the Environment Great Again.