Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New York Moment 14

I was too tired from the day before to do much of anything this day. It was our day of rest. Plus, it was freezing cold all day, clear but windy and frigid. I kept checking to see the temp. For most of the day, it was in the teens but "feels like -1." Eventually, I sucked it up and drug myself with the niece for another quick shopping trip, but it was painful. I'm telling you, just downright painful.

New York Moment 13

This was a tangled mass of a day spent with my niece, just the two of us. Once it was decided that she was coming to New York, the first thing she mentioned wanting to do was visit the Museum of Modern Art. We chose what must have been the busiest day of the entire year to go. It's difficult to get a decent look at the art when you're standing shoulder to shoulder with a few thousand other people. After three floors (out of six), we gave up and left.

The tangled mass at Moma. To the right is "Christina's World," a favorite of mine, but competing to get a glimpse was sort of a drag.

On the subject of art museums: what is the compulsion we have to take personal photos of famous works of art? I really don't get it. Sure, take a photo of yourself next to the work as a brush with greatness moment, but this scene is completely baffling to me:

My guess is that at least half of these people, at some point, had their cameras out to take a photo of "Starry Night."

We left the museum to wander the tangled mass of streets and people in Chinatown and Little Italy. I'm fascinated with all of New York, but this area is high up on my list, along with the Lower East Side where all the immigrants first landed and made their dwelling, hoping to move upward, literally and figuratively. I'm dying to read this book, which I will gladly accept as a late birthday gift, in case you forgot.
We found the Tenement Museum, whose tours were sold out. I'm saving it for another day.
We ended up eating very bland Italian food on Mulberry Street (word to the wise: don't eat down here, head to Greenwich Village for good Italian), but I still enjoyed the moment of sitting in Little Italy with my niece, talking about her school and friends.

We finished this tangled mass of a day by going shopping on our way home, at one of the most crowded H&Ms in the city. Then we fought through the crowds at Madison Square Garden to get home. Once home, we relished in space, free space and quiet, a very hot commodity in New York City.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New York Moment 12

Abe has a habit of making friends with anyone sitting behind him on a bus or subway. He looks at whoever is there and starts asking, "What are you doing?" or "What can we do?" So far, no one has been able to resist the charms of our Abe, no matter what kinds of defenses they have up that say, "Leave me alone on my commute." Abe doesn't read this body language yet. He sees a new face; he sees a friend.

I've been posting lately in chunks. In case you missed it, here's a post I just did along with this one.

New York Moment 11

My birthday. In some ways, it was sad. Not because I'm depressed about getting older but because of the sad things we experienced that day. We listened to and read quotes about the Irish Potato Famine at the Irish Hunger Memorial in lower Manhattan in the driving rain which soaked all of us. At another point earlier in the day, I found myself face to face with the mother of a firefighter who died heroically during the attacks at the World Trade Center. I went to her after the tour to ask her for directions but when I stood face to face with her, all I could do was break down in tears, kiss her face, and say, "I have a son too. Thank you." I hope she didn't mind that I kissed her. I couldn't help myself. She hugged me, teared up too, and I walked away by myself to cry in the corner.

I was wrecked for the rest of that day. Completely wrecked. Even the incredible Chinese food at Sammy's Noodles in Greenwich Village only marginally lightened my mood.

Once we got home, Ted went out in the rain to get me canoli and tiramisu from some place called "Hot and Crusty." Needless to say, it wasn't the tastiest dessert I've ever had. Later that night, Ted and I sat on the couch where he told me about what happened to him on the bus in Harlem (which you can read here). I pulled out the photo of the firefighter hero Mr. Michael Cawley, given to me by his mother earlier that day. In the photo, his smiling face is between two NYC firetrucks and the twin towers. Under the photo it says, "It's not the years in your life but the life in your years."

I had a lot more patience that day with my own son. Her son was only 32. Mine is two. That's why I kissed her face on my birthday.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New York Moment 10

My days are getting all out of order. A lot has been going on. This one is from Christmas Day. I wasn't here for this one either. This is Ted's experience that he told me about last night before we went to bed.

On the bus from LaQuardia airport on Christmas Day, with my niece in tow, Ted watched an interaction between a man and a woman, strangers up til that point, as the bus wound through Harlem. He was at first struck by the friendliness, the sense of togetherness, the "Christmas spirit" if you will, on a random bus on Christmas Day.

A lady got on the bus who had two teeth missing right in the front. She was bedraggled, most likely homeless. She sat down quietly. At the next stop, the woman who had been chatting stood up to get off. As she passed the homeless lady, she handed her a wad of cash and said, "God bless." The homeless woman then said, "I already have been blessed. God bless you and your family." Then she cried. She sat there on the bus and cried.

Ted cried too. He said that he wishes he had more of these impulses to bless others, to give love away, to be generous, to be community-minded. We hold on so tightly to what we have. What if we went through life more open? Open-minded. Open-hearted. Open-handed. Freely giving to our neighbors.

This is what Ted saw on a bus in Harlem on Christmas Day.

New York Moment 9

Christmas Eve, we went out to Brooklyn to meet those folks that Ted ran into at a bus stop two days before, the ones who are good friends with Mama and Papa Dog of Bright Beating Hearts. These two are lovely, so hospitable, and just like Mama Dog promised, they provided delicious snacks. We had bagels so good that we tracked down the shop they came from and bought a few to take home. Mine was an everything bagel straight out of the oven, so warm and chewy and perfect that Abe and I ate half of it on the way home.Fantastic New York moment: meeting new friends, making plans for playing at the hippo park, perfect bagels, and afternoon singalong.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New York Moment 8

A study in the mundane. I now have a punch card for our neighborhood coffeeshop where a cup of coffee roasted in Oregon sells for $2 in the middle of Manhattan.

There are no Targets anywhere near us, so I found myself this afternoon in the basement of a Kmart a few blocks away shopping for Christmas gifts for Abe. It was crowded and claustrophobic. I started pushing the buttons on a NYC firetruck. A woman next to me asked if there was another, explaining that her 3-year-old son is begging her for firetrucks this year. I had in my hand the only one. She looked completely despondent. I handed her the toy, telling her that our son is only marginally interested in trucks. She asked, "Oh, well what is he into?" She raised her eyebrows when I said, "cooking." We laughed about how good it will be to encourage this in him, that his future spouse will thank me one day. Then she thanked me for the truck, and I wandered away, finding a kid-sized toaster oven and pizza making kit for my boy who really likes to cook.

I called my mom as I waited in line. I paid for my things and chatted with my mom on my walk home through streets that are still harboring enormous piles of dirty snow in the gutters. I had my messenger bag slung around my chest, a Kmart bag in one hand and my cellphone up to my ear with my other hand. If I hadn't been gushing about how much I love it here, how beautiful the central post office is, how I cried when I first glimpsed the Statue of Liberty from South Ferry, and how much I could see myself actually living here, I might have felt like a real New Yorker in that moment. It was a lovely moment, maybe my favorite so far.

Monday, December 21, 2009

New York Moment 7

I wasn't actually present for this one. While Abe was napping, Ted went out to get groceries and a Christmas tree. All the strapping, majestic sorts of trees that we're used to in Oregon had been sold out by the late afternoon, but Ted was determined not to come home empty-handed. He asked about the one small, spindly, Charlie-Brown tree in the corner of a stall set up on the sidewalk. The worker said it wasn't for sale, that it was destined for the garbage. Ted asked if he could buy it. The worker, after talking with the manager, sold it to us for $3.99.

With tree and two heavy bags of groceries, Ted noticed a woman with two African-American children standing with him at the bus stop. He found out that they were twins, adopted from Ethiopia. Their mother asked if we knew these people. Well, yes we do. For the next twenty minutes on the bus, they talked and exchanged info, and now we're making plans via email to get together to let the kids play.

What are the chances? In a huge city like New York, at a random bus stop, we make a connection like this? And to think it would never have happened without this blogging community. Happy holidays, indeed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

NYC Moments 1-6

I'm not sure where my fascination with New York City started. Maybe it was simply all those 90s sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends I that watched religiously through my 20's. Maybe it was the answer the fireman gave to the question in 2001 of why he went back into the burning towers to save someone: because I'm a New Yorker. In 2004, I would listen to "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" from a mix CD Ted made me and cry and cry when Elton sang about thanking the Lord for the people he'd found in New York. Then Steve Earl wrote this song with lyrics like, "livin’ in a city where the streets are paved with good intentions and a people’s faith in the sacred promise a statue made." Not long after that, I watched all 14 hours of Ric Burns' New York, and I was hooked. I had to go. I had to see for myself.

So right now, I'm living a dream of mine. We are here for an entire month. Ted lived here for six years, and we're staying in the apartment of an old friend of his who's gone home for the holidays. We've been here now six days and already so many wonderful moments have happened. I find myself tearing up at least once a day. I don't want to forget anything, so I hope no one minds that I plan on using this space as a journal of my favorite New York moments every day. I may not post every day, but I do plan on noting each day an experience that I want to remember.

Day One: While not being able to sleep our first night here, I got out of bed and stood at the window looking down at the street, watching the garbage collectors do their job. I have no idea why this process was so interesting to me. But it's a moment I'll remember.

Day Two: in the evening, we took a walk to 34th street past Madison Square Gardens. Ted was wearing his famous furry hat, the one he bought for $10 on the street in New York over ten years ago. It makes a statement. A man standing outside the arena pointed at us and nodded approvingly as he shouted to everyone around, "Now there is a man who knows his hats!"

Day Three: I can't narrow this one down to one (though in the future I will try; this was just a busy day). First was looking through the glass to the sweetest Piglet I've ever seen, the one owned and loved by Christopher Robin Milne, currently on display at the children's room of the Central Library, along with his friends Pooh, Kanga, Eeyore, and Tigger. Did you know that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories are based on these stuffed animals? I couldn't help tearing up for the first time this day. Second, wandering the streets of the West Village with Abe asleep in the Ergo, we got a bagfull of bagels from Ted's favorite shop. We then ate our toasted ones (mine whole wheat everything) with Mexican hot chocolate. It was euphoric. I almost cried but not quite. Third and last: Abe has been obsessed with going to South Ferry, so we went. I cried when I first glimpsed Lady Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance from the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

Day Four: Abe and I took a leisurely walk to visit Stumptown Coffee (which has no sign outside; you won't find it if you haven't looked up the address). I got my favorite shot so far, one of Abe resting inside the store with a couple kissing on the other side of the glass. We walked back home and did this:

Day Five: After catching the tail end of the Christmas parade in Little Italy and eating the most amazing canoli you can imagine, we high-tailed it through a snowstorm to have dinner with these people.
Day Six: Snow day in Central Park, with frolicking dogs wearing doggie snowboots, a couple of rides on a borrowed sled from a boy in green glasses named Milo, a hot dog snack, a lady in high-heeled black leather boots doing a jig to a saxophonist rendition of "Rudolph," all followed by hot chocolate and strudel at The Plaza.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Second Referral Day Anniversary

Our referral day post is here, back when I had more time to write. Our first anniversary of referral day is here, back when I had less time to write but more time than I seem to have now with a two-year-old running and jumping and singing and asking a thousand times every day "Mom? What can we do?" Seriously, this question never stops.

It is so hard to believe that we have known Abe's face for two years. Two years. It's just unbelievable.

My sweet boy, I so love knowing that face.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Abe, age 2 and a half

He eats raw parsnips.

He sits on the kitchen counter to help me cook. He actually helps. This is his favorite place in the house. We're starting to think he may become a chef.

He pretends to cook you anything you want but specializes in making "eggs and cheesetoast."

He told me tonight that he wants to eat Christmas lights because they taste like frenchtoast.

He can count to almost 20.

He won't go to sleep early but he doesn't complain about being put to bed. Last night, he was contentedly singing in his room until 12:30.

He runs very fast and can easily go up and down steps.

While watching the Irish movie The Secret of Roan Inish, Abe turned his chair upside down and declared that he was "sailing to Irish."

Our dumb cat Bang Bang sleeps with him most nights now.

He's learning to find Ethiopia on a map of Africa by pointing to the bag of coffee on the map of his children's atlas. He says that he was born where the bag of coffee is.He still reads the comics every Sunday.

He likes to go for rides in the wheelbarrow.

His favorite thing to drink is apple cider, not hot chocolate. He has forgotten about his leftover Halloween candy.

He still occasionally asks if he can eat me up he loves me so.

He is most excited about going to "South Ferry" on our upcoming New York trip because of the incredibly serendipitous book we have from the library, How Little Lori Visited Times Square. We love this book so much. Currently our most favorite.

He has his first backpack, as of today. It's for the trip to NYC. He'll be wearing his backpack for the first time and officially having his very own seat on the airplane. The cute-factor of those little boy backpacks just kills me. And Abe wearing his back pack? Be still my heart.

He sings a lot, songs like "I've been workin' on the railroad" (every verse) and "Oompa Loompa" among others. Please excuse the poor quality of this clip; if he knows I'm filming, he stops singing, so I had an odd angle and back light.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

About That Second Adoption.

I had a dream last night about the child we are adopting. It wasn't a good dream. We got the call for our referral, and a few hours later we were introduced live and in person to the child who was now our daughter. She looked to be around eight or nine years old. She didn't really like me. It wasn't that she was necessarily shy; it was that she preferred being with anyone else who was in the house. I was trying to get her room ready in a futile attempt for her to like me. Everyone else in the house kept oohing and ahhing over her while she simply ignored me, her new mother.

That was my dream. I obviously have some fears about this next adoption. I am afraid to write about it, but I'm choosing to do so mainly because of the encouragement I felt while reading Melissa Faye Greene's brutally honest take on the adoption of her son from Bulgaria. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend doing so.

So what am I so afraid of? Why am I having bad dreams? Why did I sort of flip out one day last week and need to go on a several-hour walk by myself to think and pray?

It's difficult to explain. Please bear with me as I stumble around for the right words.

When we were in Ethiopia bringing home our tiny baby Abe, we had a conversation with Belay that changed forever both me and Ted. Belay is an Ethiopian man who works for Gladney. He is one of my biggest heroes on this earth. If Belay hadn't been on the scene, it is very likely that Abe would not be our son right now (in case you're new to our family, you can read about the twists and turns of Abe's adoption here and here and here). The first thing Belay does every day when he wakes up is to call the Gladney transition homes to check on the children. I heard that his wife asked him one day why he did this when he had his own children at home to check in with in the morning. His response was that his children have two parents already and that the children at the Gladney home have no one. Saying that he loves children is an understatement. He is utterly devoted and children respond to that. We got to see Belay this spring at Chris and Heather's St Paddy's Day party in California, and despite not having seen him in over a year, Abe flew into Belay's arms when we walked in the door (as evidenced in the slideshow I just linked to). It may sound trite or corny to say so, but I'm gonna say it anyway: Belay is an angel walking the face of this earth.

During one of our meals with Belay during our time in Ethiopia, Ted asked him a question that we really wanted the answer to. We asked how, in the face of overwhelming need, how do you take it all in? How do you keep your heart from breaking into a million pieces every day? His answer was that you simply choose one area of need that most strikes a chord in your heart and go with that. He said, "If Bill Gates used all his money, all he could do was buy each person a steak dinner." Point being: there will always be need, and no one person can solve all the world's problems.

We thought about this for a while and then asked, "And where is your heart?" Without a second thought, he replied, "older girls." He explained that boys who never find families, though it will be difficult for them, have less of a hard time making their way in the country. There are simply more opportunities available for men. The young women who age out of the system have a more difficult time (and my understanding is that this is why Gladney chooses to employ many of these young women to care for the children in the transition homes). He went on to explain that once a child reaches the age of two, her chance of being adopted drops drastically and continues to drop each year exponentially.


That was the word that did it for me. Of course we knew before we adopted Abe that many older children never find families, and we certainly don't have a single regret about our first adoption. I don't stand in judgment of those who are adopting an infant; we were one of those couples, and we have many friends who have adopted or are adopting infants. Every family has their own path, and we knew that this conversation with Belay was leading us to a path of toddler/preschool adoption. We knew what our next step would be. We knew what it had to be. Like Belay said, this is what was striking a chord in our hearts.

So, in answer to that question of our next adoption, the one I'd been putting off writing about, this is it: we are hoping to adopt a preschool-aged girl.

My big fear in explaining our motivation in adopting an older-than-infant girl is that I will come off sounding self-righteous or as if my only motivation in adopting again is to "save an orphan." I cringe at this kind of stuff, really I do. We always knew we wanted to adopt again. We want another child. That's the plain truth. Selfishly, we want to parent another; we want Abe to have a sibling. We feel extremely fortunate and grateful that we have the means to bring another child into our family. We just didn't know who this child would be until we saw with our own eyes these sweet preschool children with no parents and talked with Belay, our Ethiopian Superman, about what pricked his heart the most.

I am excited, I really am. But I am also scared. "Older child" adoption is a completely different ball of wax than parenting an infant. I read incessantly about what it means to bring a child into our family who already has language, an intact personality, connections to other people, and memories of her first home. This little girl is going to be freaked out by what is happening to her. It's scary stuff. It scares me. I'm afraid she won't bond to me. I'm afraid she'll prefer anyone else to me, her new mother. I'm afraid she'll meet our amazing neighbors and want to live with them instead. I'm afraid she and Abe won't bond as brother and sister. I so love mothering my little boy that I'm now afraid that I won't know how to mother a girl. I'm afraid because with an infant, you snuggle them and bottle-feed them, and wrap 'em up in slings that you wear around all day, and take naps together, and lots of goo-goos and ga-gas and before you know it, you belong to each other. With Abe, he wanted me and Ted over anyone else within twenty-four hours. Seriously, our bonding was nearly instantaneous.

But with a preschooler? It's not the same. It takes longer. There are tantrums and language barriers and nightmares and insecurities and food hoarding and inappropriate affection for strangers. I'm not saying all these things will happen. I just know that they could. I know that I have to prepare myself for the potential of these things so that I don't flip out. This is why I read constantly. This is why I pay such very close attention to families like this and this and this.

This morning while baking peanut butter cookies with Abe, Harry Connick Jr. started singing my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night (no, he wasn't actually in the kitchen with us, though what a lovely thing that would have been). These lines hit me square in the chest:

"He knows our need, our weakness no stranger."

I worry so often that I won't have what it takes to mother a little girl who understands just enough to know that her world is turning completely upside down. But what I need to remember is that, as scared as I am right now, she's going to be that much more scared. This is not about my having or not having what it takes; God is not a stranger to my weakness. He'll fill my cup. He'll forge a bond between us all, even if it takes a little longer. He knows our need. I cling to the hope that by the end of it, we'll belong to each other. She'll call me her mama, and I'll call her my girl. Our baby girl. Our own Rooney.

(I thank you in advance for being gracious with me. I decided, in the footsteps of this lady who is another hero of mine, to use this space to decompress, sort it out, and hold it up to the light. I'm a messy person on a journey here. Please excuse my mess.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Childhood, part two.

I have been surprised by the many unexpected joys of being a parent. I realized another one two nights ago when we were at our neighbor's house watching the Oregon State/University of Oregon "civil war" football game.

These neighbors have two daughters that Abe likes to play with. He often refers to them collectively as "the neighbor kids" even though he knows both of their names very well. When he was smaller, they liked to baby him, and as he's gotten older, they've both been very sweet about including him in their games and being patient and forgiving when he discovers how fun it is to pull their long beautiful hair.

This family recently refinished their basement, which is where we were watching the football game. Okay, most everyone else was watching the game except for me. I, instead, found myself mesmerized by watching the kids play in this rumpus room of a basement. Abe is now officially old enough to go off on his own to have adventures with his buddies. We can actually sit with grown-up friends for extended periods while he's off playing.

It was a surprising realization that, to Abe and "the neighbor kids," I speak in Charlie Brown adult wah-wah-wah voice. I have become peripheral to the imaginative games they're creating. This made me so happy, truly happy.

I was happy because I was lucky enough as a kid to have parents who let us roam. Some of my best childhood memories involve the neighbor kids on my street exploring the woods near my best friend's house or even more, the many Sunday nights after church that we would all go over to someone's house. The adults would be in the kitchen or living room doing...whatever, I'm still not sure. I just heard them as background noise to the games that all the kids would make up in the rest of the house, from simple hide-and-seek to the more complicated "sardines" and scary games like "bloody Mary" that our parents probably wouldn't have approved of (it wasn't that bad, just basically a very involved ghost story where we'd convince each other that we'd seen a headless woman in the mirror).

Every Sunday night during church for several years, I'd whisper to my mom, "Are we going anywhere after this?" always hoping that we were getting together with some other families, which we often did. Abe has now started to do the same thing. Last night, Ted had fallen asleep with Abe in his tiny toddler bed, but Abe was laying there beside his dad just singing at the top of his lungs (how Ted can sleep through this, I have no idea). I came into his room and knelt down beside him on the floor. His eyes lit up. With his thumb still in his mouth, he said, "Mom? What can we do?" He was ready to go. Ready.

Life truly is a cycle. I have so loved watching my childhood repeat in the life of my son. Who cares about watching a dumb football game when you get to hit the "play" button of your childhood in the imaginative games played by your own child and his friends when they don't know you're watching?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Recipes to Grow a Family

See this pretty lady right here, the one holding Abe way back in January 2008, a full two months before we even met him? She is now waiting to bring home her newest daughter, a sweet sweet sweet preschool-aged little girl. As of tonight, she only has 85 more of these cookbooks to sell in an effort to grow her family. I ordered two of them when they first came out, and they're pretty great. It's an amazingly eclectic bunch of recipes (and one of my grandmother's favorite recipes is in there too). They would make a great gift this holiday season. And they're not even used or from a thrift store. Go here to order.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On the subject of gifts...

I don't get why people sometimes turn their noses up at items that came from Goodwill. I've heard so many people say that they think things bought from thrift stores, especially clothes, are icky. I really don't get it. Emma left a great comment on my last post about how much they try to use freecycle for gifts. I think it's great. I also love the idea I read about a few years ago of doing a toy-swap among your friends with kids. You can make it a party by getting babysitters to stay home with the kids. You gather up all the toys your kid has outgrown or simply grown bored of, take all the toys to the party, put everything down in the middle, have some booze, take new toys home that your kid would like. Heck, wrap 'em up and put them under the Christmas tree even. I probably won't have time this year to do it, but next year, I fully intend to host one of these parties, assuming I can get enough folks on board who won't turn their noses up at used goods.

I recently went to a baby shower for a mom-to-be who is so uber-cool and thrifty (you know who you are). I have never had so much fun putting together a baby gift. Truly. She set up a gift registry with something called The Alternative Gift Registry. Sure, there were a couple of big-ticket items they needed but most of the gift ideas were requests for your favorite children's books, home-made burp cloths, donations to charity, and even mix CDs of your favorite music for kids. It was the most awesome thing I had ever seen connected to a baby shower. I pulled out a box that once held my favorite pair of rain boots and walked around our house, putting things in that once belonged to Abe. I tossed in a copy of one of my favorite parenting books and another cool book for moms, both of which I got at Goodwill. I knew this friend wouldn't mind; just a few Saturdays before, we'd gone to three thrift stores looking for kid supplies.

I don't mean to sound like we never buy anything new for Abe. We do. But rarely. We're very lucky, I know, because we live in a town full of consignment stores for kids. I can walk to three of them. Not every city has so many, so I don't mean to sound preachy. I just wish there weren't such stigma attached to things that were used. One of our neighbors gave Abe a birthday gift this year of a huge stack of children's books, all of which she had bought at a yard sale that morning. She took them home, wiped them down with windex, and I thought she'd broken the bank on a two-year-old's birthday gift. She whispered to me apologetically where she'd gotten them, apparently not knowing me well enough to realize that the books' yard-sale status actually made them more valuable to me than if she'd bought them brand new.

Now let's see if I can pull together a holiday toy exchange...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Santa, Mikulas, and the Baby Jesus: part II

I loved reading all the comments on yesterday's post. Thanks to everyone who chimed in. More on the subject:

I agree with everyone who said that there's a pretty slim chance of a child being scarred by what they were told about Santa. I've never known anyone who was mad at their parents for letting them believe Santa was real. I also don't know any people who wish they had been told he was real. A friend emailed me today about yesterday's post and said a lot of really interesting things, including, "In the end, I think that it doesn't matter either way. No one seems especially traumatized one way or the other that I can tell. I can't think of anyone who hates their parents for how they handled it or who, as a result, has a lack of faith in other things or whatever. It just seems like some childhood thing that comes and goes with no damage."

That's the theory at least. Anyone know anyone who feels Santa trauma?

Santa and I met in Turku, Finland back in 1998 while he was scraping ice off his car.

This same friend had this to say about Christmas gift giving:

"If we didn't buy presents for anyone over seventeen
, it would solve lots of problems. Why do adults need to exchange gifts? Aren't we old enough to buy our own crap? If we could somehow only give each other presents when we have some thoughtful idea, without anyone getting their feelings hurt, that would be great. The forcing and expectation is what ruins things: especially when sometimes people say they don't want or need anything and they actually mean it and we get them something anyway. C and I make fun of the diamond commercials they run every year, when the TV tells you what diamond thing you're supposed to get your wife this year.
If I ran Christmas, kids would get gifts and adults would get warm feelings."

I liked his ideas there, especially that last line. This friend and I were talking on the phone this afternoon about how the real fun at Christmas, once we're all grown up, is getting gifts for the kiddos. Last year, Abe had a bunch of stuff to open up just because we found it so fun to wrap things up for him and watch him open everything. We like to give kids gifts. That's just how it is. But it's easy when they're only a year old, like Abe was last year, and pretty much oblivious to what was going on. Now he's a wizened two, and we really don't want him to get sucked into the "I want, I want, I want" vortex. So I really liked the idea Christina had about the five gift tradition: something you need, something you want, something to wear, something to read, and something to share. I might even be inclined to make it even simpler. I like the idea of recycling gifts too (from thrift stores and hand-me-downs). My friend, in the same email, also wrote about what he thinks is the best holiday and why:
"...That's why I'm currently thinking
Halloween is the best holiday. There's a minimal effort and a large payoff. You get some costume (sometimes the cheaper the better) and buy a sack of candy and you're pretty much ready to go. You can decorate as much or as little as you want and no one will judge. It's more of a community thing than Christmas is. The movies are more fun. There's nothing cheesy or saccharine about Halloween: it's kinda hip actually. You're not hearing about it everywhere you go. No religion is involved (except for those who wrongly think there is). There are a variety of ways to celebrate. Kids can be kids and can be cute. No one is wanting to kill themselves. Satan's blessings are everywhere.
Even probably a better holiday--but in its case, only because of the promise of Christmas. You have some turkey dinner or whatever and see some family and you start getting excited about Christmas and pulling out Christmas records and thinking about shopping: but you're not sick of everything yet. You're not wanting to kill the next actor in the next Christmas commercial selling a Samsung Blu-Ray player. But then Black Friday hits and someone gets fatally trampled at Wal-Mart and the true spirit of Christmas comes alive."
Seven of the nine lined up Christmas morning, ready to open presents.

I get what he's saying (please, don't be offended by the comment about religion. And the "Satan's blessing" is a joke). I realized tonight though that I have all kinds of emotion attached to Christmas, like no other holiday. On my walk with Abe this afternoon, we walked past a house that was being decorated. The owners were playing Christmas music from the front porch, and as Abe and I sat there on their front steps talking about the decorations, I got all choked up. Tears welled up in my eyes from hearing some Christmas song playing; I don't even remember what it was. But my childhood appeared right in front, conjured by the music, the way it did when Max scratched his name on the side of his boat in Where the Wild Things Are.

I am very lucky that I had a happy childhood and bunches of happy Christmases. I bet there are a lot of people who didn't. For me though, probably because of all the happy memories attached to it (and not just because of the gifts), Christmas is still my favorite. My high school best friend's favorite holiday was Halloween, which I never really understood, maybe until now as it was just explained in my friend's email (not the same friend). It got me wondering what you all think the best holiday is and why? Anyone out there nutso for Valentine's or St. Paddy's Day?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Santa, Mikulas, and the Baby Jesus

Last year, this is what happened when Santa walked into the place where we were eating dinner:
One year later, we met Santa at the Pioneer Courthouse Square tree lighting, and this happened:
He's just nonplussed by the whole Santa situation. At least there's no more terror involved. This opens up a topic that I'd love comments on: how does your family handle Santa? We have thoughts on the matter but are unsure how to talk about it with Abe because we don't want him ruining anything for his friends. I'm trying to be purposefully vague here in case any young eyes are seeing this. We love Santa in the Rooney house but are not sure what we want our kids to believe about who brings them presents.

I've always liked the Slovak way: Jezisko (the baby Jesus) brings gifts on Christmas Eve after everyone has eaten the Christmas carp and potato salad. On December 6th, Mikulas (Santa) puts candies and fruit in the boots of children who leave them on their windowsills before going to bed. On December 5th (and sometimes on the 6th too), people will dress up as angels or devils to remind children the consequences of being good or bad. At the school where I taught for four years, one teenager would be a devil, another an angel, and another Mikulas. I recently found out that the angel costume was the old wedding dress of one of the middle-aged vice-principals. This revelation made me all kinds of happy and is a perfect example of why I loved living in Slovakia.

We're trying to figure out what works for our family without getting sucked into the traditions of the culture at-large. We have nothing against the culture-at-large necessarily. We just know how easy it is for kids to start expecting more and more at Christmas, and then we get sucked into the pressure to buy up all we can during the holidays, ending up with a bunch of junk that we'll never use.

I am torn. I like the idea behind Advent Conspiracy a lot. I also really like the idea of having at least something to open on Christmas morning. My parents never gave us anything hugely extravagant, but some of my best holiday memories involve the gifts we got, like the barbie house one year and the small black-and-white tv another. I remember these gifts. In Ted's family, all nine kids had to wait on the stairs until everyone was there and their mom could get a photo. Then and only then could they rush down the stairs to open gifts. This is one of the best collective Rooney memories, which wouldn't have happened if the opening of gifts were not involved.

So we're trying to find a balance. What does your family do at Christmas when it comes to gifts? Do you make your own? If you are participants in Advent Conspiracy, do your kids feel disappointed that they aren't getting many or any gifts? If you are one of those families with the mountain of boxes underneath the tree, what is your rationale for doing so (and I'm not judging--I'm always kind of jealous of you when I go to your holiday parties). Have any of you found a balance? If so, can you tell me how?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Doesn't every family end Thanksgiving dinner with something like this?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Room on the Counter for More

When we were growing up, my sister, cousins, and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house. Granny's kitchen was one of our favorite places to be. She'd always let us sit on a counter, sometimes three of us at a time (we were five in all). She had endless patience and gave us tasks to do while we sat up there. In Granny's boxes of slide photographs, there are many pictures of us all lined up on her yellow kitchen counter.

Abe has discovered the joy of sitting on the counter in our kitchen. He started last year during the holidays, in this spot:Now that he's bigger, that counter gets crowded, so we've moved him across the room to this spot here, where he sometimes reads his Sunday comics.

With all the cooking going on for Thanksgiving, he's especially loving this spot of his. He can easily reach the fruit bowl for more oranges.
Our counter has room for more. If we can ever get our paperwork done, we're hoping for another hiney to sit on these counters with Abe. So where are we with all that second adoption stuff? We had a mad rush a couple of months ago getting the paperwork done, even a good chunk of what we need for our foreign dossier (the big daddy of all the piles of paperwork), but then we hit a snag with one paper. Even our Gladney caseworkers were sort of scratching their heads about what to do. Without going into the boring details, it has to do with how to get a proper " proof of employment letter" for an actor. Not so easy. Yes, we managed it the first time round, but now things are a little different, making things complicated (again, boring details).

We think we have a solution but it means waiting for another document. More waiting. Our goal is to have all our paperwork finished well before Christmas. I can't help feeling superstitious about our adoptions sometimes, as if I write or talk too much about it, I'm going to jinx it. Ridiculous, right?

So that's where we are. One paper away from putting our foreign dossier together. Then the big Wait. The wait for whom? More on that later (really, I promise).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yard Day

A sunny day in November means yard work with dad. Wearing an old hat of mom's helps.
Interesting timing after my post yesterday to find this article today. Thoughts? Check 1, 2, 3, is this thing still on?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Adopted Mystery Guy

At a party this weekend, someone I met was telling me about this mysterious guy he knew a little bit, a fellow regular at a bar he went to a lot in his '20s. The guy would sit in a corner by himself, drawing and reading. He always had a tab, which his family would pay. The person at the party who was telling me about him found out that I know the family who owns the bar and asked me to find out about the mystery-guy, if he was still living and doing okay.

Today, I ran into a member of the family who owns the bar, so I asked him about the artistic fella I'd heard about at the party. He told me that the guy is basically homeless and has spent the last fifteen years sleeping on the back porch of the bar. He's very artistic and intelligent, and his family is very wealthy. Oh, and you know what else?

"He's adopted. Yeah, all the kids in that family were adopted."

Nice. And what does this have to do with the story? What does his having been adopted have to do with anything?

I wouldn't say that I got mad. But I was certainly exasperated by the realization that so many people still have the misperception that anyone who was adopted is "damaged goods" somehow, that any problem they face in their life can be chalked up to their being adopted, that any difficulties their family goes through also is due to the adoption.

Sometimes I feel like our family exists in a bubble of wonderful, understanding, compassionate, open-hearted people who love us all unconditionally. I truly feel this way 99.9% of the time, so it's somewhat of a shocker when I encounter someone who is holding on tightly to antiquated ideas about what it means to be adopted. It's hard for me to just brush it off. I know I need to prepare our child(ren) for the times that they will have encounters like the one I had today (and in case anyone thinks I'm simply being too sensitive, the person I talked to today is the same one who once told me and another adoptive mom, out of the blue, that he "could never love an adopted child as much as my own." Well, thanks for letting us know. I shook off the shock of hearing the boneheaded comment and let him know what a good thing it is that he's not adopting then).

This is why I get so excited when I see stories like this one, and I want to know more. Isn't there a book out there about successful and famous adoptees? Does such a think exist? If not, I hereby copyright the idea. I would very much like to give this book to the bonehead I talked to today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kermit Likes The Helio Sequence

Abe has been calling me "Fozzie the bear" all day and wants me to call him "Kermit." Kermit does everything I ask him to do, with no complaints, as long as I call him by his proper name: Kermit. He responds by saying, "Thank you, Fozzie the Bear."

Later, he asks me, "Are you the biggest loser?"

"No, I'm Fozzie the Bear."

"Oh, okay."

Kermit ate his dinner while listening to Live Wire and then had a dance party to this song. It was a fun Saturday night.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Nose is for Sniffing New Books

Ted has been working long days on a film project for the last month or so, and yesterday was one of those days that I was single-momming it. I have such deep respect for my single-parent friends. It wears me out. I just deleted a long run-down of my day yesterday because no one really wants to hear it. It was busy. I had Abe by myself from wake-up to lay-down. When faced with the choice: blog or 30 Rock, I chose the latter.

Today I got a chance to sleep in, and Ted has agreed to be "on," so we took a trip this morning to a bookstore where Abe likes to play with the trains. Our local neighborhood newspaper had an article recently about favorite children's books, and one by Beverly Cleary was mentioned: Socks. It was published the year I was born, and I had a copy that I wore out from multiple readings and then lost, the way we toss aside relics of our childhood that we have no idea we'll want one day.

At the bookstore this morning, I tracked down a copy of Socks, but all the illustrations and cover art were different, updated versions. Boo. I want the original version, the one with the simple pen and ink drawings. As I was lamenting the loss of the illustrations I loved, I opened the book and stuck my nose right in the crease between the pages. I breathed in. Memories, memories, memories came to mind, of hours spent in my backyard treehouse reading, of the library at my elementary school, of the Troll Bookclub catalog.

Ah...the Troll Bookclub catalog. Anyone else remember this? Once a month, our teacher would send us home with a flimsy four page catalog, more like a flier really, of books we could order from Troll. They were all super cheap. My grandparents always gave my sister and me $1 for every A and 50 cents for every B on our report cards each nine weeks, and I'd usually use this money to buy from Troll. I could actually get quite a lot with a few dollars.

The funny thing is that I never really wanted any of the "classics." In fact, we had a relative who always gave us books at Christmas, and I hardly ever read them. They were books from the Little House series, and Frances Hodge Burnett books, etc. I could somehow tell that they were books I was supposed to read, so of course, I never did. Instead, I bought from Troll cheap paperback books that have definitely not stood the test of time. What did it matter to me? If it was about a cat or even remotely spooky, I'd read it.

In the post a few days ago where I asked for suggestions for topics, someone asked a really good question: Which books should all children have in their libraries? I thought about it and realized that I can't answer. It just depends on the child. Every child should have in his or her library exactly whatever they are drawn to, whether it's the Little House series or those awful Goosebumps books. Let them read what they want. My mom did, and even though I probably read a whole lot of fluff, along the way, I did find books like Socks, books that have stood the test of time, books that I remember.

Even though I somehow missed reading the Narnia series growing up (my second grade teacher did read the first one to us out loud), a friend introduced me to them in the 8th grade, and I, of course, loved them all (well, except for The Horse and His Boy which was just sort I really believe that because my parents let me read whatever I wanted, by the time I got older and was introduced to "good" literature, my imagination was ready for it. I soaked it all up, so much so that my friend who introduced me to Narnia and I would go track down longer versions of things we'd only read excerpts of in our high school literature classes (like Essays in Idleness by Kenko) and I spent a good chunk of my graduation money on paperback copies of classics.

I eventually got a degree in English, which didn't happen because someone read me the "classics" as a child or bought them to go in my library. I grew up to love literature because I was given the freedom to read what I wanted, to experience the anticipation of the new Troll catalog and the joy of the day my teacher handed me my stack of cheap paperbacks, none of which I still own.

It doesn't matter though. I remember the smell of a brand-new book, especially the smell of a cheap paperback. That never changes. The only "must haves" for our kids' library simply may simply be: plenty of shelves, a library card, and noses for sniffing between the pages.

(in reference to the title of this post, anyone read A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak? So wonderful, amazing illustrations, clever, smart, funny: love this book. Highly recommended)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Good Dog, Carl

Here, Abe reads you a story, Good Dog, Carl, admittedly, one of the weirdest children's books ever:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Is two too early to start giving chores to a kid? I think I read somewhere that you should start giving them little tasks to do as early as possible, which we've been doing now with Abe for several months now (probably before he was two). It's worked out great so far because he really likes being given a task, whether it's helpful or not--like when he goes outside with Ted to "help" him dig in the backyard. Abe could sit in a pile of dirt with a shovel and a few sticks and dig for hours.

The chores Abe does now all involve fetching something or putting something away. We'll ask him to go put something in his room or bring something down from his room. The other day, he spent a good half hour helping me put all the rolls of toilet paper into the linen closet after our trip to Costco. In the grocery store, I try to have him help me by putting things into the cart or holding my list. Every night before his bath, he puts his dirty clothes into the hamper.

Definitely though, my favorite thing he does with his chores is the way he puts his shoes by the front door. I always ask him to sit down by the door, take off his shoes, and leave them "beside" the door. Sometimes, I ask him to put mine by the door too, which he did here while we were staying up at Mount Hood a couple of weeks ago:

pretty cute, right?

...unrelated to chores, but get this: Abe was just in the bath singing a made-up song about The Biggest Loser. He made it up himself. Sure, the main words were "biggest," "loser," and "the," but still. He knows it's Tuesday. I'm thinking he's a song-writing prodigy.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Abe, today, discovered how to put a plastic cup over his mouth and under his chin, suck in, and hold it there with no hands, eyes bugged out and finishing with laughter as the cup falls off. You know you all have done this, some still as adults.

I couldn't convince him today that he had been given oatmeal for breakfast and not catfish. He kept telling me over and over that he'd had catfish for breakfast. He had one bite of my catfish sandwich last week when Janka and Peter were visiting. Now he's fixated.

You think anyone has let Brad P know that his beard looks ridiculous?

A very funny friend (you know who you are) made me nearly wet my pants a week or so ago when she sent me this photo that she'd put together:
Yes, Brian Williams is my other boyfriend. Besides Matt Damon. And Ted.

Watch this to see why.

Yeah, that's about it for today. Official worst daily blog post ever. Besides the pretty Brian Williams and his purple tie.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Our Month of Visitors

First was my dad and stepmom.

Nine days later, Ted's college friend Mark stayed over one night on his way home to Colorado. This is the only picture we got.

Five days after that, our friend Staci from Los Angeles.

Another twelve days brought Janka and Peter, the bringers of chocolate.

Three days later, a surprise and happy visit from Marty in Seattle, last seen by me in 2006 in Slovakia.

This is what happens when a couple has lived in a lot of different places, especially before getting married. I say: bring it on. The more the merrier.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

You Should Read This

We have another, unexpected, yet very welcome guest right now, a friend I hadn't seen in person in almost three years, and I don't have a lot of time right now to write. So. I'm stealing this from my blogging hero's blog, the famous Coffeemom. I love her mucho grande, for many reasons. I would just link to this recent post of hers that made me cry (her posts often make me cry), but I'm afraid that people won't bother to click the link and actually read it. So I hope she doesn't mind that I'm going to cut and paste what she wrote. It's just that I really want you to read it.

After you read it, if you were moved in any way, please click this link and leave her a comment telling her so. She is an amazing woman. Here is what she wrote:

I don't have a picture. Not the right picture anyhow. I have this picture, far below, which will have to suffice.

I had a "mark the good" moment today. And because I have written before about how I think its important to MARK the good when you recognize it, I want to write this down...for the record, and so it doesn't slip away from my foggy mind. In older child adoption, there is so much that is strange and awkward, especially at first. And only time can help ease into some things. One of those is worth a whole 'nother post (Fair warning...). But it is this very thing that had one of those moments today, the kind that stills and shimmers for a minute, you realize you kind of are holding your breath so you don't blink and lose it. Then you do blink because you have to, suddenly, there is a pending spill. And if you're lucky you recognize, that this is one to mark. A step forward. A settling in. A deeper twinge resonating.

Ack. Let me explain. Tomorrow is Marti's birthday. She is a bit giddy in anticipation. Just a little shivery giddy. But I didn't really see it until Mass.

Every day we go to Mass after we drop off the school kids (parochial school, one of the perks). Every day we sit in our pew, third from the back, left. Some mornings Coffeedoc gets to join us before clinic. Today was one of those.

Marta was in between us, she kept pulling Coffeedoc closer in, and squooshing closer to me. We were all mooshed up together in that pew, tho the pew was empty otherwise. If you didn't know it, it looked like it was below freezing and we were huddling for warmth. Then, in one of the quiet moments of the Mass, we sat again, taking our huddle. She grinned and she pulled him closer in, put his hand on her lap and grabbed mine, pulling it to his, placing our two old hands together. We smiled a small laugh at each other. Then she grinned wider.

She wrapped her little arms around our big ones on either side, grabbed hands in the middle and squeezed. "My dad. My mom," she whispered to us with a huge smile.

It was very much like a small small child, claiming again, for the hundredth time, their parents. But this was our teen. Not a toddler. But the declaration was the same. And we looked across her head and smiled that deep smile. And then, surprising myself...I blinked.

I don't have a picture to show you. I wish I did. But I have stored this one away safely anyhow, marking it for good.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Of Interest Lately

In no order:
1. This pile of candy, brought by our most recent houseguests, all the way from Austria and Slovakia. Of particular interest to me is the little "Mozart ball" right in front which has several layers of sweets, finishing with marzipan in the middle, a flavor Ted hates. More for me. 2. This pile of books, one of the many scattered through the house. There's also the pile I have put on hold at the library. I'm not actually reading any of these yet, I should add. I just look at them longingly and don't get to them because... 3. ...Abe likes to read too but rarely wants to look at them by himself, which means that we sit for long stretches reading his books. I don't mind too much because I'm super interested in browsing the children's section at our library. A huge indulgence is to go by myself, like I did this week. 4. Figuring out the most effective way of teaching a few old men in my "advanced ESL class" who are pre-literate and write like this: 5. As always, New York City. Recently, an opportunity has come up to stay there for about a month during the holidays, which we're considering (but not really seriously). Photoblogs like this one make me want to think more seriously about it.

6. Food. This place is one of my favorites, and I love reading their blog. This couple is soulful soulful soulful. I look at their blog right before bed and get the urge to bake cookies.

7. Abe's answer to us instructing him to stop doing something: "I will not do it." And he immediately stops the offending action. His language development very much interests me.

8. This guy, I'm really interested in this guy:9. Flossing.

10. This CD and the stories behind each song, all about the various Portland characters buried here in this cemetery, The Lone Fir.11. My Parents Were Awesome, where you can find photos like this:

I'm sure there are more, but Abe is now sitting on my lap asking to watch movie trailers, his newest interest.