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.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Refugee's Story

I loved the suggestions I got in this post for topics this month. Because I went to the ESL class this morning where I volunteer, I'll respond first to Fiona's request for an update on the man I wrote about here.

He wasn't there today. The last time I saw him, he told me he had been sick, so I'm wondering if he isn't sick again. The language barrier between the two of us is glaring. He "told me" he was sick by my acting out what sick looks like and then his answering 'yes'. I hope that he's in class next week. How strange would it be to invite him for Thanksgiving, I wonder. What would he do at our house, knowing virtually zero English? Would he feel uncomfortable? Should we just play charades? Anyone with advice, I welcome words of wisdom on this one.

I have been slowly but surely every week getting to know these elderly immigrant/refugees from Africa. There is a particular favorite of mine that I discovered a lot about today.

He comes faithfully every week, always dressed in very modern clothes and carrying a Forever 21 plastic bag. If it's chilly out, he wears his fuzzy cap with earflaps. That, combined with the Forever 21 bag, is quite a combination. He has a quick smile, always.

Today, he showed me a typed document that he is taking to a court appointment on Tuesday, an attempt to get his permanent work visa. He is hoping to be granted official 'refugee' status by the U.S. government, so the document explains his life story. This man who is always smiling has suffered more than I most likely ever will. He was born in one country but left due to religious persecution and lived in a neighboring host country for 37 years, where he raised all his seven children. He eventually tried to go back to his country of origin, but again suffered extreme religious persecution and had three of his sons conscripted to that nation's army. He left again to the neighboring country, the same one who hosted him for those 37 years.

In the middle of the night, soldiers from his country of origin knocked on his door, demanding to know where his sons were. He tried to explain that they were already in the army, but the soldiers wouldn't believe him, taking him to jail where he was interrogated and tortured for days.

Due to the torture, he was eventually sent to a hospital where a friend helped him escape. This friend housed him secretly for several years, letting him work at his auto repair shop. He was eventually granted a one-year visa to the U.S. in 2006 where he came to live with one of his daughters. The rest of his children are still in Africa.

He doesn't want to go back home, even though most of his family is there. He simply wants to work as much as he can to help his family. He is an elderly man. Many people in the western world are looking forward to this time of life to finally take it easy, buy an RV and go on cruises. This man simply wants the freedom to work legally so he can send money to his children. The New York Times had an article this week about this very issue, which you can read by clicking here (this man is not Somali, but some of the issues are similar).

In theory, I go to this class to help these people learn English so that they can function independently in American culture. Many people have said this before and in much more eloquent ways, but I am getting so much more from knowing them than they are getting from me. After reading the man's court document a few times to get the facts straight, I handed it back to him, thanked him, then placed the palms of my hands together in a symbol of prayer and lifted my hands and eyes upward. He smiled, nodded, and said 'thank you'. If you are the praying kind, could you do the same? I'll be seeing him again on Tuesday, and I'd be so happy to let him know that he had others saying a prayer for him.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shay's Okay...whew.

Internet Down

Last night I was really tired after putting Abe to bed and emotionally spent after seeing Shae go home on Biggest Loser (seriously, she makes me cry, and I am genuinely worried about her after last night's show because there was no "look at me now" segment about her, only Daniel...anyone have any info on that sweet Shae lady who had 200+ pounds to go? I just keep hoping there was no segment on her because they're waiting for the big reveal at the finale). I sat down at the computer to throw together a blog post at 11:30 and found that our internet was down.

So that's my excuse for missing yesterday. It wasn't my fault.

Someone on another blog (can't remember who) asked for comments about what she should write about. I'm not exactly running out of ideas, but I am curious if anyone has an opinion about topics I should cover during this month of daily posts (when the internet is working). Um, but asking that feels a little narcissistic, like I'm assuming that anyone gives a flying flip what I have to say because really, like my mom told me on the phone yesterday, her so-and-so friend from work "follows closely the pictures on your blog."

Yep, it's all about pictures of Abe for most people.

On that note, because I give the people what they want, a very short video taken by Staci on Halloween:

And if you feel like leaving a comment with an idea for a topic, please do.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Revolving Door

Some of the best parents we know, a couple in Los Angeles, can attribute the well-roundedness of their children to the parade of guests that come through their home. This couple (and family) is one of the most hospitable I've ever met. Their kids are used to having all kinds of people around and have learned how to relate and converse with most anyone.

The first time I went to their house, when Ted and I were engaged, their 8-year-old son came running, jumping up into Ted's arms, looking him in the face and shouting, "I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"

Ted looked at the small ape hanging on him and asked, "What can't you believe?"

"You're here! You're really here!"

Yeah, they're pretty over-the-top hospitable. We want our kids to be comfortable around most anyone. So we're happy that this fall, we've had a revolving door of guests that started with my dad, then a college friend of Ted's, then our friend Staci who was here during Halloween, and now one of my old students from my years teaching in Slovakia whose Austrian boyfriend is arriving tomorrow.

Abe is shy for all of five minutes but is quickly trying to rummage through their suitcases while asking them, "What are you doing now?" every 30 seconds.

I was searching for a decent picture of my student, but the only one I could find in our photo library is this one:
This was at her stuzkova (sort of like prom, but just a lot fancier and way more formal and much fewer drunken binges and DUIs). She's in the black skirt, on the right, the one with the most beautiful red hair you've ever seen. I took this in December of '06, the last time I was in Slovakia, which is much too long in my opinion. Having her here is making me miss it.

It's been really fun today to trade gossip on our old school while drinking wine (hey, she's 22 now, so it's alright). It's always a little bittersweet to see these sweet students growing up, making lives of their own.

I'm just so lucky that they still sometimes want to hang out with me. And they bring me fancy European chocolate too. Whole bagfulls of it. Like I said, I'm really lucky.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The One Where I Gush about Where the Wild Things Are

I never read Where the Wild Things Are as a kid. I was familiar with the art and the Wild Things but had never read the book from start to finish until I checked it out from the library with Abe several months ago. After our first reading of it, Abe looked me square in the eye and said, "read it again, Mom." So we did. Three more times in one sitting.

I cried the first time I saw the trailer for the movie and was pretty excited to see Spike Jonze attached to it. Also, the kid who plays Max is a Portland resident, also named Max. I loved the music they used for the trailer. I waited a few days to see the movie because I'm one of those people who gets annoyed in crowded theaters. Since Abe joined our family, I've gone a couple of times to see movies by myself at a local theater in our neighborhood. I go about a week after the release date, in the middle of the day so I don't have to share the theater with too many people. Otherwise, I'm distracted by the popcorn smacking (disgusting) and end up really grouchy and just wanting to leave.

Anyway. One day a couple of weeks ago when Ted was home, I went during Abe's naptime to see Where the Wild Things Are, all by myself. Ten minutes into the movie, I was already tearing up. The acting is incredible. Of course, Catherine Keener is lovely in anything she does, so we already knew that, but this Max Records kid is incredible. Just incredible. He had never acted before this film. There were so many subtle moments, so many tiny details that made Wild Thing Max very real, like any kid and every kid you've ever known.

Spike Jonze and Max Records

The term "feast for the eyes" is a cliche, so I'm sorry to be using it, but I have to. I can't think of a better way to describe the land of the Wild Things. I'm sure I had my mouth hanging open most of the time. A couple of reviewers complained about how slow the film was at times, that Spike Jonze's indulgence of showing you his love for this world slowed down the pace of the film. Well, fine by me. I love that world too and was content being there as long as Max was.

Though the bulk of the story takes place in the fantastical imagination of a boy, I was struck by the realism and truth presented in the film. I cried off and on through the whole thing partly because of how beautiful it is but also because of how truthful it is. Of course, you've probably heard by now that each Wild Thing is an aspect of Max's personality, that he's working through the problems in his real life by projecting onto these made-up characters. I can see that, but honestly, I wasn't thinking about that while watching the film. Each Wild Thing was distinct, each one so human, with all of our selfish instincts towards self-preservation, but also with wonder, imagination, insecurities and beautiful selflessness. The Wild Things are as complex as human beings are.

A reviewer for The Oregonian gave Where the Wild Things Are a basically good review but added that, much like the Wild Things themselves, it seemed to be written mostly for adults who never wanted to grow up. I don't like his insinuation that this is a bad thing. When I read that line, I felt a little pang of recognition in my chest because another reason why I was so moved by the film was the feeling it gave me of remembering so vividly my own childhood. Was that the only reason I loved the film so much? Because I don't want to be a grown-up and long to sail off to an island where I build forts with made-up creatures?
Hm. I'm not sure about that one. Some days I definitely feel that way. But it then struck me that probably the main reason I was so emotional during the film was because my introduction and full immersion in to the world Maurice Sendak created in his book only came because of my very own Wild Thing living in our house. My love for this story is completely tied up in my love for my son. Abe loves it, so I love it.

One of the best parents I know, a man my parents' age, became my friend while I was in graduate school and made an offhanded comment one day that will always stay with me. He decided against his usual french roast at the coffeeshop where I worked, going instead that day for a chai tea because, "Ben and Ali like these, so I figure they must be good." This may not seem like a big deal, but this man was a creature of habit, nearly always ordering the same thing. But he choose differently this day because he wanted to like the things his kids liked because he loved his kids and thought they hung the moon. I tear up thinking about it even now. I want to be a parent like this.

Where the Wild Things will be forever connected to my love for my son. Abe liked it, so I knew it must be good. His love for this story became my love for this story, and Spike Jonze did a damn fine job showing us this world on film.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beka's Shower

Every baby shower needs booze and a copy of The Three-Martini Playdate, right?
Three reasons I love living in Oregon: I get to share it with these people.
Apparently, I didn't get the black/grey outfit motif, ruining yet another photo.

For some good, thought-provoking reading, go look at the comments in my last post. Ted even read through all of them and made the point that those are some good parents writing in. Love the well-mannered pirate story. Thank you all for all your thoughts. So much to think about.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What Battles Do You Fight?

One of my best friends from high school is now the mom to three kids, one more on the way. She is a very good mother. I mean, stellar. Totally stellar. She made the very good point one day that even though some people may consider her to be too strict, she never ever has trouble finding a babysitter. Her kids are lovely to be around, even the stronger-willed ones. Her kids are simply very happy. She's doing something right.

I sometimes call her with parenting questions, and we end up talking for a couple of hours at a time. I love her, love her, love her. She is also a straight talker, sometimes pretty blunt. One of my favorite quotes of hers is something like this, "I don't get people who say that you have to choose your battles with your kids. Honey, I fight every single one with mine, always to win." As any good Southern woman, she speaks in hyperbole, so you know, she's exaggerating a little. Maybe.

Since becoming a parent, I've thought a lot about what battles are worth fighting with my child and which are okay to let go, if any. The pastor of the church I grew up in had an extremely strong willed daughter who fought them on everything. One of the battles they chose not to fight with her was the battle over what she would wear every day. So every day, she got to pick out her own clothes, even as a 3-year-old. It was entertaining to see what she'd show up to church wearing on Sundays, but her parents' allowing her this area of freedom stuck with me. I thought it was wonderful. Because really, as long as your kids aren't naked or cold, what does it matter what they're wearing?

We definitely have chosen a few battles to fight with Abe. But I want to hear from you: what battles do you fight with your kids? More accurately, which battles are you most determined to win? Why?

Ted made the very good point that talking about parenting styles is akin to discussing religion or politics. Potential touchy subject. It's partially why I didn't disclose which battles we fight with our child; too much chance of sounding pious or like I'm trying to make someone with differing styles feel guilty. So feel free to leave anonymous comments if you want your identity hidden.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Staci Did on her Oregon Vacation

I'm pretty sure just including a link to someone else's post is cheating for this month of daily posts thing, but I'm going to do it anyway. Click here to read what Staci did on her four days with us in Oregon. Cute Abe stories and pictures included.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

That Woodsy Smell

When I was a kid, my parents used to go camping with us a lot. Sometimes we stayed in a tent, other times a cabin, sometimes we drove across the country in a borrowed big blue van to see Yellowstone, where my mom would yell at us to put down the barbie-dolls and look out the window. That was back in the day when a six-year-old didn't have to be strapped down in a seatbelt, so my sister and I would play on the floor of the van, building sets for the dramas going on in barbie-dollville. Who could be bothered to look at national forests when our little people were getting kidnapped, married and having babies?

These frequent camping trips are something my parents did right in raising us. There is nothing like waking up in a cabin or a tent and having breakfast outside among trees, preferably beside some water too. When we weren't driving cross country, we would camp in local national parks, like Tishomingo or Tombigbee. Tishomingo was my favorite because there were huge rocks with tiny crevices that we could hide in. And let me tell you: maybe it wasn't safe, but my parents let us wander. We'd often go with another family with kids, and all us kids would live out all sorts of dramas in those rocks and woods. We just knew that we had to be back to the campsite when it started to get dark. That was about the only rule.

On one of these trips, one night I went outside with a couple of the kids and one of the parents. I can't remember which parent; in a way, they were all peripheral characters on these trips. The three of us sat outside on the back porch of the cabin, two of us on a swing, one of us on a chair. We told "chain story" for what felt like hours. The only light we had was what would leak out through the window of the cabin window, so it was pretty dark. And it was scary too. That was the best part. If I could remember which parent this was, I'd be sure to tell him/her thanks for playing "chain story" with us so late into the night.

For a few years, I was a girlscout, and I went on several weekend trips to girlscout camp with my dad and my best friend's dad. Both of them were the "superdads" of our troop. We'd camp there in the yurt-style tents, the ones with a wooden floor and heavy canvas tops that zipped down both ends. There were four cots in each tent, so my dad and I would be on one side, my friend and her dad on the other. My best friend was an amazingly gifted farter, so she'd hold them in right until she thought we were going to sleep. Then she'd let one fly, and we'd all crack up, even our dads. She was this small dainty blond girl, but oh could she ever fart.

Our dads were kinda hard-core campers, so they always picked the campsite that was farthest from the dining hall. It probably wasn't even a quarter mile away, but as a kid, it felt much farther. I think they probably felt like our girlscout camp tents were too cushy, so they wanted us to tough it out by having the farthest hike from the dining hall. One night after dinner, we'd forgotten to bring our flashlights, so we had to make our way back to our camp in the pitch black. Maybe our dads weren't scared at all, but they sure didn't let on to us that fact. They sufficiently convinced us that there were all kinds of wild creatures lurking around the trees, slobbering and panting, waiting for young girlscout meat. And wasn't there a story told as well about a suicide in these woods? A hanging? On this exact same path we were on? Can't you hear the creaking of the rope in the trees and the crows circling? Is that the squeak of rats trying to nibble on the flesh of the deceased?

I loved that stuff. Loved it. So now as an adult, one of my happiest smells is that of a campfire. If I'm driving and catch a whiff, I'll roll the windows down and breath it in. Ted and I don't camp nearly as much as we should. We both realized that we're too old for tent-camping, on the cold hard ground. No fun in that. We do like cabins though, especially soft and warm hotels, like the one we're staying in right now.

Ted's working on a small film right now that is shooting near the town of ZigZag, one of my favorite place-names of all time. The hotel where the crew is staying is pretty dreamy, so Abe and I drove up yesterday to join them. I slept so hard in this pitch-black room on a bed with a down comforter in a room with a flat-screen tv and fancy bathroom that we decided to stay an extra night. We watched Kathy Griffin before bed, slept until 10, breakfast at 11, beautiful hikes along a creek and marsh, and now naptime for Abey Babey while Daddy works and Momma blogs.

This is exactly my kind of "camping." This afternoon, Abe declared to me that he is Little Bear, I'm Momma Bear, and Daddy is Father Bear. These are our names. I'm hoping he's inspired by these woods we're in and not just the tv show. No matter though: I realized while surrounded by these mossy woods with fern carpets, these beautiful Oregon forests, that I hope Abe and any future Rooney children fall in love with nature the way I did as a kid.

Don't worry: we'll be sure to leave the nice hotels sometimes too, though I can't garantee a tent. We'll go the yurt or cabin route, with as much freedom to roam as my inner mother-hen can tolerate. And I'll be content to be a peripheral adult too, letting the woods, rocks, streams, and campfires take center stage. I'm looking forward to hot chocolate and "chain stories" on a swing, hopefully one that creaks eerily so I can tell that ghost story I heard once at girlscout camp...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I Make the World Better

We have been taking a day to do laundry, catch up on the newspapers that have been stacked up, sleep later than usual, eat fried egg sandwiches and sweet potato casserole. In about an hour, Abe and I are driving up to Mount Hood to join Ted who is up there working. Should be interesting. We may be out of range until tomorrow night, with no internet connection (gasp), so I'm doing today's post early.

Our friends Dani and Tommy and Judah have put together a book to raise money for wells in Africa. It would make a fantastic Christmas gift. Abe and a few other blogging kids are featured in the book. Maybe my favorite thing about the book is the Amharic phrases, even written phonically so you can pronounce them correctly. I highly recommend it. Make the world better: go get a few of these books.

You can order some by clicking here.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Abe used to be a face-maker. He started as early as 11 months making funny/weird faces deliberately to make us react. We strongly encouraged this. He seemed to reach a pinnacle when he was about 18 months. In the archives of this blog are a few (okay, many) examples of Abe's face-making skills.

Eventually, he got lazy though. He just did his vampire-face and not much else. I'll say what everyone else was thinking but was too afraid to say: he was getting a little boring, honestly. He needed to amp things up. No slacking in the Rooney house.

Enter this lady:
She's the one in the red scarf taking in the spray at Multnomah Falls as Abe yells at the falls.

Staci has only been here since Friday morning, and look what Abe is doing:

This is Abe's "scared."

Not a bad effort. We're not going to let him slack off too much anymore. Thanks Staci, for kick-starting the faces again.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

National Blog Post Month or something like that

November is National Blog Post Month, or something like that. I looked at the site from a friend's blog, and I started to join but then I had to give my email address, and I don't see the point of giving my email address, and I couldn't take the time to read all the fine print because I was up last night from about 4-6 am feeling sick from having put in my belly the following items: meatloaf, white wine, twix candybars from Abe's Halloween basket. Everyone steals their kids' candy, the best kind, at least before they're old enough to realize what they're missing. Abe hasn't asked for candy once today, not once. No idea why not.

I think anyone still reading our blog is going to regret my snap decision to join in the month of daily blog posts. I rarely have anything important to say. I'm hoping that committing to writing a post a day will nudge me into going more into details about this next adoption. I have been hesitant to write about the adoption for various reasons, which I may get into at some point.

For now, I'm pretty sleepy. And we have a guest in town that I'm ignoring (well, she's reading a book while Abe is rolling around at her feet, so I think she's okay with the current state of things). So I'll leave the obligatory Halloween report.

We started the day by going with our friend Staci who is here visiting from Los Angeles to the Portland Saturday Market, with a side-trip to the original Voo Doo Donuts.

Abe tried on his costume a few days before Halloween, yelled "Let the wild rumpus start!"

Halloween is exhausting if you're the parent of a toddler. Last year was easy. We just walked the little chicken to a few doors on our block and then came home to hand out candy from the warmth of our own home, with the little guy unaware of the sugar he was missing.

This year? Abe knew very much what was going on and wanted in on the action. Also, our neighborhood is a popular one, so it's always pretty chaotic and crammed with kids and parents. At several points during the night, I wasn't even sure where we were. I was so focused on these things: never letting Abe out of my sight, not stepping on his tail, keeping other kids from stepping on his tail, keeping him from stepping on his tail, making sure he actually said "trick or treat," making sure he didn't grab handfuls of candy, making sure he made eye contact with each neighbor as he said "thank you very much" when he was most wanting to tear open each piece right then and there, and again not stepping on the tail amidst the crowd of kids as we walked away. We were making the rounds with three other families on our block, Abe being the youngest of all the kids. Keeping up was a challenge. Thankfully, one of the dads kept yelling for everyone to wait for Abe.


Here's just a little taste of the chaos:

We had trick-or-treaters coming by until after 10pm. We'd gone for an hour to our next-door-neighbors for drinks, came home, and had a crew of kids show up at 10:30. And I never should have consumed that combination right before bed. Gross. Made for an exhausting night.

One of my favorite things about Halloween in our neck of the woods: the George Washington statue always gets a hat. Last year was a dunce's cap. This year, a black bucket.