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...