Saturday, April 28, 2018

the blessing of five years

This weekend marks a significant milestone for our family.  It is Arthur's family day- his 5th family day, to be specific, meaning that it has been 5 years since Steve and I became parents. 

As I think most parents would say, it seems both like a moment and a lifetime, simultaneously.  We've learned so much, but- especially- we've learned how little we really know. Becoming a parent has caused me to become less selfish, while also showing me how incredibly selfish I still am.  It has caused me to care about so much more, but also care about so much less. 



I am learning that there are things that people almost always say, specifically when it comes to adoption.  Some of them are awkward, most are well-meaning, most are also completely ridiculous.  

"I know a family that has a 'gotcha day'", one of the kids' teachers commented.  That's what people say when we mention family day.  Always, without a doubt, "gotcha day".  I've never really loved the term, but it took me until yesterday to figure out why: "gotcha day" sounds cute.  Like maybe you held out your arms and this precious, smiling child jumped into them and you yelled "gotcha!"


There was nothing cute about the days we got our kids.  I was emotional and sweaty, we were jet lagged and nervous, there were long meetings and translators.  On the day we got Arthur, I developed a headache so severe (possibly from spending 6 hours in a taxi) that Steve had to take the first night shift all by himself and ended up hiding bits of cereal in Arthur's crib to keep him content (we all still love to tell this story).  On the day we got Helen, Arthur threw up in my hands.  The absolute best I can say about either of these days is that it was, in fact, the day our family grew.  So we call it "family day". And we celebrate like it's our job- not the original, difficult day, but the victorious fact that we've made it through an entire year since then.  We celebrate because we're a family now, and we weren't before. 

When it comes to parenting, it is easy, sometimes, to think about the things I have missed.  First steps, first teeth, first words.  I have missed so much.  


I had a coworker once who had gotten married in her early thirties, to a man who had been previously married and already had children.  She told me one day about how at first she assumed they would not have children together, that it didn't seem logical at the time.  Her husband disagreed and told her that he felt like if they didn't have a child they would be missing a blessing.  

As she told me all this, I knew the rest of the story that covered the twenty years between then and now.  I knew that they had a daughter, so precious to them, and that she had fallen off a horse in college and suffered a brain injury.  I knew about the coma, the medical bills, the long, slow recovery.  I knew about the seizures and the way they still worried about her all the time and the fact that none of them would ever be the same.  

And she teared right up as she said to me, "And you know, he was right, of course.  We would have missed this blessing." 

And that's where I land when I start to add up all the milestones I've missed.  The list may be long, but if I hadn't missed those things, if life had gone some other way, I would have missed so much more.  I would have missed watching Arthur commit the word "cookie" to memory, one of his first English words, just so he could request another and another.  I would have missed hearing Helen sing Chinese nursery rhymes and her delight when we found other children singing them on YouTube.  I would have missed these 30 pound children falling asleep on my chest and afternoons spent with nothing more to do than hold them.  

I would have missed this blessing. 


We're making pancakes for breakfast on Sunday and we have a new riding toy to give the kids.  We're planning a special lunch and a trip to the park and there will definitely be ice cream.  We do it up big on family day.  If there is one thing worth celebrating, it's this family.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

together

Well, we've made it through another January.  There was the snow (most welcome!) that closed school for three days.  The flu that kept three of us down for almost two weeks.  Lots of mud, lots of layers.  January usually gets me down, but somehow, this year, it didn't.  When I sent the kids back to school after a rather lengthy Christmas break, I wasn't ready to see them go.  I welcomed the extra week of time at home, all four of us, due to weather and illness.




We had some rough days, but when I think back on the month, it seems like all I can really remember is being together.  Helen and I watching Beauty and the Beast at 6 am when her fever was too high to sleep.  Arthur and I reading Little House in the Big Woods.  Steve and I, consuming vast quantities of ibuprofen and tea, fluctuating back and forth on who was more fit to accomplish the basic tasks of daily life. Arthur and I decorating the dining room with streamers for Helen's family day dinner, and Helen's face when she saw them.  Steve waking up with me in the night when I needed him, always ready to help, always happy to do it.  Sharing the three heating pads between the four of us and debating if we should just get one more.


In the time it has taken me to write this blog post (about two weeks, if anyone is keeping track), Arthur took his own turn at being sick and now it appears to be mine again.  And while I'm in it, of course I wish for the illness to be over.  But I also wish for a hundred more days of just Arthur and I at home, playing Trouble and sharing blankets.  I know that when I look back on this winter, I will barely be able to conjure up who was sick when and what they had.  But I'll remember that we were together.  



The kids are changing, and I guess what I mean by that is that they're getting older.  They've lost their baby cheeks and their arms and legs keep growing and growing.  But they both still want to be cuddled and tickled, read to and sung to.  And I try not to wonder (but of course I wonder) when it will slowly end, the cuddling and reading, the washing hair and lotioning feet.  Will I even know it's the last time?  Or will I one day realize that it's been three weeks since Arthur asked me to help him dry off after bath?  It makes me think of these words by Iain S. Thomas-

I hope that in the future they invent a small golden light that follows you everywhere and when something is about to end, it shines brightly so you know it’s about to end.
And if you’re never going to see someone again, it’ll shine brightly and both of you can be polite and say, “It was nice to have you in my life while I did, good luck with everything that happens after now.”
And maybe if you’re never going to eat at the same restaurant again, it’ll shine and you can order everything off the menu you’ve never tried. Maybe, if someone’s about to buy your car, the light will shine and you can take it for one last spin. Maybe, if you’re with a group of friends who’ll never be together again, all your lights will shine at the same time and you’ll know, and then you can hold each other and whisper, “This was so good. Oh my God, this was so good.”

Right now, at ages 7 and 5.5, they seem to be on the cusp of something.  A new phase, perhaps.  They're turning into big kids before my eyes and there is no stopping it.  And I'm just trying to hold every bit of these big but still little kids, this twelve year old marriage, this life here in this house, in this city, and whisper to myself, "This is so good."



Sunday, August 27, 2017

the end of a summer

We are nearing the end of summer break.  I have spent 15 weeks with my two sidekicks- we have one day remaining.  The end of the summer with kids has me all kinds of emotional- joyous, for sure, and nervous, and a little sad.  Did we have enough fun?  Will they remember the fun, or just the time outs?

I remember dropping Arthur off for his first day of preschool and thinking "What in the world is he going to be doing without me for FOUR WHOLE HOURS??!"  And now I'm staring down the day where I will drop him off for his first day of public school and I'm already thinking "What in the world is he going to be doing without me for SEVEN WHOLE HOURS??!"  What if he gets lost?  What if he gets hurt?  What if he speaks so quietly no one can hear him and doesn't make any friends?


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Steve's mom flew in for a visit last week.  The kids and I headed to the airport to pick her up and on the way home, I blanked on the directions.  This always happens, and I always feel awkward with guests in the car and all, on my way to my own home, having trouble with directions.  I blame the person who invented belt loops- how can you know which way to go when the direction is always changing?!?

I stalled a bit, driving slower, thinking to myself, "Inner loop.... towards Columbia.... outer loop....".
From the backseat came a helpful, "It's the second one, Mom."  I acted nonchalant and took the second exit while chatting with Steve's mom, hoping he was right.

It was the second one.

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We took an end of summer trip to the mountains last weekend and rode carnival rides and fed goats and ate all the barbecue we could hold.  We discovered that there were one or two rides that the kids were now tall enough to ride by themselves- no dad necessary. (Because obviously, I am not riding anything.)  We stood near them as they stood in line, holding hands, and then burst through the gate to get the best seat.  We watched as the attendant put the bar down over their little laps and I had to pull myself away from panic every time: they will not fly out, they will not fly out, they will not fly out.

They did not fly out.




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The three of us had a large pile of laundry to sort and fold and I had promised a little more play time before nap if we could get it done quickly.  Arthur set to work, systematically folding napkins and towels.  I assigned Helen to the socks and got to work on shorts and shirts.  Helen moaned and complained, Helen stepped on Arthur's pile of perfectly folded napkins and knocked them over, Helen rolled around on the floor and accidentally kicked Arthur in the back three times.  I reminded Helen about the socks, reminded her that we all wanted to play.  She stuck out her tongue.  She ran out of the room, careening into Arthur and knocking him over.

She's only five.  She came back when we were done and she was sorry.  She wanted to play.  The thirty-seven year old in the group was out of patience and not impressed by sorry and basically told her she'd made her bed and would have to lie in it (but you know, in a slightly nicer, mom way).  The six year old in the group said, "I forgive you, Helen.  Can you put these napkins away for me?  That would be helping.  I bet we could play for just a minute if you help with this last little bit, right Mom?"

The most humbling, and also rewarding, part of being a parent has to be when your child outdoes you in grace and kindness.


And it hit me, like it has before, that he is more ready than I am.  The nerves, the fears, the wanting to hang on just a bit longer- it's all me.  I am the one on the side of the pool waving a float while he swims clear across to the deep end.  Sure he still needs help reaching the cups, but he knows how to extend grace.  He can't figure out how to turn his clothes right side out for the laundry, but he can navigate his way around town, or, presumably, an elementary school.  He wants a hug and a band aid when he skins his elbow, but he is the bravest kid I know (aside from his sister, of course).


So here's to all the little super heroes who are headed back to school, and to all the parents who will mark the hours until their capes come flapping back through the door.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

not the same

Just over one year ago, I wandered around this same house, tidying up and making piles of things to pack.  I made lists and sent emails, ensuring things would run smoothly while we were gone because I was, and still am, ultra organized.  I sewed bow ties and packed up orders, just like I do now.  We played outside with our same neighbors every afternoon and I made most of the same soups that I am still making this winter.

We crossed the ocean and picked up our girl and within an hour of having her in our hotel room with us, the only thought pounding louder in my head than "we were so unprepared for this" was "I will never be the same".

I think about it a lot, actually, because most everything is still the same.  Same house, same yard, same food, same school, same church.  Same friends, same family, same jobs. But I am not the same.


Every year for Mother's Day, Arthur's school has the kids fill out a questionnaire about their mom.  It is one of my very favorite things.  In 2015, Arthur listed my age as 15.  In 2016, he listed it as 20. I think this is a fairly accurate way to sum things up- if ever there was a year in which I feel like I've aged five, it has been this one. 

Our once quiet and orderly household has become…much less quiet and orderly.  It’s not worse.  It’s just not the same.  Tasks that used to be simple to complete now feel like great accomplishments- everyone has brushed their teeth and put on socks?!?! How wonderful!!!  Somebody is often crying, or bleeding, or both.  Usually both. 

We soldier on.  Our family has expanded and we have all felt the growing pains, but they’ve made us stand taller.  I am more patient and, I hope, more compassionate.  When I see a mom at Target holding a large coffee and giving her child a bag of chips, just so she can have a moment to pick out the food she is going to cook for dinner, I think to myself "we're all just doing the best we can" and give her a mental hug.  I have become someone who assumes the best of people because I certainly hope people are assuming the best of me when they see us out and about. 



The challenging year has caused Steve and I to lean on each other in a way we may not have had to otherwise.  There are many times when I feel like nobody else could possibly understand what it is like to parent in our specific situation and then I remember- Steve does.  He knows it all, deals with it all, eats chocolate and does yoga with me after bedtime to handle it all.  His consistent nature and endless patience make me want to marry him over and over again, just because I am reminded anew of what a fantastic idea that was. 

And then there’s Arthur.  We began last year with a lot of door slamming.  Arthur was desperate to keep his new sister out of his room, his toys, his everything.  And nobody blamed him.  But he has changed too.  Arthur has always been an amazing kid and now he has become an amazing brother as well.  He asks to bring Helen on school field trips.  He wants to wake her from nap, just to play with him.  Today he got a bag of ten Hershey’s kisses from a party at school.  As soon as he got home he made a beeline for the baggie drawer and carefully counted out five.  And I blinked back tears as he handed them over to Helen, saying “Here, Helen!  Your own bag!”  That’s who he has become- a kid who enjoys everything more when he shares it with his sister. 



Obviously, Helen is not the same either.  She is learning what it means to be in a family.  She is learning English and American social customs.  The other night during bath, she noticed a scratch on her belly and she said, “Oh no!  Precious girl!”, repeating what we often call her.  And I think that is the change in her- she is now someone’s precious girl, which of course changes everything.    



We are not the same.  And although I couldn’t imagine it yet when I first had that thought, I would say that now we are better than ever. 


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

now we are four

It was a cold morning in February and I was home alone, sewing, when our caseworker called with the news.  I listened carefully and thanked her.  She said, "This is good news, Lauren, " as a reminder of sorts.  We'd weathered a pretty big disappointment the previous fall and I was still wary of anything claiming to be "good news".

Steve and I looked at the facts and we talked it over and we sent the ever important "yes" email and we knew- the "yes" is just the beginning.  Saying yes is like holding hands and jumping off a cliff. It's usually some months later before you find out if you are actually attached to a rope.

The days went by.  Spring, and then summer.  There was the usual mountain of paperwork that grew and diminished. Trips downtown and to the capital.  Notaries, notaries, notaries.  And waiting. Always waiting.

In September, we put Arthur to bed and prepared to stay up late and opened up the computer and there she was. Coloring, playing, peering at us and smiling.  We waved and showed our best stuffed animals and smiled until our cheeks hurt.

Fall found me checking my email obsessively at 9 am for any news that may have arrived in the night. We talked to Arthur, showed pictures.  He stayed up late to see her on the screen and after they colored together and made funny faces, he woke up the next day and said, "Mom, we just need to go get her."

In December I starting clearing the calendar.  We bought some clothes and set up a little bed in our room, hoping, hoping that someone would be sleeping there soon.  Just a few days before the year was over, we got the news that we'd been waiting for.  I let out the breath I didn't know I'd been holding since February and started packing.

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In my mind, there was never a doubt as to whether or not we'd take Arthur with us.  But after seventeen hours of flying, I was beginning to wonder if international travel could be considered a form of child abuse.  We sat, the three of us, in an airport restaurant in Tokyo, eating food that no one could quite identify.  Steve and I both had the dazed look of people who have been awake for over 24 hours, entertaining a preschooler on an airplane. Suddenly, Arthur piped up and said "This is fun, guys!", which made me want to simultaneously burst into tears and die laughing. He's a real treasure, that one.

Arriving in Taiwan felt a lot like coming home, so much so that it surprised me.  How can a country I've spent less than a collective month in feel like home?  But there are people and places we know there now, and they're all tied up in the growing of our family, so they take on a rosy hue and have become a part of us. It was so, so good to be back.  
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When we picked up Arthur, I remember thinking about how brave he seemed-  this small person who quietly took my hand and went with us, unquestioning, to a completely different life.  Our girl is different from Arthur and brave in her own way.  She has been, from the start, ready to look out for herself.  The first week she was with us, she wouldn't even lay down to fall asleep.  She wanted to keep each of us in her sight at all times.  She took possession of as many things as she could in our small hotel room, pointing to them and stating her name loudly, daring any of us to disagree with her.

We spent the next few days tying up loose ends and trying to get home.  Our family had turned into a tornado of sorts, wrecking hotel rooms and airplanes, grocery aisles and rental cars.  We tore through a Walmart in Detroit at 4 am, where we opened all the foods and just ate as we walked and I let my kids have bottles of juice in the shopping cart which they of course dripped on the floor everywhere we went.  The floor polishing guy followed close behind us and I couldn't muster up even one ounce of guilt. It had been a hard week.

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I used to have a poster hanging in my apartment that said "Time eases all things", which Natalie always thought was a pessimistic thing to have hanging in your home.  But it's a good reminder, you know?  And if I needed it at age 20 when I was relatively care-free, oh how much more do I need it today.

We are five months into this new life together.  Although it is certainly easier than at the very start, I remind myself regularly that it's still early days.  I have yet to figure out how to grocery shop with both kids.  We use paper plates more than half of the time.  Dinner is often canned soup or grilled cheese sandwiches.  I've worried about issues I never even knew were a thing prior to this year.  I play the "she doesn't speak English" card when we're out in public to excuse bad behavior, even though I'm pretty sure she understands 80% of what we're saying.

But there are sweet moments.  The kids hold hands and jump into the pool or giggle under a blanket fort and I get a glimpse of the best friends I hope they will be.  The four of us play in the ocean and, for one moment, everyone is happy. We are getting to know and love the force that is Helen Chen. And it really hit me the other day when our old neighbors stopped by for a quick visit.  Their nine year old daughter was asking about Helen and our trip and she said "Are you so happy now that you have four people in your family?"

There were difficult months- years even- when I firmly believed that we would never make it to four. Yet here we were.  The kids were riding bikes up and down the street and Steve was chasing them and I was that kind of worn out that you only get from months without a break of any kind and I told her "Yes, yes. So happy."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

fathers day

This morning, Arthur and I snuck out early to get donuts for our very favorite person.  Arthur practiced saying "happy father's day" over and over, but then opened with "Happy Birthday!" when the big moment arrived.  He's been literally vibrating with excitement these past few days, just waiting to get the gift out from under the bed and start the celebration and I don't blame him.  There's no one I'd rather celebrate than Steve.



I've tried to think about what makes Steve such a fantastic father and it's hard to separate out those traits from the ones that just make him a fantastic person in general, but there are certainly some that lend themselves more towards fatherhood.  

Steve anticipates our needs before they arise and makes plans to ensure our comfort.

He tries to turn mundane tasks and unpleasant chores into fun adventures, and often succeeds.

Steve is always ready to ride scooters, play cars, build Lego creations, or wrestle on the floor.

He works hard at the office every single day and then comes home and gives his all here too.

Steve has endless patience and rarely raises his voice.  Often, my parenting strategy is just to try and copy him.



Ever since the first day we became a family of three, Arthur has been absolutely crazy about Steve. They even dress like twins sometimes, for fun.  And one of my dearest wishes for Arthur is that, even as he gets older, he would keep on trying to be just like dad.  



Happy Father's Day, darling.  We couldn't love anyone more.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

capsule update

I realized the other day that I'd never given an official update on my capsule wardrobe thoughts after making it through a whole season with one.  I've actually already started wearing my summer capsule now (it gets hot early here!) and feel like I may never look back.  I have never been happier with my clothing situation and I feel like that's a really big deal!



So my spring capsule was 40 pieces and there were actually several pieces I ended up barely wearing or not wearing at all.  We had a cool spring, for the south, so my sleeveless dresses and shorts did not get much use.  One shirt ended up with a hole in it about halfway through the season, but that was the only casualty.  I think I ended up wearing about 34 items pretty consistently, and it felt like enough.

The very best part though was never shopping!  I unsubscribed from all of the emails I used to get from clothing retailers.  I stopped browsing online.  And I didn't spend any money.

I knew I'd need to begin my summer capsule around the first of June, so I went shopping the last week in May.  I had planned to carry over about 70% of my spring capsule into summer, but had a small list of items I wanted to fill in the gaps.  Armed with my list, I spent two hours one morning at the mall and bought a bunch of pieces that had potential.  I brought them home, tried them out with each other and with my existing clothing (this took about an hour) and then filled in the gaps on my capsule list with my favorite, most versatile pieces (I stuck with 37 total for summer).  The next day, I returned everything else.  I actually really liked some of the pieces I returned, but I didn't need them, so they went back.  It was so easy to do when I had a list.



I used to think that a capsule wardrobe wouldn't work for every person, but now I'm not so sure.  I've realized so many things about myself and my buying habits since beginning this experiment and I love that it is an exercise in less waste and less spending.

Back in the spring, I put all of my cool weather clothes that I wanted to save in my cedar chest. Everything else that didn't make it into the capsule went in bags and was stored in the attic, in case I needed it.  We had a yard sale last weekend and I sold almost every item of that clothing.  The rest went to Goodwill.  I was a little shocked when we got it all out that I had been keeping all those items in my closet or that I ever thought I needed that many clothes!

It sounds totally counter-intuitive, but now that I own fewer clothes, I never feel like I have "nothing to wear".  One big thing that I noticed is that I had never thought of myself as having a "wardrobe" before- just items of clothing.  Being forced to think about my clothing- and shoes!- as a whole and how each piece might work together is a whole new mindset for me and just makes so much sense!  
The process of creating my initial capsule back in March took a bit of thought and planning, but my summer one came together fairly effortlessly.  I think it will keep getting easier with practice too!  So now I'm curious- have you ever tried or would you ever consider a capsule wardrobe?  I read a lot about them online, but don't know of anyone personally who has tried it.  Probably not for long though, as I'm trying to convert everyone!  I know I mentioned the blog Un-Fancy previously as a great place to start reading about capsules (if you want more details or a more fashion-y approach). Un-Fancy is on a bit of a hiatus right now, although you can still read through all the old posts, but I just stumbled across a podcast by the author this week that I also really enjoyed.  

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