Thursday, August 31, 2006
My Ellie is . . .. and I've started with the superlative adjectives and back-spaced so many times I've worn out this screen which tells me that I do not have sufficient vocabulary to adequately describe this amazing little human. She does not judge, she embodies the word "inclusive," she is calm and centered, silly and gullible, not too adventurous or observant, but always willing to help without a word of complaint. She is short in stature among her peers by a long way; her tall friend Laurel had to lift her up to write her name on the white board in her new classroom on the first day of fourth grade last week. But where some children would be mortified, Ellie just giggled hysterically. Ellie is the shortest student in fourth grade but she just shrugs and says, "Someone has to be the shortest." Sanguine is the word that always comes to mind to describe this treasure I was entrusted to raise. My first goal in parenting Ellie is to just not ruin her with my own special brand of nuttiness. All I need to do for Ellie is provide praise, love and safety and make room for her own natural instincts, her predisposition to be kind, fair and accepting, to flourish and grow.
I adopted Ellie in 1998 when she was 14 months old and she is now 9.5 years old. The moment she was placed in my arms is seared into my memory: I was never so happy or grateful just to be me. She traveled to China with me in 2001 and 2004 on our trips to adopt Mimi and YuYu. She was not troubled on either trip with regard to feelings of yearning or loss as described by parents of other adopted children who take them back to their home countries. For right now, she does not question how she came to be a Chinese-American girl raised by a single mother in the heart of the Wasatch. She knows that she has birth parents and that she will never know the who or the how or the why of her beginning in life. She seems to be satisfied with the answer that there is no answer and she may never know anymore about her start in China than she does right now.
As an adoptive parent, I try, try so hard to be sensitive to the knowledge of everything my children have lost, both emotionally and culturally. That even though they are ethnically Chinese, they will never be more than tourists in their birth country. That alone is a huge loss, never mind the issues of abandonment and separation they will need to deal with as they grow to adulthood. I'm also aware that Ellie, even though she is almost ten, does not yet have the emotional language to talk about those feelings and has not processed any of the contradictions in her life. She made me a mom, and my great happiness is the result of another mother's great pain. All she knows is that she is loved, here and now, and she returns the feelings with equal intensity.
So, her first homework assignment in fourth grade is to decorate a brown paper bag, a Me Bag, with illustrations about her interests and to fill the bag with 5-7 items, including a few pictures that represent the important things in her life. She will share the Me Bag with her classmates as they get to know each other this week. She filled the bag with a sodoku puzzle book, a tiny stuffed dog, a soccer participation medal, hamma bead doodads, a sketch book and a photo of her grandmother and her sisters. I am standing there watching her load the bag and ask, I think helpfully, "don't you want to add something from China?" Ellie's response "no." The "no" wasn't presented with either positive or negative inflection, just "no." So there you have it. My totally assimilated little American girl. Despite my efforts to incorporate Chinese culture in our home, she has not escaped the collective. She has become one with the Disney Channel Stars, Saturday mornings on the soccer field, dvd watching in the mini-van and microwave popcorn. What can you do?
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Would not be as sweet as my YuYu. My dearest little love sponge, the most gentle, kind, spacey love bucket child, started first grade on Wednesday. Although she didn’t come home with the dreaded family tree project (sigh of relief, hate to start the new year with the need to lecture her teacher about insensitivity to children who’s family trees are pretty sparse), she did come home with a questionnaire about her name, e.g., what does it mean, who gave it to her, where did it come from(?), was she named after anyone. I sat down and filled in the blanks in what I like to think of as the sanitized version because, although her teacher could not know it, my precious YuYu comes with a name that is loaded down with emotional and cultural baggage. But, I was calm, it’s not her English name that's loaded and I figure I don’t need to go out of my way to pound on her teacher over a seemingly innocent little assignment that isn't so innocent for this particular student. I just filled in the questionnaire in a way that does not bring any special or extra attention to YuYu’s name. She is named after my cousin who died too young (Kathryn), YuYu’s brave great-great-grandmother who immigrated to the US from Germany (Wiemar Republic, raging inflation and political instability, but pre-Hitler) only after earning enough money to send each of her 12 children on before her in the 1920’s (Marta) and raised them all by herself when she was widowed in the 1930’s. I also kept YuYu’s second and third Chinese symbols, Rui (auspicious) Yu (treasure). But YuYu’s first symbol? Baby’s named a bad name.
The good folks in charge of naming at the Nanning SWI gave every child who entered the orphanage the same surname: Yuan. Giving every child the same surname is not an uncommon naming practice in the realm of Chinese orphanages. All children from Ellie and Mimi’s SWI (different provinces) are named Fu (good fortune) blank blank. At Nora’s SWI, the surname changes every year and identifies the child’s birth year. However, no family in the Guilin egroup has indicated that they have a child who was abandoned more than a year after his/her birth and whether the SWI changed the child’s name to match the same name as other children born in that year or the name of the children brought to the SWI that year. Clear as mud?
The sad/bad aspect of YuYu’s Chinese surname? It’s the Chinese symbol for orphanage or institution. Every child that remains in the Nanning SWI until they age out into who knows what kind of life will carry the burden of a name that brands them indelibly as a person who was raised in an orphanage. Happily, this practice has changed, but only within the past year. The orphanage officials did this from a position of extreme insensitivity or, worse, they did it on purpose and they knew exactly what they were doing to these kids. For example, the director at Mimi’s institution gave every child who came into the SWI in 2000 the family name of “De” which means the morality/integrity of the Chinese people. Mimi is Fu (also not a real family name in China, no one except an orphanage kid would be named Fu) De Xin. Before I was scheduled to travel to adopt Mimi, I joined the Fuling egroup and there was a discussion about the meaning of De. A parent who traveled before me wrote that she had asked the director why she chose De for this “class” of children. The director’s response knocked me back: she said she gave the children a symbol of strong morality to make up for the immoral acts of their parents, no further elaboration. I had intended to use De Xin (symbol for keep in touch/write a letter) in Mimi’s permanent name, but dropped it like a hot rock and quickly notified my agency to make sure the paperwork was completed for Meredith Jean Fuling (where she spent her first year).
So, I didn’t pound YuYu’s teacher about the name assignment, and YuYu can be proud of her English name and the Chinese nickname she prefers, I blogged about it instead. YuYu’s teacher doesn’t even know the bullet she just missed, more info than she needs, more info than YuYu needs to know until she is MUCH, MUCH older. See, most kids have scrapbooks; my kids are going to have this blog.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006
I know, I know, I know, if I had an OUNCE of self-discipline, planned and executed a party count-down to do list that I wouldn't be freaking out all over my kids during the short precious hours before we're expecting guests. The house was hammered (down side of having in-home child care during the summer months) and I couldn't even get close to Costco on Friday afternoon (traffic on Third West was unreal and just for future reference, you can throw a party without stepping foot in Costco before the event, it's just not as good a party, because, really, what spells gracious like a Costco meat/fruit/veggie/you-name-it platter?) and I still hadn't quite wrapped up the Folsom Prison paving stone project in the corner of the pool which leads me to an ungrammatical but HUGE thank you to Dutch Uncle Stew who, with his full ESP powers engaged, called at noon and asked if I needed any help, DO I DO I YES YES YES, what a man) ending sentence now, will pick up thread right here. So, I warned the kids in advance that as I needed their help and I had a job they could handle, I wanted them to jump into action, but if not under direct threat from me, they were to keep themselves occupied and out of the way. The three littlest aren't "helpers" yet, but Ellie can really pitch in. Ellie was straightening up in their bedroom, Nora was bored and directionless (my fault), Ellie could not "play" chess, they pretend, on a small magnetic chess board, so Nora just threw it, the plastic case exploded, pieces went everywhere, I exploded, no child of mine has EVER thrown/broken something to get attention or to work out a frustration, and I marched her little butt out on the deck (in the shade) told her that I was ANGRY, that she needed to use words, she was not allowed to throw and break toys, and that she was banished for a bad bad choice. Periodically, I would look out (sliding door from the dining room, I could always see her), ask her if she was bored, she would shake her head yes, and I would say good. I let her lay out there for close to an hour. I didn't even realize I had let it go that long because the last 20 minutes were spent snaking out a dollar store pom pom from the vacuum because my usually reliable helper had been too indifferent to bend down and pick it up. So, to Nora's credit, she did not tantrum out there, but I had huge guilt.
I left her too long and it was nice not having to deal with her in the house. Once again, my expectations for her behavior far exceeded her capabilities. I created a bad situation with all the rush rush cleaning and set her up for failure. On the other hand, sometimes in the course of human affairs, a mom needs to clean and kids need to lay low and it would be ideal if that family could make it through the morning without shattered chess sets. What would be more ideal is a mom who didn't feel like the top of her head was going to blow off over a minor infraction. I think of other parents dealing with purposeful destruction of costly items, public meltdowns, hours long tantruming and I really need some one to do the Moonstruck thing: slap me and shout "snap out of it." I know I know.
We hosted a SMSP (single mom swim party, I didn't think that up, I had to have that explained to me, although it should probably be the FSMSP, F for fabulous) on Saturday afternoon and I think everyone had a good time. I remember the days when we spent most of our time at these parties chasing after toddlers with tissues and wipes and could hardly get a word in edgewise because our little little kids were running amok. This party was either (a) evidence of the effect of single quota imposed by the CCAA almost five years ago because all of the kids except for a cute as a bug 14-month-old from Kazahkstan were at least five years old, or (b) I'm way out of the loop and there are bunches of hip single adoptive parents out there and I don't know them. If the latter explanation is the case, I hope they're out there having as much fun as we did on Saturday watching our beautiful quota-free kids cavort in the pool.Having a house with a pool takes some getting used to. First, it's the pool maintenance or "how fast can algae take over your cement pond" challenge, then it's the make sure you keep a sharp look out for sinkers or the "how long can a preschooler float under water before the hostess figures out someone is drowning" issue (I have vowed to be MUCH more vigilant, believe me) and now its the lost and found box issue. By the time we're ready to say good bye, everyone is worn out from the the sun and chlorine and they just want to get the heck out of Dodge. So, if you are missing kids' flip flops, swim suit cover ups, or beach towels, give me a jingle. I think I really do need a lost and found box by the door. Even if I have to lard it with our own items, it might cause guests to pause a minute and check to make sure they have everything they came with on the way out.
Friday, August 18, 2006
That is the Babelfish translation of the message I just got from Huang Wei, YuYu's foster brother, that accompanied a dozen photos from their beach excursion. Can you stand it? I can't stand it. I can't wait to run home and show YuYu. Since YuYu's adoption in 2004, I've sent some money to make life easier for her family and for Huang Wei to get a computer and camera for college and for us to stay in touch. Got to love that technology. The little one is Xiao Zhen's "commercial" foster daugther, as opposed to a foster placement from the Nanning SWI. This little one's parents work too much and are paying YuYu's foster family to raise her. Another little heart breaker in the making.
so so lame, what an asshat. But, since NO ONE from Bennett's office has called me back, I will fax a letter to Ms. Casper imploring her to submit Stefani's nomination as quickly as possible and cc: it to the CCAI. Oh my, I'm furious. Here's the letter, I hope it makes her feel bad:
Dear Ms. Casper:
I just listened to the message you left in my voice mailbox this morning. I am responding in writing for three reasons: (a) it is past the time you mentioned that you would be leaving for the weekend, (b) I’m very angry and embarrassed by your excuse and teeing off on you will serve no useful purpose, and (c) by responding in writing to your offer to proceed with Sen. Hatch’s nomination of Mrs. Ellison for the CCAI Angel in Adoption award I can also provide Ms. Armstrong at the CCAI with notice that she can expect to hear from you regarding this matter on Monday, August 21, 2006. In addition, no one in Senator Bennett’s office has returned any of my phone calls and this matter does not appear to have any urgency to his staff members either. Since you have all of the relevant information, you are in the best position to complete the nomination and I am requesting that you do so as quickly as possible.
I am relieved that the CCAI will extend the nomination deadline so that Mrs. Ellison may be included in this year’s awards event. I am very sorry that all the difficulty I have had trying to draw attention to Mrs. Ellison and provide her with this recognition from the CCAI has tarnished the award or will make her feel like she is in any way less than deserving of the recognition. This has ended up feeling more like a root canal than a project I embarked on to make a dear friend know how much her work is appreciated by both the families and children whose lives she has touched and the rest of the adoption community.
If you have any questions or need any more information, I can be reached by phone or email. I encourage you to make this request a top priority on your August 21, 2006, work schedule to insure that you have every thing you need to process the nomination before the extended deadline expires.
Yeah, never be in doubt that I can be a huge ASS when I want to and sometimes even when I don't know I'm doing it. But this time, I knew.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
So I solicited letters of support from her clients and colleagues last year and submitted the package to Rep. Matheson's office because he is almost a Democrat and therefore not repugnant to me like Orrin Hatch and Cedar City, where the Ellisons live, is in his district. His office TOTALLY SCREWS THE POOCH and doesn't submit any nomination last year with this lame excuse: "At the last minute, we received so many nominations, we didn't have time to investigate each potential recipient, so Rep. Matheson chose not to submit any nomination this year." I was fit to be tied.
So well in advance of this year’s deadline, I retrieve the packet from Matheson’s lame-ass staff member and submit it to evil Hatch’s office after a nice conversation with his staff member about how inept Matheson’s office had been and how much Stefani deserved the recognition, I mean, how hard should this be right, 300 kids, she should be a lock, right? So when Stefani had not been contacted by the CCAI, I tried to reach Hatch’s staff member, I get silence. I call the CCAI and CONTRARY to what I had been told by Hatch’s staff member in July ( a senile sounding biddy down in his St. George office, and I can just imagine she’s one step up from a Gray Lady volunteer in this outpost Hatch maintains only for show because everyone knows the real action in this state happen much farther north), that she was submitting the nomination that day to the CCAI, she was LYING to me. The CCAI never received any form of communication from Hatch, I know because I had to call directly to follow up on our inept tax-payer dollars compensated public servant. Shouldn’t this be easier? I’m not asking Hatch to get a drug-abusing music producer out of some Malaysian jail, I just want Stefani to have a nice plaque she can hang in her office.
So, now I have to retrieve the package yet again, the CCAI will suspend the deadline and wait for Sen. Bennett’s office to submit the nomination, Stefani hangs fire and can’t make reservations for hotel or flight because who the hell knows if this will really happen for her this year, and I get to have the top of my head blow off because some slack-ass nincompoop can’t be honest that she has no idea what she is doing down to St. George.
Stay tuned for further developments.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Okay, here is our world rocking news, we have a pet, we are now officially dog people, let the spoiling begin. Her name is Lucy and she is a 2-year-old hand-me-down silky terrier. I have resisted getting a pet because I am (a) lazy, (b) allergic to cats, (c) lazy and (d) lazy. Ellie has wanted a dog for a long long time, but only in her polite Ellie way of bringing it to my attention. No explicit whining or begging, just well placed, but not too frequent, comments about how great this or that dog is, or how much this or that friend really enjoys their dog. But I’ve consistently said no, not for us, puppies are harder to raise than babies at first, e.g., babies at least do their business in diapers and you can take them to KinderCare and they won’t chew up all your furniture while you are at work. But when my mother mentioned that her friend from way back in their high school days in Bear Lake needed to find a good home for this little lady, I said, what the heck, my home is good, relatively, depends, I can think of worse, bring her to us. Mom’s friend got Lucy for a companion after her husband of almost 50 years died two years ago. But mom’s friend has connected with a high school sweet heart, also a widower, and they are traveling a lot and Lucy is kenneled more than not so mom’s friend wanted her to be with a family/owner that was at least home more often. Since I’m too lazy (see above) to get us organized for just a weekend camping trip, we won the Lucy lottery because, shoot, we never go anywhere.
So Lucy arrived Friday evening with BAGS and bags o’dog stuff, BAGS I say, even a little coat to cover her own silken, but pretty skimpy, fur coat in the winter. And she is stuck with us now because the contents of the BAGS are scattered throughout our good but cluttered house and I will never get it all back in one spot again and by the time I do, she may like us and want to stay. Lucy is very sad and subdued, not at all happy here yet, kind of like YuYu acted for several months after she came to be a Hanson girl. She must feel like she is in the Twilight Zone after living with a retired lady in mourning to a house full of hands that want to pet her and small faces that want the get really really close to see if they can make Lucy smile ala Winn Dixie. So this is a good thing, pets are a good thing, right?? Sure they are, who could not adore this furry little face. Here’s hoping Lucy starts to like a little because she sure needs to start eating and drinking again; at six pounds, there’s not enough of her to survive an extended hunger strike as opposed to me, I could survive a famine.
P.S. Nora’s feet ARE big, but not that big, bad angle. And it was a really good day until Nora spit on Ellie as they were getting ready for bed and I had Lucy on the side lawn to do her dog business, sigh. I’ve started taking away Nora’s favorite things (now that she has enough of her own things) and putting them in jail whenever she does something disgusting, disrespectful, mean, impulsive, etc., The jail population waxes and wanes but it’s pretty full right now, sigh.
I so wish that Nora and I were better matched, I so wish that I liked her more, I so wish that this problem I have learning to love her was easier to solve, and so on, and so on, etc., etc., and if wishes were fishes, I'd have a fish fry. Yum, I love denial, where can I get some more. But sheesh, it is not going to get better by neglect, crap, I had been so hoping that ignoring the elephant in the room for the past seven months was the right ticket. I need to work at this, this being Nora's mom thing. I need to keep reminding myself that I need to work at this and if keeping this blog keeps me honest with myself, then there it is, a little public self-inflicted flogging is a small price to pay to improve myself because Nora deserves a fully invested parent who can love and appreciate her for who she is, all the energy, goofyness and gorgeousness and the in your face pouty spitting not fair kid who slips out too often and plays me like a xylophone.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Ooh, and we have a very special guest arriving tomorrow afternoon, but I won't let the dog, um, er cat, yeah, cat, out of the bag until the kids get the full measure of their surprise. But can I tell you, it is going to ROCK their world and teach them responsibility and empathy and all that other good stuff too.
Counseling session cancelled today, counselor called in sick, but that will give me more time to do my homework with Nora. I'm supposed to involve her in an activity that I enjoy and that we can do together. The theory is the more I concentrate my attention just on her, the more I will grow to like and appreciate her. And I'm not disputing that she is a great kid, it's just the button pushing that is keeping me at arm's length. How do you grow to love a child that pushes the big buttons one minute and the next minute is just a regular good kid with no apparent recollection that her behavior of half an hour ago sent her mother around the bend. This is pathetic, but so far we've cleaned shrimp, done hand dishes and skimmed the pool together, but she does seem to enjoy it a lot when she gets to contribute and work by my side as long as it is on her schedule, e.g. mucho pouting and stamping if she is not in the mood to help. I don't think that's what the counselor had in mind, but I'm beyond my creative resources to come up with anything else that we can do together that the other three wouldn't be standing there thinking, hey, what's up, how come only Nora gets to do that fun thing with mom.
But for tonight, no more nerdy computer stuff until I can refill light cyan and get Nora's pictures printed.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Okay, that will teach me, AGAIN, mid-message and pictures loaded, something, either DSL or stupid blogspot freezes up and I lose many wonderfully written and very insightful paragraphs, sparkling gems that you would have adored reading, and I’m too tired to even attempt to recreate the moment. Stupid computer. Also, it just occured to me that if I leave the camera on portrait setting while I have it pointed at bobbing bathing beauties that the photo quality, heck these aren't even in focus, photo quality is an overstatement, might be impaired a tiny bit, d'ya think?
So here are pictures of wet kids having fun in the pool. I bought the house because it was parked in the backyard of both the elementary and jr. high schools. I couldn’t buy the house and not buy the pool, I asked, so I learned how to maintain the pool and the learning curve has been steeeeeeeeeeeep. Especially because the whole set-up is antique/vintage/pieces o’crappish. But the girls love it and are becoming strong swimmers and Nora has just been amazing. Our fun teacher from last summer wasn’t available for private lessons this summer, so the girls have been on their own and Nora just pushed herself to keep up with her sisters and can now swim under water across the deep end. Pretty darned amazing when compared to YuYu’s tentativeness that lasted all of last summer when it was her first exposure to swimming.
I have another appointment tomorrow with a family counselor. This is only the third session, but just talking about my fears/guilt/anger has actually been helpful and this is an admission from a reach-down-grab-those-bootstraps-a-real-team-player-plays-hurt kind of gal. I have done this before, YuYu was adopted at exactly the same age as Nora was at the time of her adoption, and this one just wasn’t feeling right. I knew I had to get help with my feelings for Nora. I was out of my depth. Thank you to all who wrote with encouragement and walked a mile in your moccasins kind of advice, it is good to know that others have had the same doubts and struggles. I have learned that I can’t respond to posts from anonymous folks, no email address is associated with your messages, but thanks for thinking of me. It’s not as pitiful/dramatic as I let myself sound. I have a wonderful mother who lives within 30 minutes, good friends in town and great friends on the internet, other singles with many kids, and it helps me feel better knowing I’m not swinging this hammer on my own.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Since I brought Nora into the family I now understand why I believed before that single parenting, heck any parenting, could be so easy. My first three daughters ARE easy, they had me duped. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I don’t and I blame those three for giving me a false sense of accomplishment. I am not the uber-mom because those three tricked me into thinking I had even the slightest clue about filling this role. As it turns out, forget about the super mom suit, they won't be measuring me for that any time soon. The badge I should be wearing is struggling, flailing, cartoon-like mom: no heft, no substance, no there there.
I am not attaching to Nora. She pushes my buttons and I get so frustrated and angry with her so fast, it makes my head spin. I scare myself, can you imagine what it does to Nora? I demand more good behavior than she is currently capable of providing and I know that, in my head I know that. I look at her and know that she was institutionalized, that her foster family was exasperated with her too, that she has such a HUGE emotional deficit to overcome but still, I just want to say, so change already. Stop all this pouting, sulking, stamping, “not fair”, tattling, complaining malcontent crap and get with the Happy Hanson Girls program. Toe the line and get in tight formation like the other three. Be a team player dammit, right now, don’t make me repeat this to you again, and all of my wishing she were different probably exacerbates her odd-man-out feelings. We do make small progress, but we inevitably go backwards again. I am not cut out for this adventure. I sat on her bed last night looking at her, searching my heart for a solid label for anything I can feel for her besides resentment and it just is not there and if I were more hopeful, I would type "not there yet" but I’m not hopeful enough to type yet, yet.
So welcome to my whine fest, drink up, woohoo, partay. Yuck, I bore even myself with this pity party. I have pulled back the curtain to expose the charlatan that I am because I have no idea what the hell a real parent should act like and maybe if I throw myself at the feet of the blog world I can get some ideas, suggestions, guidance, tools, strategies, something, anything to help me learn to love this gorgeous, exasperating child. But for now, I would really like to click my ruby slippers and have all of this fixed, poof, like magic, but I guess I left those shoes in Kansas and I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. I know I have to put on the hip-waders, do the hard work and grow up quite a little bit if I’m going to be able to drag all of us back to Oz in one Happy Hanson Girls package. But mostly I would just rather just piss and moan and hope for my mojo to return without all the intense emotional labor that I know is in store for me and Nora in our future.