Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bed Time Rituals

When Casey was first born, I made up a song for him and I sang it over and and over again. It's hard to get a sense of it without hearing the tune-- also one I think I made up-- but here are the lyrics:

I love Casey, yes I do,
I love Casey, Casey boo,
Casey, Casey, Casey is my son.

I love Casey,
I love Casey,
I love Casey,
Oh I love Casey and he loves me.

When Marcie was born, I modified the words-- because obviously she's not my son. Her version goes like this:

I love Marcie, yes I do
Marcie, Marcie, I love you
Marcie, Marcie, Marcie I love you, I do.

I love Marcie,
I love Marcie,
I love Marcie,
Oh I love Marcie and she loves me.

I stopped singing Casey this song when he was around 2. I didn't just sing it to him at night-- I'd sing it any time I was rocking him or he was upset. Same with Marcie. And when Casey was 9 months old, I started law school, which I didn't finish until Marcie was 18 months old-- so I wasn't the one putting the kids to bed. But I still have my bed time routines. Mainly with Casey. For instance, when I go in to Casey's room to kiss him good night, this is what I say every night-- even if I am away and I call him at bed time:

Casey, I love you when you're happy
and I love you when you're sad.
I love you when you're silly,
and I love you when you're mad.
And I even love you when you're being bad.
I love you always, always, always and forever.

After about a week, he started filling in the adjectives or making a face to demonstrate the corresponding emotion. And then he began insisting he push back the hair on my forehead so he could kiss me on the forehead. Then he pulls back his own hair so I can kiss him on the forehead. And then we say good-night and I walk out the door, turning off the light as I leave. My ritual with Marcie is similar, except that I just do the very last line. And she giggles with giddiness when I say it.

Well, this afternoon when I was putting down the kids for their naps after a pretty wonderful morning taking Casey to see Bee Movie, to go grocery shopping, and to then stop at Starbucks (at his request), I leaned over to kiss him goodnight. I don't usually go through the whole ritual for nap time. But today he said he wanted me to tell him, so I started. And he stopped me. "Not that one, Mommy," he explained. "I love you always, forever, baby boo, baby bee." He half-said and half-babbled at me.

"The song?" I asked.

And he nodded yes. Do you know the one he was talking about?

When Casey was very, very young--before we got our referral for Marcie-- I used to read him a book before bed called Love You Forever. It's the story of a mother who rocks her son to sleep each night, singing him a song with the words:

I love you for always
I love you forever
As long as I'm living
My baby you'll be.

I used to sing those lines of the book to Casey (to the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey" or "On Top of Spaghetti"-- which is the same tune, of course). At the end of the story, the boy-- then a man with children of his own-- wraps his mother in his arms, rocks her and sings the song (but instead of "baby" says "mother"). It's a beautiful story, and I used to choke up every time I read it to him. It just speaks to be about the unconditionality of a parents' love. And it's interesting to me that Casey connected that song with my little night time rhyme-- because they're both about the unconditionality of my love for him. It's particularly surprising he remembered the song because I know I stopped singing it when he was 3 or so, right around the time we refused to refer to him as a baby anymore, because we wanted our big boy to be toilet trained.

Anyway, today at nap time, I wrapped up Casey in my arms, and I rocked him while I sang the words. And it struck me how much we teach our kids without even necessarily trying-- or knowing that we're doing so. And this notion of unconditional love, it's so very, very important to me that my kids understand the depth and breadth of my love for them-- I don't know if it's something all parents worry about or if my concern about expressing it is because my kids are adopted. It's just really, really important to me that they know how wanted and loved they have been and will be-- always, always, always and forever.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Giving Thanks

Last week when I was cleaning for Marcie's party, the carpet near the front wall of the house felt either cold or damp. I thought it was odd that it would feel either of these things because the house is insulated. So I did a little further investigating and discovered that the front wall also felt either cold or damp.

It turns out that our sprinkler system sprung a leak of some kind, which went undiscovered for over a month. And spewed water into the front planter box, which never gets any sunshine. We think the water seeped up through the foundation or through the actual wall and insulation. Either way, it's bad news.

It means we had to tear out the lower half of the front wall of our house. Now this is not something new to us. When we had our slab leak, a mere six months after moving in, we had to remove a lot of the lower halves of our walls from water damages and to prevent molding. And it took about 6 months for the foundation to dry out so we could replace the flooring. Casey was an infant at the time, and we pretty much just lived in the bedrooms and the study, covering the dried portions of our slab with cardboard because Casey was just toddling around at the time.

So I guess it could be much worse. At least this is a repair we can do ourselves. And by me, I of course mean Jason.

In the mean time, our "play room" has been slightly dislocated into the front hall and the family room, which you can see from the pictures. And we'll be rethinking our landscaping. What's irritating is that the house is around 23 years old-- younger than we are. I just don't understand how the previous owners lived her all those years and never put in proper drainage or concrete along the sides of their house! Oh well. I am thankful we have a roof over our heads and the skill to repair the damage. And that our kids are pretty flexible about these things.

After tearing up the front wall, we headed with the kids over to Starbucks. Really we needed to go to the grocery store so that we could pick up more eggs so I could make the sugar free pecan pie. Which is quite a challenge given that the original recipe calls for sugar, corn syrup, and pecans. Anyway, the kids love Starbucks, and they love drinking their chocolate milk and orange juice in real coffee cups, so this was a treat for them.

After we got home, the kids asked if they could paint. So we let them. It's such a messy endeavor, but the kids really seem to like it. Then the kids got a visit from Casey's godmother Ann and her fiance Mark, who came with Disney gifts. Casey got a Buzz Lightyear hat, which he's been wearing all over the place even though we usually can't get him to wear hats. And Marcie got a Disney holiday sweatshirt, which she points out has Mickey Mouse on it. After Ann and Mark left and we had a small lunch, it was time for naps, and when I went to wake up Casey, this is what I found:

And, as a side note, he insisted on wearing the costume to Costco the day after Thanksgiving when we went to buy batteries. Marcie wore her new sweatshirt. Here they are, ready to walk out the door. He's not wearing the Buzz cap in the picture, but he wore it to the store.

Anyway, Jason's parents hosted Thanksgiving dinner-- Jason's dad did most of the work, and it was a delicious meal. I'd show you pictures, but I left my camera at home, so I'll have to wait until I get copies of the ones Jason's dad took. I made the sugar-free pies.

I try to be thankful all year round, but it's nice to take stock every now and again, too. This year, I am thankful:

10. I passed the bar exam.
9. I have a good job.
8. My kids like going to school.
7. Marcie is sleeping through the night.
6. I have a functioning car.
5. We have a roof over our heads (and Jason is handy with home repairs).
4. We have clothes on our backs.
3. We have plenty of food.
2. I am surrounded by family and friends whom I love and who love me.
1. For laughter.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Birthday Bonanza

As I've written before, November is a big birthday month in our home-- three of us have birthdays in November, all within about 8 days. And that doesn't include friends or other family members (like my brother). Marcie particularly benefited this year from an extended birthday celebration. Rather than describe it all to you, I've uploaded a ton of photos (not really-- for some reason I didn't snap many pictures this year-- so if you took photos at Marcie's birthday party, I'd love a copy!). Here's the Birthday Bonanza in review:

Early November-- Jason's birthday.

We attempted a family dinner at the local Sushi Lounge, but the kids were pretty cranky and we wondered why we were pushing our luck. After dinner out, we returned home for carrot cake. Casey, Marcie and I sang Happy Birthday to Jason, then Casey stole the show by blowing out the candles.

Mid-November, Marcie's actual birthday (and mine)

Marcie started the day full of smiles, drinking chocolate soy milk-- a special treat for her special day. She picked out her own clothes (and Casey's because he owns a matching shirt). I thought it was cool because she'd picked her I love Mommy shirt.

Here she is trying to show me how old she is. She knows she's 2 now, and she'll tell us that, but she can't quite grab the other three fingers with her thumb, so this is how she shows us the number 2. Yeah, it's confusing. But we understand her-- and she's cute as can be doing it.

I stopped by Marcie's classroom before the academic day (if you can call it that) began with muffins and juice for Marcie's class. I'd planned to return during snack to help her classmates sing her Happy Birthday, but she turned into a weepy mess when I showed up. She started with "No go, Mommy!" and that quickly became "I go with you, Mommy!" A brief conversation with her teacher, and the decision was made that my presence would be more disruptive than special. This is Marcie trying to grit "Cheese!" through her tears. She was fine not 5 minutes after I walked away (which I know because I didn't actually leave campus-- I was scheduled to volunteer in Casey's classroom).

After volunteering at the writing center, I read the class a book. Then Casey's class made me a special birthday crown and they all sang Happy Birthday. Instead of tickling me once for each year of my life, we let them tickle Casey instead. He loved being the center of attention.

This is my office at work. The door was closed when I arrived, so I was a little worried about what I'd find. I hadn't told anyone in advance my birthday was coming up, but when they discovered I was going to be a little late, they connected the dots. Yes. It's messy. Lots of piles. Really, does that surprise you? But the streamers and the brightly colored papers all over the place-- that wasn't my doing. The papers all read "Happy Birthday Karen (and Marcie)". I still find a slip of paper every once in a while-- when I open a book, or in my gym bag. It's pretty funny. And if you're wondering, that's an elephant on top of the shelf. She wandered into my office, with Miss Piggy in her trunk on Halloween morning. I hear she takes walks on her own, and she'll be with me until she's ready to move on.

After work, we met up at a restaurant for our second attempt at a family birthday dinner out. This, again, was a pretty huge mistake on our part. It was just too much for the kids. Casey had a major meltdown and we kind of had to rush out. Not to mention my anxiety level was high because bar results were about to come out in less than 24 hours' time. In any event, after we got home, Marcie and I opened our presents. Marcie's favorite was the princess dress-up stuff (which Casey really did pick out for her all by himself, after telling her -- and me-- he was going to get her a Mack Truck, Chick Hicks, and Lightning McQueen).

This is Marcie in her princess stuff-- high heels, red gloves, and a ruby necklace. Oh. And her pajamas, of course-- because even princesses wear pajamas to bed.

That was the end of her birthday, but it wasn't the end of the celebrating. Marcie's birthday party was this past weekend.
Here's Marcie all dressed up for her party. Despite the fact that she is enormous, these slippers, which she got last year for Christmas and are size 24 months, fit her beautifully.

The day before the party, Casey and Marcie helped me make cupcakes. I stole the idea from Mary-Mia over on Salsa in China, who had these made for the twins' second birthday

I did make some with Nilla Wafer ears instead of Nutter Butter ears for the kids with peanut butter allergies. I brought the leftovers to work, and some people had trouble identifying them as monkeys. One person thought they were cows. I'm not offended by this. I'm wondering what other animals they might look like. Any ideas? On that note, Casey has asked for Lightning McQueen cupcakes (not cakes) for his birthday. Any suggestions on how to do that?

Anyway, at Marcie's party, I set out different activities to keep the kids busy. This is the arts and crafts station. There were crayons and markers, a monkey magnet, and bookmarks and door-hangers. Lucas is the only one who expressed any interest. But that made it worthwhile to me.

There were plenty of trains and plenty of tracks for the kids to play with the train set. Here you can see Joey with Thomas and Casey with Henry on a collision course. Casey's friend Thuan is in the background, chasing after Casey with Gordon.

Then there was the play-doh station. The girls spent quite a bit of time over here-- especially Katelyn. One ball of play-doh did get away, but I found it after the party under a chair, and it wasn't mashed into the carpet. So that was good. And lucky.

When it came time to sing Happy Birthday to Marcie, I put two candles in her cupcake. But instead of having all the kids rush her to try and blow out her candle, we set up a cupcake for each child, and we lit a candle in each one. That way, after the song was over, everyone got to blow out their own candles. The kids really seemed to like that.

Marcie surprised me with her extreme interest in her cousin Ethan. He's currently the youngest in the family, at only 4 months. Marcie kept asking me if she could hold him. He kept reaching for her ear and hair. Here they are together.

Not pictured is the impromptu balloon chase, where each kid managed to grab a balloon, and they proceeded to chase each other in circles through the main living areas. Also not pictured was the Curious George pinata. It was one of those ones with the pull strings, so we didn't have to worry about anyone getting smashed accidentally. I forgot that I'd given away most of the Halloween candy to Casey's school for class treats, so I only had enough to fill up half the monkey. I improvised by filling snack-sized ziplock baggies with graham cracker sticks and miniature Nilla Wafers. It turned out the kids didn't care if they grabbed candy or cookies-- they were just happy to get "stuff." I'll have to remember that around Easter. Anyway, when the kids pulled their strings, the pinata didn't open, so I had to break open George's bottom with my hand and start pulling out the goodies. Again, I don't think the kids cared much-- they just like collecting the prizes inside.

Last, we did let Marcie open her presents. I'm not a huge fan of opening gifts at parties. I never know how the kids will react and I don't want to offend someone if Casey or Marcie shows disinterest. Plus I think it could create a weird sense of competition. But Marcie's party was a dinner party, and I wasn't going to make her wait yet another day to open her presents. So she opened them at the party. Casey's grandparents also brought him this giant car that lights up and has doors that open. He was in heaven, and he and his cousin Joey played with it for the rest of the evening.

Oh. And there was a champagne toast in there, too. Although my joy in learning that I'd passed the bar was tempered, I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to raise a glass to this success-- the first big hurdle of my career as a lawyer (well, after law school, anyway). Lots of people go through divorce, dump their friends, and become a huge mess during law school. I'm lucky-- I have a large, supportive, extended family and friends who really believe in me. Plus a husband who held me up through it all. It's been a long four years, and I hope it will have been worth it. But I know I couldn't have done it without the patience and love of the people around me.

So there you have it. The 2007 Birthday Bonanza.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I have always been nervous about telling Casey he's "my favorite." I don't want him-- or Marcie, or any future children-- to think that means he's my favorite to the exclusion of others. But I do want him to know just how special he is to me. Someone recommended to me the book You're All My Favorites, which is the story of a bear family. Each bear wonders how he or she can be the favorite if the others are also a favorite. But the point of the story is that they can all be favorites, for different reasons. So now I tell Casey he's my favorite big brother or my favorite first-born. Because he is.

My mom always tells Casey how lucky she is-- in particular that she's lucky because she gets to be his grandma. I know he understands what she means because about a year ago, maybe less, he began telling me, "I know why grandma's lucky-- 'cause she's Casey's grandma."

This morning when I squatted down to kiss Casey good bye before I left for work, he lept at me and bear-hugged me. I said, "Casey, you are my favorite big brother and my favorite first-born son. I am soooo lucky I get to be your mom." And it's true. It's exactly how I feel, and I think the words I chose are particularly apt-- I didn't have to be his mom. His birthmother chose me to raise him, so I get to be his mom.

Then he said the most perfect thing ever: "I'm lucky, too, Mommy. 'Cause I get to be your son!"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

California Bar Exam Results

I wish I could report entirely good news. You see, I'm one of those team players. Although I went into law school with an I-don't-need-any-new-friends attitude, truth be told I never would have survived without my study group, Paul and Delinda. We studied together at least once a week for three years. Honestly, I couldn't have done it without them.

So we had a plan. When results came out, we'd text each other. No matter what. And here's how it all happened:

Around 4:30pm, a bunch of people from the firm took the three of us awaiting our bar results to Karl Strauss for snacks and drinks. We called this the pre-bar-results Novocaine. I had planned to check my results online in the office because of afternoon traffic. But in the end, I didn't. I decided instead to drive home and check them. I figured the website would be all jammed up for the first 15 minutes or so anyway.

On my drive, the first text came in at about 6:04pm. It was Paul. He passed. Then, as I was dialing his number to congratulate him, a second text arrived, from Delinda. It said, "I'm not on the list." When you check your bar results, you get a notification that either says, "This name appears on the list of people passing the July 2007 bar exam" or "No record found" (or something like that).

I called Delinda. I asked her if she double-checked her numbers. If she'd had her husband type it in for her. I told her that it's not final-- the website. That I'd heard of two separate instances where there were glitches and upon checking results later the same evening, people who thought they'd failed really had passed. We talked about what might have gone wrong. I reminded her that this is a blip in her life. It won't matter in the end, even if it doesn't feel that way right now. I said everything I was thinking I'd want to hear if my name weren't on that list. And then we hung up.

On the remainder of the drive, I worried. If Delinda's name wasn't on that list, it was likely mine wasn't either. We studied for that test together. We quizzed each other. We wrote the essays together, took an extra course together. There is nothing I did that she didn't do. And vice versa. She was our team cheerleader. And of all of us, these results mattered-- really mattered to her because she has a job offer dependent on passing the bar exam. Which might explain why she was the most nervous of the three of us-- going into, during, and after the bar. We chatted very briefly following the last day of testing, and she and I seemed to say all the same things on our essays. So her missing name was very worrisome. Particularly because I didn't know my results yet.

When I got home, I didn't even say hello to Jason and the kids. I went straight to the computer. And wouldn't you know it, the Internet was down. I've been having trouble on my computer lately, but I wasn't expecting a glitch while checking bar results! Finally, we got Jason's computer up and running, and I checked my results there.

I passed. Alternately ecstatic and shocked for my friend Delinda, I began texting. By now, the kids were clamoring, and I was writing fast. I could only send the text to half my friends and then had to send a second text message to the other half. On the first half, apparently I wrote that I'd passed the car exam. And once I received a text back from a few people asking what the car exam was, I couldn't even send out a follow up correcting the mistake because I don't know which people I sent that message to and which people got the appropriately typed "bar" exam message. To those who replied to my car message, I responded that the good news was that cars everywhere would be able to receive great legal representation.

All of three of us first year associates at the firm passed. But all that success is slightly overshadowed by knowing Delinda will be taking the test again in February. I personally plan to offer to help her study again. Though I doubt she'll take me up on it since my presence during the summer obviously didn't help. Believe me, I feel such joy and relief that I passed the test. But I'd be much happier if Delinda did, too.

Anyway, I meant what I wrote yesterday-- about perspective. So if you're the praying type, and you feel like saying prayers for my friend, please do. Don't pray that she passes the test. Pray instead for her to have grace. Grace to accept what's happened and move forward. Grace to believe that this is just one test and doesn't define her academic abilities. Grace to focus as she begins studying again. And that she'll have grace during each day of the test. And if you've been praying for me to have grace during the wait-- thanks. I think it helped!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Keeping Things In Perspective

In many ways, the various factions of my life are separate. Like being an adoptive parent. While parenting is integral in every aspect of my life, the fact that we've built our family through adoption is not. The kids are with us now; that I didn't carry them in my uterus doesn't really matter much from one day to the next. But being an adoptive parent is very much a part of who I am. In a way, it's like being part of a club-- you don't really understand what it's like until you've lived it. And I feel connected to other adoptive parents in a way I don't think I otherwise would. But that connection isn't something I think about every moment of every day. So it's odd, in a sense, that being an adoptive parent is helping put the pending bar results in perspective for me.

Yes, today is the magic day the California State Bar results are released electronically to test-takers. The public can't access the information until Sunday or Monday (I'm not sure which). And I suppose it's possible that mis-information could be available online, which is why the Bar cautions all applicants not to rely on their online results and to wait for the mailed results instead. Whatever. No one believes they need to wait. And so, at around 6:00pm tonight I, along with the other nine thousand or so examinees will try to log in at exactly the same time to retrieve our results. I haven't been thinking much about it until the last 48 hours. And I think I'm more nervous now than I felt when I was actually taking the test. It's obviously out of my hands. The results have been compiled. But the not knowing is eating up my stomach. Literally. I slept only a couple hours last night, and I am operating on pure adrenaline.

So what if I don't pass the California bar? I mean, it's not like some giant hook will swoop in to the office and pull me out of my desk. The firm I'm at gives us a second chance-- we can re-take the exam in February. And I have my teaching career as an alternative, as well. I will be embarrassed by my failure. And I will beat myself up. And I will wonder, probably even after my scores arrive in the mail (because you only get your scores if you didn't pass the test), why me? The scariest thing about the potential of failing the bar exam is that I just don't know what more I could have done. I really did give it my best shot. And I know that the failure will eat away at whatever self-confidence I have.

That said, it's a test for crying out loud. Sure, only 78% of the first-time test-takers from my law school passed last July. And the statewide first-time taker pass rate was only 67%. But it's a test nonetheless. We're not talking life and death here. And in the big picture of life, this will-- long from now-- (hopefully) just be one small blip.

Helping me put all this in perspective is the touching story of Hannah, a child who will be returning home from China shortly. Hannah's parents met her for the first time some time in the past few weeks, after traveling to China from Lansing, Michigan. Part way through their trip, after China had finalized the adoption, Hannah's dad, who is diabetic, suffered complications from diabetes and passed away. I can only imagine the shock and grief of meeting my child for the first time, then losing my spouse almost in that same breath. But that's exactly what happened to Hannah's mom, Sandi. And then it go worse. Because the U.S. Consulate initially refused to issue Sandi a visa to return to the United States with Hannah, explaining that her family circumstances had changed and she would need to re-do the paperwork. Yup. Bureaucracy at its finest. Our government was essentially telling Sandi to leave China alone-- no husband, no child.

It didn't end that way, thankfully. Sandi's congressperson was contacted (by over a thousand people who heard about their story through adoption boards and word of mouth), and he sprang into action. It took some string-pulling and wrangling and the involvement of some very important higher-ups, but it looks like Sandi will be able to return home to Michigan with her daughter. Still a family of two instead of three. But a family all the same.

And this got me to thinking about the bar results. It may feel like everything in the world to me in this moment of time. But it's not. I can imagine my world without me being a lawyer. I've been doing it all my adult life. There are so many other, more important parts of my life that define me-- like my family and my friends. In the end, it won't matter how many hours I billed. Or if I passed the bar exam on the first try. Or even if I end up practicing law at all. At the end of my life, what will matter is the relationships I have, the friendships I share, the love of my family.

Now, if I can just keep that in perspective for the next eight hours (and maybe even beyond), I'll be in good shape . . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Marcie's Birthday

Today is Marcie's birthday. And mine. Because we share the same birth date. A couple people this year have asked me if we got to pick Marcie's birthday. It seemed like such a strange question the first time someone asked it-- as if we could just rewrite a child's age on our own whim. But it's not a dumb question by any stretch. For those of you wondering, the answer is no. We didn't pick November 15th to be Marcie's birthday. China did. When they find a child, they estimate the child's birth date based on her physical appearance and condition. Marcie was estimated to be about a week old when she was found. I doubt she was incredibly large for her age when she was so young, and they do have physical evidence of age based on things like the umbilical cord. Anyway, she has a Chinese birth certificate, translated into English. And that identifies her birthday as November 15th. It's just luck that it coincides with my birthday.

I started a post earlier highlighting the day's events, but I didn't finish it. I will post it, complete with pictures, later. But a "show and tell" somehow seemed like an empty tribute to Marcie. This is the adoptive parent in me thinking. It seems relatively common that adoptive parents contemplate their children's birth parents each year on their children's birthdays. And that makes sense. Though I doubt that many parents who parent their biological children stop each and every year to consider and remember the labor and delivery experience. Maybe I'm wrong. And maybe that's not a fair comparison. But it doesn't seem fair that I was feeling guilty for not spending more time thinking (and writing) about Marcie's birth family-- and how our gain has been their loss.

I definitely appreciate the gift. I understand (at least on an academic level) that placing your child with strangers halfway around the world-- strangers you've never met and will probably never meet-- and just trusting that they will take good care of your child is hard. And that's an understatement. I think it must either be an act of sheer desperation or extraordinary hope. I've heard that expression -- if you love someone, set them free. And adoption is a totally different take on that statement.

I feel so grateful for Marcie. For her energy. Her kisses and her questions. I love the way she looks up to Casey and the way she sucks on her blanket when she's falling asleep at night. I love that she shows compassion for others. I love how she repeats everything we say. I love how excited she gets with a new pair of shoes or a new toy. I love that she wants to do things herself. She makes my world a better place. And that makes her one of the greatest gifts I've ever, ever received (Casey being the other great gift).

But sometimes I feel such pressure to acknowledge and honor her past, her history, her roots-- and I feel overwhelmed by it and complete inadequate at following through. I don't think I can fully understand and appreciate Chinese culture. I'm not saying I shouldn't try. Or that I don't. I'm lucky because we have family and friends who are immigrants from China and first generation Americans, so we have a lot of exposure. It's just not something I obsess about. It's true that when we contemplated B.S. #3, I wanted to return to the Asian continent for ease of future travel to the region (though I may be retracting my stance in the future). I was worried that having too many kids from different cultures would make things, well, difficult. That I wouldn't be able to honor their respective roots.

And then I read Johnny's posts Burning Ships, part I and Burning Ships, part II. What I found interesting about them is his perspective in light of the fact that Johnny, like my husband, is first generation American. And Johnny and my husband share a common perspective. I don't know how I feel about it yet. We do plan to return one day to China with Marcie. To take her to Chongqing. To let her experience where she came from. We do that already with Casey, though it's a lot closer than China, so that makes it easier. I won't be able to ingrain in Marcie the Chinese way, in a manner of speaking. After all, she is American as much as she is Chinese.

But I want to honor her history. Her heritage. Where she came from is part of who she is. And I don't just mean that it's part of her name. It's her past. Her story. I think Johnny is right-- she's an immigrant, not just an adoptee. Which "label" will define her more? I don't know. Maybe neither. But she'll have to decide that for herself. My job is to support her as she navigates her place in the world. She's only two now. But she's growing so fast. Before I know it, she'll be talking on the phone, dressing up in heels, asking for make- up. Wait. She's doing those things now! Some day I won't be able to control the length of the phone conversation, the height of the heels, or the brand and amount of the make-up. I'll have to trust her to do those things for herself and hope that I've adequately prepared her.

In the mean time, I'm just so grateful to know her. To love her. To call her my own. My little Marcie. I'm so, so lucky to be her mom. Happy Birthday!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

He's the Cheeky One

Once a year Thomas leaves the Island of Sodor and ventures out across America. Families all over come to get a glimpse of the Very Useful Engine, ride on the railway, meet Sir Topham Hat, and generally enjoy their Day Out With Thomas. This year Bob the Builder even made an appearance.

We purchased our tickets back in August. Thomas doesn't come to San Diego, but he does go to the Orange Empire Railway, which is about an hour away. Then, as we explain each year, he has to return to his home and the Island of Sodor, where the rest of his friends are waiting for him.

The kids are big fans of Thomas. I personally don't think he's a very nice engine to his friends-- and what they call "cheeky," I frequently think of as downright mean. But maybe that's my American perspective talking. Thomas was created by a Brit, after all (which explains why Casey kept saying he was cross instead of mad for the longest time!).

This year we got in line, rode a caboose at the back, which Thomas pushed and pulled, saw Bob the Builder and Sir Topham Hat from a distance, took pictures with Thomas (eating lunch in line because Casey insisted he could not wait until after lunch to get his photo), ate ice cream, played on some rail lines, and wandered the Thomas Store (realizing that the Totally Thomas store near our home has pretty much everything Thomas you could ask for).

Here are some photos of the kids-- we rode up with my brother Bryan and his son (the kids' cousin) Joey.

Grandma? Grandpa?

Marcie often impresses me. She has a pretty good memory. She puts words into sentences, like: "I see bus," and "I don't want to," and "Where is Lucas?" For a kid who's not even 2 yet, I think these things are pretty darn amazing.

Yesterday at music class Marcie played the accordion. I commented to my friend (whose son is in the class) that my dad plays the accordion. And Marcie saw my dad do this last Christmas-- almost a year ago. I snapped a couple photos of Marcie playing this accordion so I could share it with my parents. I mean, I've never met anyone other than my dad who plays the accordion-- and I didn't even know they made them in miniature size. When Marcie saw the picture below, she cried out: "JUST LIKE GRANDPA!" What a smarty pants.

She's doing other impressive things, too. Remember all those lamenting posts about how she wouldn't go to sleep unless I laid down with her? And the ones with me complaining about never getting more than 3 hours of sleep in a row? Looking back, I now realize that I wasn't ready to sleep train her. It wasn't that she wasn't ready. Because it's been more than a month now and even the disruption of the fires hasn't impacted Marcie's sleep habits. She climbs up into bed all by herself (she moved out of a crib at around 18 months, just like Casey did). She kisses me good night, rolls over, and puts herself to sleep. And sleeps all night long. It's wonderful.

And let's talk about toilet training. No, we're not potty training Marcie at the moment. Not on purpose, anyway. We didn't even start toilet training Casey until he was a little over 2 1/2 years old. Now, I know that girls toilet train earlier. But today Marcie asked to go potty twice. And did. Both times. Wow.

But the thing she does that most amuses me right now is draw connections between people. Yesterday we were waiting in a long line at a department store. Jason and I were irritated because we never should have been sent to this line in the first place, but there we were. The gentleman at the cashier station was slow as molasses, further fueling our frustration. And when he finally waved us up to his counter and peered at me over his glasses, frowning, Marcie called out lovingly, "Hi Grandpa!" Then she looked at me and said "Like Grandpa?" Now, the guy looks nothing like any of Marcie's grandfathers. All of whom are actually very young looking, and pretty young, actually. This guy was really tall, and really thin. And wore thick-framed-glasses. Sure, he looked older. And he had gray hair. And that was where the similarities ended. And for all I knew, he was prematurely gray-- I mean, you don't really want your child calling out someone as "old" (though I do recognize that grandparents are not old per se), especially if they aren't. Fortunately, he found her comment charming and he smiled and was really good with her.

Then, today in the bathroom at the Orange Empire Railway, where we were visiting Thomas the Tank Engine, Marcie nearly bumped into Asian woman. The woman's hair was relatively short, and done up, curled under. She wore bright red lipstick and had glasses on. And Marcie called out to her, when she looked up, "Hi Grandma!" Then turned to me and said "Like Grandma, Mommy." This woman was not old looking at all-- maybe in her 50s, though. And to Marcie, that is Grandma-aged, I guess. I nervously said, "She does look a little like Grandma, honey, but she's not your grandma. Tell her good-bye." And Marcie dutifully did. The woman smiled, but I couldn't tell if she was offended.

I could be worried about Marcie mis-speaking-- but anyone who knows me (and knows I'm the queen of putting my foot in my mouth) knows I'm not really all that concerned about these things. Instead, I'm just impressed that Marcie is seeing the similarities in people-- drawing connections. Feeling more comfortable in the great big world out there. I can hardly believe she'll be turning 2 this week. My baby girl is growing up.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tenacious C

I've been musing about Casey's tenacity lately. Pernicious. Obstinate. Dogged. Yup. That's my boy. I like referring to him as Tenacious C because it rhymes with Tenacious D, and I'm not all that familiar with them, but I like Jack Black well enough.

Anyway, it all started when he pulled that chair up to the door and unlocked the high-up, hotel-like lock to escape. That was just before the fires.

But then, ever since Halloween, his tenacity has persisted. Casey is, fortunately, not a big candy-eater. But he does love MnMs. Loves might even be an understatement. Last week he absconded with packs of MnMs twice. Both times while I was in the bathroom. The first time, he found the special-edition bag of orange-flavored MnMs I purchased in New York and gave them to Marcie. Marcie brought them to me and Jason right away to show off her new-favorite breakfast food. Of course we confiscated the bag. But when I went to check and see how she got them, I noticed a kitchen chair pulled up to the counter, and a flashlight sitting on the counter top edge. The flashlight was still on, and it was pointed at the portion of the counter where the MnMs had been hidden -- behind and underneath a couple loaves of bread.

We chuckled. Did a better job of hiding the candy. And went on our merry way.

Then, a few days later, I came out of the bathroom and saw Casey sitting on the couch, eating a mini-pack of MnMs. It was morning. When I asked what he was doing, he sheepishly responded, "Eating BaNems."

A quick search of the kitchen explained how he'd found them. Again, the chair was pulled up to the counter. A pair of scissors was left open on the counter, and pieces of MnM wrapper were spread across the counter. On the other side of the kitchen, the pantry baby-proof lock had been unlocked, and the candy bag had been breached. I didn't know if I should high five him or scold him. I mean, of course candy for breakfast is a bad idea. But . . . wow. He opened the baby lock. He found the scissors and he used scissors to open the bag without even hurting himself. Of course we had a conversation about the scissors, and they have been removed from the counter. But I'm still impressed.

And the tenacity doesn't end with candy. Yesterday Casey woke up while I was in the shower and asked if he could take a shower, too. As he got in, I was shaving my legs. He asked if that was like how Daddy shaves his face, and I said it was. When I was ready to get out of the shower, I put my razor up on the top shelf of the shower tower and left him in the shower. I was right outside the shower door. I opened the glass door maybe 3 minutes later to let him know he'd have to get out in 2 minutes, and there he was-- squatting on the shower floor with a bar of soap in one hand and a disposable razor in the other.

I have no idea where he got the razor. But he was attempting to shave his legs. He'd nicked his shin in the process, and there was some blood. But he was in no pain whatsoever and he treated the band-aid like a treat.

Needless to say, I've scoured the bathroom for other signs of disposable, potential injury-inflicting items (I didn't find any). And now that I know he can open baby locks and navigate the house with a kitchen chair, I'm wondering what I can do to keep our cleaning supplies safely out of reach. I don't think Casey would eat them, but I wouldn't put it past him to leave them out where Marcie might happen upon them. As a child I was notorious for accidentally poisoning myself-- and I just don't want to risk it.

It's neat to observe Casey's problem-solving skills evolve as he becomes more tenacious. But it's scary, too.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fish Oil and the Active Child

I mentioned off-handedly in an earlier post about the wildfire evacuation that I remembered to bring Casey's fish oil with us. The post prompted a few e-mails and comments asking for more information. If you don't want information on fish oil and/or the active child, feel free to skip this post.

As a disclaimer, I have to admit that I haven't personally done a whole lot of research into this topic. I personally am not a super-nutritious person. That's not to say I would let my kids eat chocolate or cake for breakfast. Or even for dinner. Or even for nightly dessert. But it's just not my thing. And, thankfully, it doesn't have to be. That's one of the nice things about parenting with a partner. Because Jason is really into nutrition. Which is how we came to use fish oil. Casey has always been a pretty active child. Well, at least since around age 2, when the terrible twos hit us pretty hard.

By the time Casey turned 3, we realized he was more active than other 3-year-old boys we saw. And that got us to thinking about Casey's diet. He's too young to be diagnosed with hyperactivity or anything, but darned if he couldn't sit still for even 10 or 15 minutes. So we decided to try the fish oil.

Here are two articles that discuss the studies that have been completed on Omega-3 (which you can get in places other than fish oil) and in fish oil in particular:

Fish Oil improves attention and vocabulary
Fish Oil may be better than Ritalin

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you a couple more things. Casey is an extraordinarily picky, picky eater. Until recently, his diet has consisted pretty much of cheese pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and dino-bite chicken nuggets. And I'm not exaggerating. It's not a whole lot better now, but it's definitely better. This isn't really related to the fish oil except to say it made him agreeing to take a teaspoon of fish oil a day all that more surprising.

We don't use capsules, the way they did in the studies. My dad uses the capsules (which have had a dramatic and positive effect on his cholesterol, by the way). And I have heard of others who do as well-- though I've also heard those same people complain of re-tasting the fishy taste throughout the day. And I don't think that's a problem with the oil.

The oil we use is lemon-flavored. We give Casey a little less than a teaspoon at night before bed. We toyed with giving it to him in the morning but found he was more focused if we did it at night. We also toyed with a higher dosage, but found that it was better for his digestive tract to stick to a little less than a teaspoon a day. We buy it and have it shipped to the door, and we keep it refrigerated. One bottle lasts us several months. When I'm feeling less lazy, I'll note the brand and put it in this post.

Casey, like most preschoolers, is a child who likes routine. And he reminds us to give him fish oil if he forgets. I think he actually likes it, though I can't figure out why for the life of me.

But there you have it. And it really has made a difference.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween this year, Casey insisted early on that he wanted to be a witch. Marcie decided early on she wanted to be a banana. She saw a banana costume in an ad in the paper. But we couldn't find a banana costume in her size, so we picked out all the fixings for a butterfly instead. Then, the day before Halloween, I found the coveted banana costume and Casey's witch plans went right out the window. Even though Marcie had requested the banana costume, she graciously allowed her brother to sport the fruit instead. When we trick-or-treated through the neighborhood, Casey kept announcing, "I'm a banana." As if you couldn't tell.

Here a few photos of the kids celebrating Halloween:

Casey and his class's scarecrow.

Marcie trick-or-treating at her school party.

Our neighborhood has one, long, pretty flat street. And I think other people drop their children off here to trick-or-treat. We live at the very top of a giant hill, though. So we walk down the hill on one side of the street and up the hill on the other side. The kids get lots and lots of candy because, well, I think people feel like they've earned it trekking up and down the hill. Plus the easiest way to get rid of candy without eating it is to give it away. So Casey's 5 gallon bucket was more than half full when we got home.

We haven't completely figured out how we'll eliminate all the candy without the kids noticing. I wanted to have them each pick out a handful and leave the rest for the "Halloween Witch," who would come by and pick up the candy, leaving books behind in its place. Jason (and others) have told me this idea is dumb. And I'm not sure I could get the kids to trade candy for books-- though I personally would.

One bonus to trick-or-treating is that we get to see all the neat things people have done with their homes. Last year we saw a house where they'd removed all the internal walls in the main living area of our model. This year we saw our model with a second-floor addition and they invited us in to see how it was all arranged. We always get great ideas, and it's one of the only times of the year we get to meet and chat with the neighbors.

Keeping Busy During the Wildfires

This coming weekend has another Santa Ana blowing through. We're hopeful it won't impact the existing fire that hasn't been contained (Poomacha) and that it won't cause any new conflagrations. When I downloaded Halloween pictures, I found some photos of last week when we were evacuated. Not of the fires. Of the kids. So here's how they spent their time:

at library story time

just hanging out in the house-- I love the boys' expressions in this one

climbing on new equipment at JW Tumbles (where they let us play for free!)

Casey and his friend Lucas swinging at JW Tumbles