Tuesday, August 29, 2006
We hit another milestone this weekend when my parents, one of the two sets of doting grandparents Jarrah is blessed with, watched Jarrah for an entire day while David and I went to Santa Monica to see the Troubadours, an annual event for us and one that Jarrah is not quite ready for. Readers, I wasn't just nervous about this, I was freaked out. The night before, I could barely sleep. Not because I doubted my parents would do a bang-up job of looking after their youngest granddaughter, but more because I felt certain she would scream dementedly for hours and that would mark the first and last offer of this nature from Grandma and Grandpa.
I warned my parents, several times, that Jarrah is prone to extreme separation anxiety right now, and doesn't even like it when I go to the bathroom without her. I also described how she is taking after her mother in the area of dramatic aspirations, and relishes an opportunity to stand on a doorstep with both arms extended to the heavens, fingers curling into fists, head thrown back and throat open to express the depths of scorn and cruelty our departure represents to her.
Her diaper bag (the big one) was stocked to the hilt with comforting snacks, favorite books and videos, toys, and anything I could think of that might soothe her fevered brow in our absence. Throughout our lunch together and the initial preparations for a refreshing swim in the backyard, I was brimming with trepidation to the point of tears. My mother had suggested we sneak away casually when Jarrah got in the pool, since she'd be at peak distraction. I agreed, and still saw disaster looming on the horizon. I expected a frantic phone call before we'd even hit the freeway.
Readers, I'm sure you can see where this is going, since I've totally frontloaded the narrative. David and I had a lovely day with very little traffic and lots of singing, dancing, hooting, hollering and a bit of iambic pentameter. When we arrived breathless back at my parents' door around five hours later, my mother opened it before we could knock (uh-oh?) and said: "What an incredibly sweet baby you have." Huh? We rushed past her to find Jarrah ensconced in her high chair, enjoying a lavish repast of many homemade courses. She seemed hardly to register our entrance. There were no smiles, no hugs, no tears of relief.
"She hasn't cried all day," my mother reported. Wha? Not even when we left? Nope. She'd been swimming (twice), to the park, and savored her first Ben and Jerry's. She'd sung songs and watched videos with my dad. She had apparently eaten halibut (?), lentil casserole (??) and green beans (???) with gusto. She'd been agreeable and cheerful without interruption. "Every moment of your day must be so much fun," my mother gushed. Whose child were they speaking of, exactly?
Harumph. Was I relieved? Immensely. Grateful? Yes. Jealous? A smidge, but I am learning to let go of the ego in the way I've been instructed by so many other mothers now.
The summer is winding down. Goodbye, summer. This week we have an open house for Jarrah's new preschool and our last "My Gym" visit as a "Waddler." (I don't make these names up, people.) When September comes, we'll be schoolin' it and stepping up as a "Gymster." We'll be back at music class, and now Jarrah knows how to sit in a circle...sometimes. Jarrah will have a new doctor and David a new office. And as for me? We'll see. I'll keep you posted.
Autumn adventures await.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Jarrah is still topping the charts for height and weight, and was pronounced very coordinated, too. She had two vaccinations, and thankfully did not wake up looking like the Elephant Baby today. (See this post.) After the first shot, she simply swiveled her head in my direction (David was holding her) with an expression that seemed to say, "What was that? I'm not sure I cared for it immensely," but she didn't make a sound. After the second one, she screamed lustily, as well she should.
Our doctor gave us the information for a speech program near our house in case we want to do any "early language intervention" with Jarrah. It was almost a relief to hear someone say that she is a couple months behind American bio babies in her speech, since I've been making myself insane suspecting this anyway. On the other hand, experts in international adoption wouldn't think twice about it, since she has had 13 months less exposure to English than other 19-month-olds.
Jarrah has produced a few more words recently. At the recent FCC picnic, she said "bubbles" plain as day; I even have two witnesses who have no ulterior motives. She often says "car" when we leave the house now, and Mary swears she heard her say "ice cream" this past weekend. We joke that she's a bit like the Warner Bros. frog (warning: you need to have watched Saturday morning cartoons in the '70s to understand this one) because she won't perform on command.
This morning at Target she did something cute. I had freed her from the shopping cart near the toy section so she could romp a bit, and we got separated when I was looking at trucks and she went back an aisle to see about a ride-on turtle. By the time I retraced my steps, she was gone. Suddenly, I could hear her, distantly, calling in a firm and clear voice: "KAI-yeh! KAI-yeh!" I followed the sound and eventually discovered her out in the central area, standing calmly in one spot, using just her voice to locate me. I shouted "Here I am, baby!" and she looked in my direction, and a slow, sweet smile crept across her face. Then she ran into my arms, laughing. Never once did she lose her cool. She had lost me; she needed to find me, and she was going to do exactly that.
I have no idea why I'm suddenly known as "KAI-yeh," though.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
So I was a little flummoxed to be chatting during the 3.6 minutes I have allotted for hair-combing, moisturizer-applying and rueful grimacing at my undereye circles in the mirror. I really got a jolt, however, after the niceties had been dispensed with and she moved on to bigger topics. "So..." she began in a conspiratorial whisper, "...are you a mom?" I paused in mid-detangle and stared. "Oh. Yes!" "Oh, goodie!" she clapped. "Let me be the first to hear the details!"
Readers, this request came as some relief. I have often quite truthfully revealed that the months of February, March and April 2006 are completely lost to me. I haven't the slightest recollection of what happened during that time unless I look at my own blog. But here was someone who did not suddenly become a toddler mom six months ago who STILL doesn't have any sense of time. I'm off the hook!
Even weirder, I had a profound sense of "this is your life" as I replied, "Actually, you're not even close to being the first to hear the details, because we've been home from China for six months." (Don't worry, I said this with a puckish smile, so it wasn't too rude.) Wow. How about that? I've been doing this gig for six months. Sometimes it seems like the blink of an eye. Other times it seems that my life came to a screeching halt and I started a totally new, fresh life, only with the same brain.
I also had a funny conversation at "My Gym" this week. A gal whom I (correctly) suspected was Chinese was playing with her daughter in the "holding pen" when I came in early. "How old is she?" she asked. I told her. And then, just as casually, "Is your husband Asian?"
I've been getting this question a lot recently. And often from Asians. Which I find really interesting. For one thing, it's kind of a direct and personal question to ask someone with whom you don't even have a nodding acquaintance. Also, it makes me want to ask, "Would that be your guess, or is it just because I'm here?" When I said, "No, she was adopted from China," she widened her eyes and said "Ohhhhh." Short silence. Then, "That must have been exciting!" "Which part?" I asked. I felt strangely liberated from normal social propriety. "You must have gone there," she clarified. "Yes," I agreed, "that was very exciting."
We ended up talking for some time about the meaning of Jarrah's Chinese name (she asked what it was) and how it has always confused me that it's a comparitive with no comparison. "Mei" is "beautiful," and "Ruo" is "as if or resembling," which always makes me think, "as beautiful as WHAT?" Turns out there is some sort of implied literary reference to a goddess that people in China would instantly recognize. That was pretty cool.
I am fascinated by the conversations that have suddenly become an ordinary feature of my daily life. For instance, if Jarrah were my biological daughter, I wouldn't be approached by Asian moms who are curious about her, or at least not Asian moms in particular. (One day at Balboa Park, a gal peered in Jarrah's stroller and asked, "Is she Korean?" She herself was Korean, and adopted. She introduced us to her daughter, who did look a bit like Jarrah.) I enjoy these conversations, most of the time. They make me feel more integrated with the world, or something. I don't really have the words for it. Maybe someday I will.
Friday, August 18, 2006
On Sunday, we attended our first FCC (Families with Children from China, a community organization with chapters in many cities) event with an actual child. For over a year, we have observed Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival and whatnot as a "waiting family," and don't get me wrong, it was always a warm and welcoming experience. But actually marching in the "Parade of Provinces" behind the Chongqing sign with our sweet little girl waving her Chinese flag was something else. The venue, Poinsettia Park in Carlsbad, was exactly the same as last year, and I was amused by my shift in perspective: as soon as we arrived, Jarrah was off like a shot for the playground. What's more, I knew this is exactly what she would do. My amusement stems from the fact that last year I wouldn't have described the park as even having a playground, since it totally escaped my notice.
Later that afternoon, I got the bold and ambitious idea to wash both David's and my cars by hand, and Jarrah thought this was a fine plan indeed. At first, she just wanted to dunk her arms into the suds, but after some careful study, she decided that she would join me in scrubbing the dirt off David's car. She, however, decided to use the wheel brush, but not on the wheels. Ouch--poor car. For a one-year-old, she was surprisingly adept at this sort of heavy labor, which is leading me to all kinds of sinister ideas.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Jarrah has been quite lovely this week; I guess those monster teeth have made their debut.
We did have a lot of fun last night accompanying Paul, Mary, Joy and some of their family to Legoland for the first time. Jarrah was a big fan of the toddler water area, where she enjoyed being smacked in the face by stealth underground fountains. Water was the theme of the evening, as we also had time for two boat rides, little and big. The little one wended its way through a brook upon whose banks cavorted fairy tale characters comprised of Legos, and Jarrah was sure to point to each one and announce "Whoa." so we didn't miss anything. The big boat toured the Lego lagoon, and would have had some spectacular views of such Lego creations as the Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower...if there had been any light to see them by. But I guess there's something about the motion of a boat that pleases Jarrah, because she perched on David's lap with rapt attention the whole time.
Earlier this week, we returned to the Birch Aquarium for the first time since our first trip in March. She enjoyed it just as much, but I felt a bit wistful watching her tear through the exhibits at a sprint and haul herself onto high viewing platforms without my help. Our little girl is growing up so fast! The last time we were there, she could barely walk, and tended to fall over every few steps. Now I just followed behind at a safe distance. She even understood the docent's instructions to "please touch the sea cucumber with only one finger," though I thought it a more vigorous finger than the soft little cucumber probably desired.
Last Friday, the three of us took a tour of a Jewish preschool in our neighborhood which we've heard good things about. Jarrah went right into the classroom and pulled up a chair, and would still be there now, coloring with the other children, if we hadn't gently (and then with increasing firmness) announced our intention to go home. The director spent a lot of time with us and answered all my questions in a comforting way. I was especially pleased to hear about (and then see for myself) the school's cultural diversity, since Jarrah will have plenty of opportunity to feel different in her life without also standing out like a sore (but cute) thumb in preschool. She is not actually eligible for admission until she turns two, but she and I will be attending a "Mommy and Me" version of the program once a week this fall, and I hope that will also ease her transition to two half-days by herself starting in January.
This morning I watched Jarrah pretending to mop the floor and was astonished at how slim and willowy she has become in six months. She isn't skinny by any means, but her thighs, once dimpled and puckered and rolled, are simply full, and her belly no longer juts into the next room. She's grown nearly three shoe sizes in six months, and all her pants are now clamdiggers. Her hair almost covers her eyes in front, but I have yet to clip it back because it's so insouciantly stylish the way it is. A friend said, "She's not a baby anymore--she's a little girl." Oh, let's not be o'er-hasty: she's a baby, alright. She's my baby.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
You may remember my glowing post about Nicole, the magical Craigslist babysitter. She was away on a road trip (ah, road trips! those were the days!) for a couple weeks and lo, we suffered mightily. At least I did. Now she is back, and if all goes well, she is going to hang with Jarrah every Wednesday afternoon for 4-5 hours.
And how did I spend this precious block of time? In the most frivolous ways possible, of course. I went to lunch, and ate something complicated. (Soup!) I read an entire magazine. I did a couple errands. I drove over to Hillcrest because I vaguely remembered hearing about some fabulous new store where you can get a massage with only two hours notice but I didn't remember what it was called. (Funny, I've already forgotten! But I have the brochure. :)) I went to the gym and worked out for a long time, followed by a long, leisurely stretch. Ahhhhhh. I showered. I shopped for clothes. And the grand finale was browsing for books, followed by a coffee with another ENTIRE magazine. Do I know how to enjoy myself or WHAT?
Now came the moment of truth. The afternoon had left me relaxed to just above coma level, but how had Jarrah felt about it? She had been trustingly asleep when I left. I walked in with my teeth gritted slightly. No one met me at the door. Eventually Jarrah appeared, resplendent in just a diaper. She and Nicole had been swimming. She was glowing and smiling and told me a long, complicated story that sounded something like, "Nicole is awesome! We had fun! I kicked a ball! I threw Elmo in the pool! I kicked another ball! Watch, I'll do it again! Did I mention Nicole is awesome? And she didn't check her e-mail the whole day!"
It was the icing on the cake, Readers. And I savored how sweet it was.
Friday, August 04, 2006
The first week, I fell in love with the program simply because the room where it's held is air-conditioned and has padded chairs. Although a bus full of preschoolers descended, the chaos was held in check by a single directive from the head teacher: "If a single one of you gets off your butt, we're all leaving." She was sitting right next to me, but she didn't even raise her voice to say it, and it worked like a charm.
That week, a balding, sweaty gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt whose accent bespoke New York origins presented a ventriloquist act, interspersed with self-deprecating jokes about his own big nose and smelly armpits (delivered by his dummy, natch) that had the kids falling over in hysteria. Jarrah seemed perplexed by the act itself, but she adored interacting with the laughing and clapping children, and timed her own responses to match theirs. There was only one moment of notable trauma, and that's when the ventriloquist chucked his first dummy (the alter-ego one) behind the screen to move on to the stuffed alligator, and Jarrah decided she needed to know where the dummy went. She ran across the stage, as it were, and ignored the Wizard's advice to not look behind the curtain, and there she must have seen the dummy lying face down with a stake in his back because her reaction was instantaneous. She went from curious to sobbing in under a second. I felt a bit bad about it, but I laughed pretty hard.
Last week we had a juggler. He, too, looked a bit travel-worn, but he was very nice and a good juggler. He made the children scream with his bad jokes and cringe-worthy puns. At this point I was starting to get the idea that middle-aged men with an "act" who make their living on the road are a little bit like Adam. At a certain point they were ejected from their Garden of Eden in the Catskills for partaking of the forbidden pickled herring, and now they are forced to wander the earth getting children to laugh at their noses. It's really quite poignant, if you stop to ponder it.
Today's performer, though, seemed to be resisting her fate. Either that or she was out to disprove my entire dissertation (which, to give myself a free plug, attempts to demonstrate that male dominance in Catskills humor has been overstated, since women were even more visible, but subversive, performers in that culture.) Either way, the results were hilarious.
Jarrah and I arrived 15 minutes early, to meet up with Lisa and Anton. Dashing inside to secure some seats, I found a diminuitive lady with a gray bob and a beret, and a low table covered with worn stuffed animals, lolling their squashed heads in varying directions. She was in the middle of telling a small cluster of attendees, in a disappointed tone, that the program was not set to begin until 10:30. "Would you like us to leave?" asked a mom, more obligingly than I would have. Just as the beret lady was saying, "Yes, that would be nice," I butted in--I wasn't about to go hang out in the parking lot. "There's a busload of kids right behind us," I announced, and on cue they begin pouring through the doors. "Well, that tears it," the lady announced. "Now I don't have time to rehearse." Um, well.
Next, Anton went to go pay his respects to the stuffed animals, which seems a sound course of action for a 2-year-old. Jarrah would have trotted right after him but she has a peculiar aversion to plush toys. "The children are allowed to look at my animals, but they are not allowed to touch them," the lady announced in a high, flutey voice, and Lisa and I hid our faces so she didn't see us smiling.
A moment later, the room was packed with kids, and our host, who had introduced herself as "Miss Mary," was getting nervous. "Excuse me," she announced, pointing at a little boy right in the middle, "I'm going to need a teacher to remove that. It's just going to be disruptive." At the end of her finger, I could see the culprit: a stuffed tiger. Apparently, her animals have it in their contract rider that no competition is allowed in the venue.
Before I could recover from my agog state, Miss Mary began lifting her hands in the mode of an evangelical preacher, and sing-songing "When I do this, what do you think I want you to do?" There was no response. I think the children were similarly agog. "That's right," she continued, "I want you to rise from your bottoms. So, go on then: Rise!" They did. Without warning, she lifted a hand as if she were about say the pledge and shouted "Chest!" Then she touched her head and shouted "Nut!" (You got that right, sister.) Whereupon followed a lot of complex instructions to keep touching various body parts, always returning to the "Chest!" and "Nut!" regions. Something about this must have been funny to children because they were laughing a bit now, though not as uproariously as when the ventriloquist's dummy called him stupid, or when the juggler juggled the audience member's sneakers.
Anton and Lisa were already out in the hall, since he was understandably miffed about the inaccessibility of the stuffed animals, and now Jarrah was giving me the stink eye as if to say, "Are you going to make me stay here and touch my nut for an HOUR?" So we left. We all went to the park and had a lovely time with the slides and sand. Lisa and I did wonder, though, why exactly Miss Mary chose a profession that brought her in such close contact with children.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
I am proud to say that Jarrah was a trouper. We had been warned (thanks, Mary and Paul!) to bring her booster seat, and that kept her handily contained while she slurped and snacked and stared at the zooming car races for nearly 20 minutes of "I can't believe how well this is going." Then, quite reasonably, she lifted her hands for the one "baby sign" she knows: "All done!" That cracked me up because it was so sensible, but of course we weren't actually going anywhere for a long time.
There were a couple interludes when David or I walked her around the lobby or into other theatres (at one point she was sitting on my lap in the front row [stadium] of My Super Ex-Girlfriend which gave the audience, if they were interested, a birds-eye view of her falling out of my lap and rolling down the sticky, sloping floor until I could catch up to her, throw her over my shoulder and beat a hasty retreat. Yet another one of those moments when I think I'm going to get reported. ;)
But amazingly, she seemed to grow more engrossed as the movie progressed. She started recognizing some of the star cars and pointing to them, and most painfully adorable of all, she started exclaiming "WHOA!" whenever a car whizzed by. And, for reasons inexplicable but so cute it hurt, she clapped and shouted, "YAY!" when Lightning McQueen "did the right thing" in the big race. I won't tell you what that was in case you plan to see it, but suffice to say the moment pivoted on an ethical dilemma seemingly beyond her ken.
And we even made it through the credits, which, as anyone who knows us knows is deeply important in this family. When you toss that into the mix, I'd have to rate the experience an unqualified success.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
We weren't really sure what to expect, other than burgers and a bounce house, but were pleased to see a cozy--rather than teeming--crowd upon our arrival at Party Pavillion A. No sooner had we alighted from the car (our recalcitrant non-nappers having grabbed only a few winks apiece) but we spotted the famous Josh and Lily, the couple who founded CCAI and something akin to celebrities in my eyes, since I'd only previously encountered them in the promotional DVD and our embarkation "conference call" a week before our trip. It was strangely thrilling to see them in person; I got quite tongue-tied.
Right away, a nice little girl asked our name and returned with a goodie bag for Jarrah, including a magic wand (every little girl needs one!) and a bendy-armed pig. It also had a commemorative t-shirt, which you can see Jarrah and Joy wearing in the photos. Their previous ensembles were orange with Big Stick, anyway. (Jarrah did not understand popsicles exactly; she liked eating hers, but seemed confounded by the stick, preferring to grip the ice bit in her fist. She kept turning it upside-down to examine the stick, with an expression that said, "What's the connection between this cold yummy and a piece of wood? Couldn't they just have made the tasty part longer?")
Jarrah quickly departed for the jump-jump, but early forays left her weepy and limp when the leaping of other kids flung her from wall to wall like a lost sock. Later, she was a jump-jump champ, refusing to exit even though the terrain remained hazardous. I had a moment of profound emotion as I watched the beautiful little girls of varying heights through the rip-stop window, their hair flying. Jarrah was the smallest right then, and whenever she'd tumble head over teakettle, an older girl would reach out her hands and pull Jarrah to her feet in a way I found surprisingly gentle and sweet. I couldn't help thinking about how Jarrah would look like them some day, with long braids and skinny legs, and sound like them, too.
It's been nearly six months since we met Jarrah and she just turned 19 months old. Not enough time has passed for me to think of her outside the context of how I met her. We had our first post-placement visit this week (an educational aside: these social worker visits are required at six and twelve months post-placement for all China adoptions) and Jarrah spent her time alternately clinging to us like a life raft (suspicious that Loren might be a babysitter) and screaming because David put the kibbosh on her calling Australia with his cell phone.
A lot of "waiting families" attended the picnic, and I was reminded of how comforting it had been to interact with people who had already met their children, and were in fact living ordinary lives together, attending picnics with jump-jumps. These events were a way to ground ourselves during the mysterious and abstract process of paperwork and waiting, and now we were a part of that comfort for others. I probably babbled more than I should have to several nice couples about what they should bring, what to expect in China, and what their first few weeks with their child might involve. Like I'm some sort of expert now or something. ;)
We also had the good fortune of running into a family we had met at the Speaker's Bureau meeting where we first learned about CCAI in August 2004. Back then, they were sharing their journey to their completely adorable baby, Lea, who spent the meeting quietly toddling about the room, holding a beach ball bigger than her. Now Lea is three, tall and pretty, and resplendent in her pink sundress and jelly shoes. Mary and I both told this couple how much seeing Lea and her overwhelming cuteness had helped us make the decision to submit our applications.
Although we got back from China with enough time (about two weeks) to make it to this year's Chinese New Year celebration in San Diego, we were all too jet-lagged to contemplate it, so this picnic was our first official coming-out party as parents rather than "waiting family." It felt good, but more important, it felt completely natural; in fact, I didn't even think about our new status until we were already there. On the way up, I was much too involved retrieving dropped sippy-cups and locating lost Elmo phones to contemplate that I was now one of the people who had inspired me two years ago.
I was too busy being a regular ol' parent to think much about anything else.