Friday, October 26, 2012

Blinders off.

Our afternoons have become a lot more hectic now that Miss A is attending a new school.
A new school located across town.

Now when YH wakes up from his nap we hustle to get to Sweet Bub's school where we wait in the hallway for his class to file past at the end of the day. We swoop in and pull him out of line so that we can all pile into the car and battle traffic to get to Miss A's school in time for pick-up.

Despite the frenzied pace, YH loves to spend time at Sweet Bub's school.

There is often a large man there with his impossibly tiny baby, also waiting for an older sibling. The baby has sparkly eyes and her hair is usually in tiny twists punctuated by candy-colored barrettes. YH loves this baby and he loves to sit and watch her every move.

He also loves the large fish tanks that adorn the hallway and office of our school. He watches the aquatic plants sway in the movement of the water and turns to me and says "Mom! Mom, trees. Mom, trees wind."

When the pre-K kids come out of their classrooms and sit against the wall outside of the gym to wait for the bus, YH tries to sneak into line with them. He walks backwards up to the wall and carefully scoots down next to the last kid in line. He waves at the other kids and kicks his feet happily.

Any time a teacher or staff member stops to chat, YH checks their school ID. I have no idea how or why this started but he insists on inspecting the plastic id cards at close range. He scrutinizes the pictures and, when satisfied, releases the cords and watches the id zip back up towards the teacher's shoulder. One of the school's Special Ed teachers has placed a puppy sticker over his picture, just to delight and surprise YH.

YH feels comfortable at Sweet Bub's school.
Which, in part, is why I was rattled by an incident that occurred there yesterday afternoon.

As per our usual routine, I carried YH as we walked into school.
There was an SUV out front, parked in the loading only zone.
The windows were all rolled down.
There were four or five teenagers in the car, one of whom was smoking and dropping his ashes out of the window.
The music was booming.

YH heard the dance beat and started wiggling his arms in his signature move.

The kids in the car saw him and started laughing.

"Yo man, look at that chinese baby!"
"That chinese baby has glasses. Do those glasses help you see out of your chinese eyes baby?"
"Hey chinese baby: ching-chong-ching-chong"

And so on.

And as I heard their words my heart started pounding.
And my throat got hot.

And I stopped where I was, about ten feet from their car, and I bellowed.

"STOP. The words you are using, the things you are saying about MY SON are NOT acceptable. You need to stop RIGHT NOW."

And they did stop.
For a moment.

And then they said "Whatever, you effin b***."

And I continued my walk into the school and went immediately to the principal's office. Another parent had witnessed the incident and taken down the car's license plate. She followed me in to provide back-up for my account.

The administration moved quickly to identify the people involved and as I walked into the hallway, a staff member pointed out that the mother of the teens was walking towards us.

I stopped her and introduced myself.
I said, "Hi, my name is Nora and this my son. Your children, the ones in the car outside, just verbally assaulted us. They used racial slurs to insult my son."

The mom said, "Was it the black kid int he car? 'Cause he's not mine."

(No, no it wasn't.)
(and also: WOW.)

As we talked, the little girl at her side watched with widening eyes.
She piped up, "That baby??? They made fun of that baby?"
And her incredulity broke my heart again.

****                          ****

The school district police were called and I am awaiting an update from the principal.

I posted about this incident on the facebookery and got a lot of comments.
And it was interesting.

Because my friends who are white were mostly outraged on our behalf, and appalled that this had happened to a toddler.

And my friends of color were also outraged--but not surprised. Because each of them has their own history of similar taunts, similar incidents.

Birth certificates that list their race as "yellow".

This stuff is real, and it STILL happens. All over the country.
It happened in my small wealthy college town outside of Philadelphia. It happens in urban Texas. It happens in rural Vermont, beautiful Berkeley, and everywhere in between.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Five months.

It is morning.
YH sits at the dining room table, carefully scooping yogurt out of a bowl.
He selects an O with his thumb and index finger and places it on the tip of the spoonful of yogurt.

"Good moring O, good morning 'ogurt" he says, laughing out loud before popping the whole thing into his mouth.

He chews and says "Mmmmm! Mom! Mmmmm!"
There is yogurt on his forehead, and a tiny smudge of it on his glasses frames.
He smiles at me and lowers his spoon back into the bowl, ready to do it all over again.

This kid.
This kid is so full of joy.

After breakfast we head to his preschool. He attends two morning per week, in a class with seven other two-year olds. His teacher is sweet and kind, with a quiet gentle manner. YH *loves* school. He spends the car ride over listing all of his classmates names.

"Mom? Mom? 'Mmily. Ooown. Oz. Tom. 'liza. 'livva. 'Omi. Kaaaai. BEA!"

We open the door to his school and enter the lounge-y common area. Moms and babies are making good use of the sofas and comfy chairs, chatting before heading out to their cars and bikes. YH makes a beeline for whatever baby is closest and leans over the infant.

"Hey baby! Good morning baby! Tickle tickle.."

 After his initial greetings are delivered to all of the babies present, he makes his way around waving to the adults and finally makes it into his classroom. We sign him in and wash his hands before heading outside to the play area. He finds a truck to push around and gives me a cheerful kiss goodbye.

I dawdle for several minutes before leaving. The leaving is still hard on me. (Not so much on YH, though he is always happy to see me when I come to pick him up.) I don't know what to do with myself when we're not together. More times than not I take the dog for a walk, belatedly remembering all the important errands I *should* have run.

YH has been with our family for five months now.
In that time he has made amazing (AMAZING!) strides.

When we first met, YH didn't play with toys so much. He picked up toys, and smashed them down again with great force. Or he pulled them apart bit by bit and discarded the shreds in an unsentimental heap. He moved with lightening speed from one destruction project to the next with few signs of engagement or imaginative play.

After a few weeks in our home he began to use toys for play. Pure play. He developed an interest in toy cars first. He would spin the wheels and zoom them around the house silently. Then his brother taught him to make zoom zoom noises and now we live within the deafening roar of a never ending speed trial.

But the toy cars don't just zoom around--oh no. Now they are nurtured by YH as well. Technically they are not allowed on the dining room table but YH will cautiously set one next to his placemat at snack time and say "Mom. Mom, car food mom. Car food." and pretend to feed the little car bites of cracker and GOOD LORD PEOPLE. How can I resist such a display of cute?

Last week he started making the cars talk to one another.
"Good morning orange car!"
"Good morning tractor!"

**followed by several strings of gibberish, punctuated by laughter.**

He makes the cars hide under a napkin and then pulls it off with glee yelling "Ta-DA!"

His language skills are hugely improved. He now speaks about 65-70 English words, mostly in two or three word sentences. I am probably the only human on the planet who can distinguish these 65 words--but still. We count them. Some of the words surprise me ('unbuckle' being a prime example). His receptive language skills are also vastly improved. He follows directions easily and delights in cleaning up and other daily routines.

One of my friends remarked on the Facebookery that it seems like there was a certain point in time when he started *smiling* in every picture that we took of him. She's right. After I read her comment I went back and clicked on each image, watching his tiny mug stare back solemnly at me through June, July, August, part of September...and then. Then the grins began. The big goofy grins, the sly smiles, the mugging for the camera. (Happy cry. Big giant ugly happy cry).

YH's tantrums have also changed recently. At the beginning of his time with us he would dissolve in tears or screams multiple times per day. He couldn't tell us what he wanted and we couldn't understand his desires. More importantly: we were not the droids he was looking for. The mere fact that he was hurt and sad and his best people--his favorite people--were thousands of miles away only added to his distress.

As his language skills have improved (and our toddler-mind reading skills have improved) the screaming-because-nobody-knows-what-I-need has lessened. I can read the signs of stress on his body before it escalates to tears. I know what times of day are hard for him, when he needs a snack before attempting a task, when rowdy play will be too much of a sensory overload for him. I can swoop him onto my lap and rock him back and forth while whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

He used to stiffen against me and put a forearm between his chest wall and my body when we would sit this way. He was ready to push free at a moment's notice. Now he wraps his arms around my back and gives my shoulder blades a few gentle pats as we rock. It always get to me--that he can softly thump out love to me, even while in the middle of a giant wailing fest. It's like he's saying, "Hey! This is rotten, isn't it? You're doing a good job mama."

Earlier this week he had the first tantrum I've seen that was very clearly a "Hello, I am two years old." tantrum (and not a grief tantrum, a life isn't fair tantrum). I told him to get the toy train off the table at breakfast. He looked at me and said "No." And then he tried it again, but this time with a raised voice,"NO! No. No. No. Noooooooooo." and he flung himself to the floor with dramatic flair.

And I have never been so happy to watch a two year old writhe and flop at my feet.

He's two. He's my baby and he's two.

 On November 30 we will drive to San Antonio to stand before a judge and legally cement our lifelong commitment to one another. We will dress in fancy clothes and go out for dinner afterwards. We will laugh and cry and at least two of us will fall asleep on the car ride home.

And the next morning we will wake up to forever.
I can't wait.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Scraping burnt toast

Do y'all watch Parenthood on NBC?

It's one of those shows that I officially watch "because there's nothing else on"-- but in reality I watch it because I love it. Some of the storylines make me groan out loud, and it is absolutely preposterous that any of those families can afford their homes in the Berkeley hills.

 I still love it.

Of course there is an adoption storyline: At the end of last season Julia Braverman and her husband accepted the placement of a 9 year old boy whose mother was incarcerated and had just terminated her parental rights.

The episode ended with an image of this small, terrified boy being welcomed from the dark night into the warm and modern home of his adoptive family. I rolled my disapproving eyeballs and my tiny cynic's heart clenched with visions of the rosy family that would be portrayed in episodes to come.

Here we go--I thought--another "happy ending" adoption story.

But I was wrong.

This season the character of Julia has said things out loud that many adoptive parents *think* or say only to one another. Things like "I don't think I love him yet." "This is so hard." "I can't do it all."

She is struggling. Her work is suffering. She is extending all of her resources to connect with her son. She is failing her biological child.

Her work colleagues react to her sudden unavailability with scorn and disdain. Her extended family members seem oblivious to the chaos that is her new reality, to the burden she is carrying.

She is burning the toast and scraping it like mad over the sink to get to any good part, any salvageable piece.

And man, do I get that.

We've been scraping a lot of toast in our house too. There have been hard times, times that no one else could see or understand unless they'd been through something similar.

The kicker of it all is that our son is relatively easy. He sleeps well, he naps consistently, he is a good eater and has a cheerful attitude. He loves his siblings and he is spontaneously affectionate with us, his parents.

When he tantrums he is easily comforted. His tantrums rarely last more than a few minutes. He is kind to our pets, if sometimes overenthusiastic in his demonstrations of love to them.

And yet it is *still* hard. It is hard to give every piece of yourself to a child new to your home and family. It is hard to spend every minute of the day alert and aware of the attachment process, ready to drop what you are doing at a moment's notice in order to help your new family member feel secure.

It is only recently that I wake up in the mornings feeling relaxed. For the past several months I would awaken with clenched fists, mentally filling the blocks of hours between dawn and YH's bedtime. I would grit my teeth and stiffen my body against the day--trying to block out the endless assault to my personal space that was about to being.

Ok, I just have to get through breakfast, then walking the big kids to school, some playtime, lunch and then it's naptime. I can do this. If we go to Target that will fill an hour...We can walk the dog and fill another hour...

I can do this. 

Now I wake up with fingers loosely curled, excited about the activities YH and I might experience together. What will he notice on our morning walk? What new words will he use? Should we see if his best bud Jacob is available to play?

It's a subtle difference, but an important one. Starting the day with my defenses up was exhausting and contributed to the feeling that I could never win, I could never get caught up. In retrospect I am sure I suffered from a mild case of post-adoption depression. PAD is real, and like post-partum depression it can be crippling.

Add unexpected illness, the death of a beloved pet (our tripod beagle passed away two weeks ago), conflict with loved ones, changing schools for my eldest, juggling work and sport's easy to feel overwhelmed. Easy to feel suffocated and trapped by your circumstances.

I feel lucky that I am able to see the past few months for what they were; that my family is safe and whole, that my youngest child is healthy and so well-loved.

I think our days of scraping the burnt toast are lessening--and I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.