Wednesday, November 6, 2013


YH is attending a new preschool this year. This new school is right across the street from his big brother's school, where YH attended PPCD last year (before the school district did us wrong and discontinued the program, grumble curse grumble).

And so, each morning I gather up my two littlest ducklings and we happily march the mile or so to school together. It is lovely. YH feels so proud each morning when puts on his backpack, and eagerly asks if today we will go to his new school. Will we, mama? Will I see my *new* friends? Hooray!

(His enthusiasm for new people, new situations, and new experiences is astounding--this child knows how to greet the day and set out to conquer the world)

We start by walking Sweet Bubs to his school, even though we reach YH's school first. I do this in part because the act of walking with a full backpack strapped to his core counts as "heavy work", a therapeutic type of activity meant to give YH the added sensory input that his little body needs to feel regulated. For YH, more sensory input results in a longer attention span and better awareness of his body in space--we try to front-load his days with as much "heavy work" as we can.

We also take this route in part because YH is so well-loved by the staff and students at Sweet Bub's school. We greet the safety patrol officers (5th and 6th grade students who wear yellow vests of honor as they hold the doors open and raise the flag) and then amble down the hallway to morning assembly. At the door to the gym, where assembly is held, YH sees some of his teacher friends from the previous year. They love on him and ask questions about his day. They let him pick out a book to read from the lending library shelf outside the gym door and ask what color toy car is in his backpack (never is he without a toy car).

We hug Sweet Bubs goodbye and stroll hand-in-hand across the road to YH's school.

At the entrance YH eagerly shouts "Mom! See the babies?"

To the left of the main door is a set of french doors that lead to the baby room.

The baby room is YH's new favorite place in the world. He eagerly presses his face against the glass and peers inside, trying to see how many babies are there. The babies crawl over to the door and he crouches low to wiggle his fingers at them and coo "Hi baby! Hi!"

Sometimes the baby room caregiver will open the doors and bring one of her little charges over to us. YH gently tickles the baby's toes when this happens, and says "Ok baby. Have a good day baby!"

***                         ***

I've mentioned before that one of the greatest gifts YH's foster family gave us/him was a tiny jump drive with thousands of pictures and videos from his first two years of life on it. The on-going importance of this gift astounds me.

He loves to watch the videos and look at the pictures. We do this together--sometimes just me and him, sometimes with me and the big kids. We laugh together, we talk about what is happening in each video, we identify the other people in the video.

And always we end with: "Wow! Baby YH is loved by so many people!"

And upon hearing those words YH shouts out "YEAH! SO LOVED!"

***                      ***

Kids with YH's background of exposure to alcohol are often described as lacking empathy. They can grow into cruel children, who torture animals and other kids with no remorse. In preparing to parent YH this particular expression of his congenital brain trauma scared me the most.

What would we do if he was affect-less?
How would we handle it if he hurt the least among us?

I am thankful that *so far* we do not need to put these scenarios into practice.

I watch him gently pet one of the kittens we are looking after short-term (don't ask!), or lay his head against one of our dogs, or hand a dropped sock to an infant in a stroller--and I am aghast at his capacity to nurture others. To reach out in love to the world around him.

YH, you're pretty amazing.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Maine Part II: The House

Our house in Maine sits on a small island located 6 miles off the coast of a larger, heavily touristed island.  Our island has one grocery store, one take-away restaurant, one tea room, two hotels, and not much more outside entertainment. Most events center around two community institutions: the Odd Fellows Hall (which holds a pancake breakfast every other Sunday) and the library (which screens a film every other Friday and hosts lectures). 
If you are looking for the kitsch and bright lights of Bar Harbor, this is not your kind of place. (It is exactly *my* kind of place.)
Our home sits on a little spit of land called City Point. Our front yard looks out over the harbor, and our back yard consists of woodland that rolls up to the edge of Ghost Hollow. The hollow becomes a treacherous mud flat at low tide—local lore has it that a woman “from away” got caught trying to take a short cut across its deadly muck long ago. She died with her babe in her arms and both are now said to haunt the flats; you can hear them howl in the dark of night. (This just the right kind of ghost story to tell your children on your first night in Maine—together you all shiver and listen for the wailing, deliciously scared to bits.)
The house itself dates back at least to the 1860’s, when it was owned by the Gott family. It has been in my husband’s family for over 50 years. His maternal grandfather purchased it decades ago and it is his initial that is carved out of the shutters. When asked where we are staying we need only say “You know the house with the ‘H’ on the shutters?” for people to nod in recognition.
 At present, the whole exterior of the house is in desperate need of a paint job. White paint stands up in curling bristles along the surface of each wall. This makes the house look slightly out-of-focus, blurred at the edges. The distinctive shutters-carved-with-an-H are also shaggy with neglect. They flag each window in proud but downtrodden pairs. You can see through their top-most layer of evergreen paint to a middle layer of red, and in some places an even older sliver of sky blue paint peeks through. 

Inside, the house is all warm wood and a soothing mixture of Danish modern and mid-century furniture. The interior is lovely and cozy and it makes my heart sing.
The kitchen houses a stately woodstove—once used to cook on and heat the home, now used to display little baskets filled with sand dollars and other beach treasures. The living room and one upstairs bedroom also host small woodstoves, although we only ever use the one in the living room.  The living room woodstove becomes a beloved friend on cold and wet days.  The dogs and kids stretch out in front of its warmth and watch the logs burn throughout the day, pausing here and there to read a book or sip hot cocoa. 
Reading and napping in front of the woodstove

The main feature of the living room is a long window seat, situated below a picture window that overlooks the harbor. It is maybe the most perfect spot in the whole world—equally captivating on days when the fog clings thickly to the water as it is on a crisp and sunny afternoon. We have no tv in the Maine house, because all the images we ever need unfold before this window. Sometimes we find small snails in the grass outside and place them on the window pane to see which one will reach the top first--this is as close as we get to screen time.

I feel irrationally protective of this house.
Over the course of his lifetime my husband has lost most of the members of his immediate family. He has no mother, father, grandparents or sister; life has been cruel this way. The house is one of the only ties to his family past that remains. Its solid wood frame and carved trim, its barn wobbling on a rock foundation, the crabapple tree shading the back yard, the meadow of wildflowers stretching back into the woods—all are a monument to those he has loved. 
As with many married couples, our relationship is unbalanced when it comes to the amount of time we spend with each side of the family. My parents and one sibling have moved to our city from the Northeast; we see them at least once a week and my kids spend a ton of time with them. We spend less time with my husband’s family, in part because they live far away. It’s not fair, and it’s something that weighs heavily on me. 
I can't magically cast my net and reel in all the family members we love; draw them close to our home and keep them by our sides. And so instead I devote myself to showing my husband's family house how important it is to us. How important his family is to us, how dedicated we are to preserving this special place.
I start by repainting the shutters. 
The new paint color is called “Ocean Floor” and it matches the blue-grey of the harbor perfectly. I want to do the job right--to make it last for more than just one harsh winter. I scrape, and sand, and sweat and primer and paint until my shoulders ache. I endure endless deer fly bites that make my hands swell to twice their normal size. I use the tiniest paintbrush I can find to reach the inside corners of the carved “H” in the center of each shutter. I apply a second coat of the finish paint, using great care to fill each divot and valley in the wood grain. 
I think about my husband’s family--his mother, mostly-- with every stroke of the brush.
Each summer that we visit the island I feel my mother-in-law’s presence more strongly. She died 7 years ago, and our family grief is still strong.  My mother-in-law was beautiful and elegant; a skilled listener with an appetite for good books, world travel and delicious food.
 I flip through cookbooks in the Maine house and find her script next to certain recipes. “Too watery—use less tomatoes” She recorded the date(s) that she tried each dish, and the names of who she cooked it for. I find my parents’ names next to “Scallops with peppers”; clearly a favorite of hers as she made it four times for four different guests. Several recipes bear notations that read "Want to try" or "Try this next!!!", and I wonder if she ever did get the chance to make that blueberry crumble.
Inside the back of one cookbook I find an old shopping list: butter, salt, garlic, wine, lamb, saffron. My MIL’s tastes were exquisite and I imagine her shaking her head at our cupboards and the many boxes of mac-n-cheese contained therein. 
The list includes items that I find oddly tender: “Sean’s fishing poles” , “Sean’s sleeping bag” Evidence of my husband as a child; his needs and interests so similar to those of our own kids. I wish she were here with us. She would take great delight in each of the three kids—marveling at my daughter’s appetite for books and laughing as the boys tumble in the grass. 
We tell the kids stories about her as we crisscross the island on our daily adventures:
"This is the cabin where we stayed before this house belonged to your Oma; back when it belonged to Morfar."
"Here is where Oma used to look for mushrooms, and over there is where she showed me to collect sea spinach."
"Oma used to swim laps here. She would go the whole width of Fine Sand Beach--back and forth."
"Every summer Oma would allow herself *one* Harbor Bar--just like this one--as a treat."
We look at old pictures, and we visit her grave (in a small cemetery on the island, next to those of her daughter and her parents). We leave her offerings of perfect sand dollars, small purple shells and wildflowers collected from the meadow next to our house.
In her honor we will restore the house. We will make it solid and proud again, and fill it with beautiful memories. We will seal the siding with thick coats of paint and we will fortify our hearts with sunshine and sea salt--honoring traditions old and new.
We'll keep coming back and we'll keep the family history alive.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Maine Part I: The Journey North

On the ferry at last

Now that my husband and I are both on teacher schedules, we can spend a good portion of the summer at our family home on a small coastal island. We joke about being intentionally poor so that we can do this; that the low salaries and persistent financial worries are all part of the price levied for our getaway en famille.
 And so, playing the part, I take perverse pleasure in telling our acquaintances that we summer in Maine.
“Oh! How lovely!” they exclaim, with raised brows.
To be sure, the images raised by our announcement are lovely: Dinners of lobster-in-the-rough enjoyed at sunset. Weathered summer chalets in Winterport. Children in striped boatneck tops playing on the front lawn.Parents softly chuckling as their kids launch sea kayaks into the water.
“Race you to the other side of the harbor Mitzi!”
If only it were so. No, our journey is nothing like the manicured joy mirrored in the pages of an LL Bean catalog.
Our journey beings with four smelly and sweaty days spent crammed into an ancient Eurovan: two nervous adults, three whining children and two large dogs.
To keep it interesting the universe adds an unidentifiable warning light that pops up on the dash with a shrill “beeeep”. Its appearance confounds and terrifies us as we hurtle through the mountains of Tennessee.  We frantically flip through the owner’s manual. “It could be the brake system! Or the airbags! Or maybe the tire pressure?”  I am convinced we are going to die. Or be forever stuck in Bucksnort, TN.
The elder children bicker incessantly and tears are shed anew every few hours. Not one to be outdone the baby makes his own displeasure known, at astounding volume. By day three we are shoving every electronic device known to man into the back seat in an attempt to get them all to stop shrieking
We intend to camp each night, half of us sleeping in the van and the other half ensconced in a tent purchased hastily from Target the day before our departure.  On our first night we roll into a campground in Little Rock just as night is falling.  Our campsite is crowded in the back of the lot, between a host of RVs.
My husband struggles to put the tent up in the dark as I sit miserably at a picnic table with the kids and the two bewildered dogs. It is unbearably humid and the mosquitoes are swarming us. Somehow, the temperature rises even as the sun sets. I begin to think Arkansas hates us. We have neglected to buy bug spray, a flashlight or even water. We are dunces. We are doomed.
I am the first to speak aloud what each adult hopes the other will say, “Is it too late to find a hotel?” We move with lightening speed to deconstruct our flagging tent and hustle everyone back into the car. It is close to 11pm when we finally settle in the sweet air-conditioned splendor of a motel by the highway.  I sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, as penance for our cowardice.
Each morning my husband folds his long frame into the driver’s seat and hunkers down, ready to annihilate 500 miles as quickly as possible (given his noxious cargo). By the end of our long days my belly bears red marks, carved there by the combined forces of 8 hours straight driving and too many dinners hastily gobbled at Sonic. I curse my jeans.
It’s not a glamorous venture, this summering in Maine.
But it is so worth it.
Safe and sound in the hotel room

****         ****
When we finally arrive at the ferry terminal we are giddy with anticipation.
It is one of those freak New England heat waves, where the temperature climbs to near-90 and everyone goes beserk. Oh how we Texans mutter “Bless your hearts” when our northern friends do this; your “heat waves” are adorable.
We park our van in one of the three “reserved” spots at the front of the ferry line. We unload kids and dogs and clamber down to the water, where a small sliver of rocky beach awaits. The kids throw rocks into the waves and the dogs jump in and out of the tide, sniffing the seaweed wildly.
Suddenly, we hear someone calling. Calling to us? Yes! It is my dad and my sister; they are booked on a later ferry but came early in hopes of catching our fleet before we board. They join us on the beach and the kids stumble over one another in their rush to tell my dad all about our trip so far.  We listen to my sister’s tale of her recent move and we make plans to reconvene on the island that evening.
It is time: the ferry pulls into the terminal and we rush to get back into our car. An attendant guides our vehicle onto the deck and we are sandwiched amongst other cars, belonging to islanders and “summer people” alike. Our windows are down and the bite of the sea breeze comes barreling in to whip through our hair.
We’re 40 minutes away from our second home.
He loves lupines.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

One year.

One year ago the little boy in the picture above joined our family forever.
In the months since he has grown two inches and gained three pounds. He is still recognizable as the little boy in the picture above--but oh so much has changed.

Today his eyebrows remain just as wonderfully fuzzy, and his cheeks are still endlessly kissable. He is still sturdy of frame, with broad shoulders and a sculpted waist. His feet remain wide and plump, tethering him to the earth. His head is still slightly lumpy, though I notice it less and less. He has a dark blue birthmark on his right upper arm, and two more on his lower back.

It kind of kills me to look at that picture. To see my son's small face so closed off, so sad. To see his shoulders hunched in defeat, his mouth soft and tugged by sorrow.  He is leaning away from his papa's hand, trying to get away from this new set of circumstances. He looks bewildered and broken-hearted.

And to my memory this photo was taken on a good day! The night before YH slept tucked in my arms. He woke up and ate a bowl full of berries and cereal for breakfast. We played in the front yard and filled up the baby pool for him to splash in. We had fun!

And yet.

And yet the camera captured this moment of quiet pain. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to him to have his whole world disappear. To be plunked down in the middle of Texas in the bosom of a well-intentioned-but-generally-clueless family. It astounds me that he had the strength to grieve and begin the healing process. That he was able to begin to trust and love us.

****                                  ****

YH and I talk a lot about love these days. Mostly about how much I love him and how that will never ever change.

Throughout the day he will stop what he is doing and ask me to tel him a YH story. This is a special type of story that I made up just for him.

We sit down facing each other on the sofa and lean in so that our foreheads are touching. He wiggles in excitement as I begin.

"Once upon a time there lived the most wonderful, smart, brave, silly and lovely three year old boy in the whole wide world--and his name was YH."

(we say his name together, and he collapses in giggles after saying it)

"One day YH woke up early and ate bacon and eggs for breakfast. He gathered up his favorite toy cars and kissed his mama good-bye before heading off to school. While he was at school he learned new things and played with his friends. And the whole time his mama loved him, even though they were apart."

"At then end of the school day his mama came back. Because she promised she would. And she was so happy to see YH that she gave him a big squeezy hug. And they went home and ate lunch together. And YH's mama loved him, because she loves him forever and ever and that will never change. The End."

The details vary with each incarnation, but the framework remains the same.
YH loves these stories and never tires of hearing them.
I love that he loves listening to them.
It is such a simple way to share with him how important he is to me, and to our whole family.

****                                        ****

I haven't seen the look of quiet pain on YH's face for quite some time now. That doesn't mean that the pain isn't there--just that he doesn't wear it prominently in each picture.

Photos taken now are more likely to capture his wide grin as he slings an arm around his brother, or proudly displays his climbing prowess.

This past year was just the beginning for YH and me. Each day I wake up a little more in love with him, and a little more eager to see what we'll discover about one another.

I love you YH, and that will never change.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Written on the body.

My youngest child is not a cuddler.

He is not the type of toddler who melts into your embrace, content to lie still against your heartbeat for hours at a time. He does not sit still in your lap, or fall asleep on your shoulder. More often than not, if he comes to hug you he does so at full speed and with maximum impact. An embrace often comes with a headbutt or an elbow to the ribs--I willingly accept the collateral bruises as part and parcel of his love.

Hugging YH is not for the faint of heart.

He will let you pick him up and hold him upside down, or swing him in a circle. He will laugh and ask for "More! More! More!" My husband can get YH to assume a perfect plank position, and then use his little body as a weight for bicep curls and shoulder presses. YH loves this and giggles throughout his daddy's workout regimen.

But he will rarely allow himself to be held in a cradle position. To be snuggled and swaddled and treated like an infant.

Of course all the attachment books warn me that this is a BAD SIGN. That we should be working daily to change this, so that he can feel secure in a vulnerable position. But I will not force it; I will not love him in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

The exception to the cradle is that YH will tolerate that position as long as I am actively rocking him. Not in a rocking chair, but with the large swinging motions of my tired arms. When I do this he relaxes and is able to maintain eye contact. My shoulders burn and my hip aches as I pivot back and forth----but he is happy.

This week YH started initiating "gentle" touches. We've been a family for almost a year now--and this week marked the first time he absentmindedly reached for my hand while watching a video. Just to hold it, just to rest his fingers on mine. Halfway through the video one little finger started to explore. It traveled lazily across the tendons on the back of my hand, stopping to appreciate the texture of my skin.

At the end of the video I cupped my other hand over his and he looked at me in surprise, almost unaware of what his limb had been up to.

This week he has asked to prolong our morning embrace. Usually he sits patiently and somewhat stiffly in my arms when I scoop him out of his bed. But this week he has grabbed me back with equal intensity, and twice even said "Stay Mama, stay" when I went to stand up. I do stay--of course I stay. We have been late to school every day this week and it has been SO.WORTH.IT.

In the quiet hours, when YH and the other kids are sleeping, I re-play these new behaviors. I puzzle over them and sometimes let my thoughts project a hopeful future. A future where these gentle gestures become the norm, where our love deepens and instead of counting bruises from awkward collisions I am counting kisses from my littlest beloved.

As part of the seemingly-endless-ever-changing process of untangling what is attachment related, what is exposure to alcohol related, and what is just innate to YH we are about to begin another round of testing.

This next series of evaluations will focus on his sensory needs. The crashing, the dramatic flopping, the bouncing, the tooth grinding and mouth explorations--they all point to sensory seeking behaviors. It is our hope that through the implementation of OT and a rich sensory diet (see here: we can help YH find comfort in the day-to-day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How I ruined it.

On Thursday of last week YH, Miss A and I found ourselves at a theme park in a neighboring city, getting ready to film a commercial. (I know. Whaaaa? It is a long story.)

As it turned out, things were running on a schedule different from the one we had prepared for and Miss A was required to be on-set, waiting, until after midnight. I am sure I don't need to tell you that this is far from the normal schedule of events for any of my children, much less the toddler.

And so I found myself "parenting with connection" a heavily over-stimulated, dysregulated, neurologically compromised three year old in full view of a few hundred strangers for over THIRTEEN CONSECUTIVE HOURS. It took every scrap of energy and focus that I had.

My friend Anna talks about "steering into the skid" when parenting our kids from hard places. By this she means reaching out to your child in the midst of the hardest times, the hardest behaviors, instead of closing him/her out. This takes so much work! It is much easier, and less taxing, to send a child in the middle of tantrum to "the thinking step" than it is to get on his/her level and *engage* in the resolution of the hurt and icky feelings.

I try my hardest to steer into the skid whenever I can; and I steered into it big time on-set. In a way, it was beautiful. YH and I connected in a deeper way; of that I am sure. I met his every single need over the course of that day. I helped him find a quiet place when he needed to regulate. I engaged in creative play with him, I sang him his favorite songs, I carried him in the dark, I helped him find words for his frustrations.

His brain didn't let his body turn-off for one second. No nap. No falling asleep in my lap. He was set to "GO"; alert and tense every minute that we were in the new location. When we finally stumbled to our car in the deep of night, he fell asleep almost instantly.

I wish I could catalog for you the tiny gains in attachment we achieved that day: how he effortlessly sprawled across my lap, lying on his back and whining half-heartedly while staring into my eyes (this from a child who *never* lies fully prone in my arms). The way he would return to my side every few minutes, patting my cheek or back to say "Hey! I'm happy I found you right where I left you!" The way his anxiety behaviors stopped the moment I scooped him into my embrace, and the way his little body softened against mine.

I returned home exhausted, but marveling at our strengthened connection. I was thrilled that progress is still being made; that my patience extended long enough to meet YH where he needed it most.

I was proud of myself.
And we all know where pride goeth....

And so, the next morning I promptly wrecked it all.

You see, Miss A had an early call-time for the commercial so we slipped out of the house before YH awakened. Sean and Sweet Bubs were set to head to the beach for the weekend--with YH, of course, but not with his full knowledge of what would transpire. No one had taken the time to explain to him that Miss A and I would meet up with them later, after her work was done.

And so my lovely boy awoke later than usual, with a heart still sore from the re-knitting of the previous day, to discover that his mom and sister had disappeared.

And then he himself left the house! With a packed suitcase! And only his dad and brother! And they drove far away and set up house in a new condo! The new place smelled nothing like "home". The schedule was different. And mom and sister were missing!

Because he is a trooper, and because he has been through this loss before, YH flipped into "busy" mode. He swam with abundant energy in the pool. He powered through dinner and exploring the touristy souvenir shops. He ate ice cream with abandon.

At bedtime, he fought sleep. He cried and fussed and asked for me over and over.

I did not come.
I was not there when he woke up the next morning.
I was not on the beach, holding his hand in the waves.

The following night I *was* there. Miss A and I arrived (again) after midnight. We left minutes after wrapping the shoot and drove on lonely country roads to find our boys. My daughter and I tumbled into bed together and slept heavily until mid-morning, when the joyous stampede of little boy feet let us know the brothers were awake.

I walked out into the living room, overjoyed to see my sons, and was summarily given the cold shoulder by YH.

He was MAD.
With good reason.

And over the next hour he raged. He thrashed and screamed and fought my embrace. He cried and kicked and nothing made him happy. We sat together on the floor of the closet in the rented master bedroom. I rubbed his back and told him I was sorry he was angry. I told him I loved him and that I always come back.

And I waited.
And I beat myself up over not anticipating that this would happen.

Once YH had finished his tantrum, we went about our day together at the beach. We built sandcastles and splashed and ate in cheesy restaurants.

Did I really ruin the connection we had forged earlier in the week? No, I don't think so. But I did inadvertently test the boundaries of my son's burgeoning trust.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


When I was 21 and newly married I left behind my home and my husband to study in Madagascar. I spent a semester in Antananarivo, living with the world's most lovely host family. Each morning I would wake up and breakfast on milky coffee and bread with honey, or mofo gasy (sweet rice cakes).
I would kiss my host family on the cheeks, gather up my school things and walk outside to the "bus stop". The "bus stop" was really just a dusty junction at the top of our road where passengers would gather and wait for a "taxi be" (large van) to come transport us into town. I would queue up next to little old ladies wrapped in lambas (decorative white cloth, worn around the shoulders), men with baskets overflowing with chickens, stylish young women on their way to their office jobs.

I would stand and shift my weight from foot to foot, peering across the road at the hillside and its terrace of rice paddies. A zebu would hulk its way across the road and a line of children in uniforms would straggle past on the way to school.

All around me was noise.

Cars. Chickens. Mothers calling after their children. Men stopping to converse with their neighbors. Older women exchanging neighborhood gossip. A young man trying to flirt with my host sister. Kids on bicycles riding past and calling out to me "Vazaha!!!!!" (foreigner)

I knew just enough Malagasy to strain to decode all that was happening around me. In the classroom and at lectures we spoke French with our professors, and in my host family we defaulted to French (a second language for everyone in the home) in order to communicate. Thus I spent most of my day trying to decode the Malagasy syllables I heard and translate them into French.

Never had my brain been more limber, or more overworked.

At the end of each beautiful day I would collapse into my bed, the family cat (Baby) curled by my side. My mouth and ears would be sore from the effort of *hearing* and *being understood*, and I would fall into a deep sleep until daybreak--when the neighborhood rooster would dutifully wake me.

Lately I have been thinking about that kind of brain-tired a lot. That kind of mouth-fatigue and ear-exhaustion feels very familiar to me these days, as I work to communicate with YH.

My son has made huge leaps in his communication skills--but it is still active work to *hear* him. If we are driving in the car and he is "talking" to me from the backseat and the radio is playing and traffic is heavy on the highway--I need to really, really concentrate in order to decode what he is saying to me.

It is frustrating for both of us, as we try to make our hearts known in each other's language.

I have such empathy for his struggles to get his thoughts out in a way that the rest of the world can understand. I can see his lips purse and quiver as he searches for just the right sounds to get his meaning across. His fuzzy eyebrows knit over his tiny nose in concentration. There is a small intake of breath before he launches into:

"Mama! Baby owl. YH hold it, hold it baby owl."

He is thinking about the baby owl we found over the weekend, stuck in a knot of tree roots in our backyard. He is remembering how daddy picked it up, with heavily gloved hands, and how excited YH and his siblings were to watch the little bird's yellow eyes blink open and shut at them. He is remembering how at the time he asked to hold the owlet, to take a nap with it.

He is remembering this because we are behind a truck with an owl sticker on the bumper and he recognizes his wild friend in the dingy plastic image before him.

And if it were late rin the day, or if my brain was less limber, I might miss this chance to fully appreciate the wonder of his tiny brain. The glimpse into how he sees the world around him. A sliver of his own labor.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Change in season.

YH on the day we met

Spring has arrived in our city. Wildflowers are blooming, and the sun shines more birghtly each day. We've been swimming twice already and turned on the air conditioning once. We spend most of our days outside, chatting with neighbors or strolling through town. The jasmine on our front porch is getting ready to open, filling our home with its sweet scent.

It's a beautiful season in our corner of the world.

Spring has also arrived in our home. And with it comes the one year anniversary of YH joining our family. Feelings are blooming, and the memories sting more each day.

It's a painful season in our corner of the world.

For YH, this month is fraught with "traumaverseries". Intense memories or impressions of the big events that lead up to his separation from his foster family. The many doctors appointments. The trip to the embassy. The last dinner with his aunties. The last night with his foster brother, running wild in the living room while Hyung filmed him laughing and playing "peek-a-boo".

Walking down the street in his neighborhood in Seoul, a bag of shrimp chips in his hand. Sticking his little fist in the bag and cramming the treat in his mouth as he accompanied Appa on one last shopping trip. The dry taste of the strawberry cookies that they bought that night, in preparation for YH's long car ride away from the only family he had ever known.

These feelings and memories are expressed in different ways. Of course YH can't *tell* me "Hey I feel sad today because I am remembering this event."


Instead he has become more clingy, needing to touch me or be held at regular intervals throughout the day. Some of his anxious behaviors have escalated, and he is irritable. He cries. Just, cries. He wants to revisit the book we made that tells the story of how we became a family. He wants to see his grandparents every day, to check in on them and make sure they are there. He wants me to lie in bed with him and press my forehead against his as he falls asleep. At night he makes little moaning sounds. He sucks on his pillowcase when he wakes up, stuffing the fabric into his jaws.

When I am "helping parent" in his preschool classroom he becomes agitated. He does not like other children in my lap, or at my side. He flings his body around, crashing into things in search of a physical sensation big enough to match the turmoil in his little heart. We take a break and head out to a quiet space. He sits on my lap and stares into my eyes as we sing "Row, Row, Row your boat..." The rhythm of the words and the sweeping of our arms, hands clasped to one another, builds a protective cocoon around us.

We take a few steps back.

We are still a few weeks away from the traumaversary of the big hand-over.  The memories of that day are so bittersweet for *me*, I can only imagine how they feel for YH. For his foster family.

On the occasion of our first year together we will celebrate as a family--a beautiful family who loves one another and treats one another well. But we will also leave space for the sad feelings, the hurt feelings, the confused feelings. We will laugh when we need to and cry when we need to.

Monday, April 1, 2013


2013 is the year of "yes" for me. If an opportunity arises that challenges me to push my personal limits, I will say "yes". I will take it on, and I will succeed or I will fail--but I will take it on.

So far the Year of Yes has brought me unexpected joy. Opportunities falling from the sky and landing with a gentle "click" to fit next to one another. A new job. *click* A new sport. *click* New friends who support my creative endeavors. *click click*

Through one of these new friends I learned about the "Listen To Your Mother-Austin" production. I put together a piece and submitted it, expecting nothing in return. Instead my piece was selected to audition for the show, and I stood in a room of strangers and read words that I had *never* said aloud before.

I cried, they cried.
We cried.

Despite the show producers' genuine enthusiasm for my work, and my reading, my piece did not make the final cut. In reviewing the cast list a little voice whispered to me "You fool, these people have all published books. Who do you think you are to compete on this field?"

I bristled at first, stung by the rejection of a piece so deeply personal. And then I felt relief, because I was spared the difficulty of saying those words out loud to a large audience. I was spared the responsibility of saying those words out loud to anyone. I could swallow them, hit "delete" on a file and it is as if they never were.


But because I said them out loud a part of me feels like I made them real. Do you ever feel that way? That until you name or claim something with words it doesn't really exist? That you can spare the world from your especially troubling and icky feelings by never actually giving them voice?

My piece gave voice to some feelings I've been trying to hide.

Mainly, that I am scared.

That I am scared of what the future could hold for YH.

The primary thrust of my piece was my frantic efforts to win YH's love. The lengths I go to to get him to trust me, to seek me out for comfort, to view me as his one true constant person.

Not so novel perhaps. I am sure many parents (adoptive or not) feel this way about their children.
But because of YH's diagnosis, because of his history of exposure to alcohol, my efforts in this area have a deadline. I wrote:

"At this moment in time it is hard to detect the damage within our son. Like many children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure he will “pass” as neuro-typical throughout toddlerhood. The first signs of compromised brain function may become evident as he starts school and slowly, as the years pass, the gulf between our son and his peers will widen.
It is bittersweet to look at our beautiful child today and know that this may very well be the best time in his life; that as he grows so too will his challenges.
The picture painted by “experts” is bleak: he is at risk for secondary mental illness and addiction. He is likely to suffer both from intense bouts of rage and from an inability to distinguish right from wrong. He will struggle with impulse control and long-term memory. His open and friendly nature (so charming in a three year old) will read as na├»ve and dim-witted to his future classmates. As they descend into adolescent snark, he will become an easy target; the kid they trick into doing “funny”, possibly criminal, things.
Because our son’s physical appearance is unblemished, he will be presumed to be a “bad” kid (instead of a differently abled kid).
It is a dangerous cocktail of impaired function that often leads to incarceration."
And so I am working like crazy NOW, when he is small and cute, to get him to love me and to get YOU (the world writ large) to love HIM.
Can you love him?
Can you look at his slightly-off behaviors and love him? Knowing that they will likely grow beyond "quirky" into full-blown "odd" or "off-putting"?  That as his toddler-chub melts away, as his lanky-boy body grows each day, so too might his difference?
I watch him when we are out in public. I watch him like a mama bear; I am ready to spring into action at the first sign of an opportunity to smooth his way. I intervene in "conversations" with other kids.

"YH loves Angry Birds! That's why he put his face so close to your t-shirt. I know you haven't met him yet, and it might seem funny that he came right up to you, but he just loves Angry Birds!"

I chirp and squawk and fake the cheer necessary to cover for the fact that he is bouncing with increased intensity at my side. I slide a hand onto his back and tap out a soothing rhythm until he quiets his little body.
I watch him with my family. I watch their faces watch him get riled up. I see how they don't trust him to be able to control his motions or his speed. How as he gets wound up (too many people speaking to him at once, too many demands, not enough space, too much sugar, too much waiting), they get weary.

I intervene here too and try to get him to fit into the expectations of the event, try to get him to be a little less *him* for the sake of family dinner night.

I do this all the while knowing that I can't do it forever. That I shouldn't even be doing it now. That I am not fooling anyone. That I am not fooling myself.

In a way it is easier to think about these things knowing that I am not the person who hurt him in this way. I am not to blame. I can look you in the eye and defend my son and stand up for him to be supported and at the end of the day I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I am not to blame.

It's thin comfort. It's comfort at the sake of blaming someone else, someone about whom I know very little. I know enough about his firstmother's life to make excuses for her decisions. (After all, that is a family specialty: we are experts at explaining away and minimizing one another's boozy habits.) But I certainly don't know enough to judge her, or pass that judgement on to the rest of the people in our lives.

So until I know how to do this differently, I will continue to play the fool. I will do everything I can to make each day better for YH , now, while I have the time. I will do everything I can to smooth out the ripples he leaves in his wake, to calm the waters that his energy churns when we are in public.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Treading water.

This guy.
He's totally amazing.

It is hard for me to recognize that we are fast-approaching YH's one year tenure as an in-the-flesh member of our family. That one whole year ago we were on the precipice of *meeting* him, much less loving him or caring for him every minute of every day.

I hesitate to put it out there, because I know there are many many of my friends who are still waiting for their families to be complete. Children matched years ago, still waiting to meet their parents and siblings. The memory of the pain of waiting is visceral for me; I suck in air when I read the latest updates, my lungs clenching in empathy for those families caught in the endless wait.

It's awful.

I stay quiet on the "post-placement" internet forums and FB groups too, because I am well aware that we have had it easier than many. That our son's adjustment has progressed well, and that his personality is a good match for our family. It's not that we didn't have difficulties, or that he didn't grieve. It's more that our expectations were so dang low that we were happy to raise them up and meet our son where he needed us most.

His language skills are improving rapidly. But they are still not at the same level as his peers. I can see his cognitive skills bloom; concepts like colors and numbers and categorizing objects are becoming easier for him. His articulation challenges remain; Sweet Bubs and I are still the only ones who understand him 90--100% of the time. YH and Sweet Bubs get by with "brother tongue"--their own secret language, mostly spoken in grand gestures and corporeal movement.

It shames me that YH's burgeoning language skills have had such an impact on *my* happiness. My days are far less stressful now that he can enunciate his needs, and can listen to (and sometimes follow!) my prompts. I am a person who prides herself on being able to communicate across cultures; I believe fully in the ability to transcend language when building a relationship.

Oh, pride.

The truth is it is HARD to parent a child who appears to be an older toddler, but who possesses the language abilities (in Korean as well as his "new" language) of a much younger baby. It is HARD to remember to parent to his developmental age/his "family age" (equivalent to the length of time he has been a member of our family) instead of his chronological age.

I get impatient. I expect too much. I get frustrated and I have to take time to remove myself and reset my expectations.

If anything the last year has been a wonderful opportunity to confront my parental shortcomings. To watch the "theoretical" parenting skills that I dutifully banked during our wait to take custody fly right out the window in the heat of a challenging moment.

To give myself grace.
To give others grace.
Above all, to extend grace to YH.

Lately I'm feeling a bit stuck in this arena.

Our family is taking on more and more activities. We are comprised of one true introvert, three super extroverts and one introvert-with-extrovert tendencies. (Woe be unto the poor introvert, his burdens are legion). The extroverts drive the family ship and we collect every shiny social opportunity that comes our way. YES--we would LOVE to audition for commercials! YES--Let's sign up for swim team! YES--Let's arrange playdates, and babysit for our friends, and go an adventure to a new city and more more more.

And in the middle of all this chaos, this stimulation overload, I am finding it harder and harder to be *present* in the way I wish to be as a parent.

I need to put on the brakes for a bit.
I need to focus on breathing in and out.
I need to give myself permission to tread water, instead of belly-flopping with abandon into the unknown.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In the books.

I did it.
(The end was ugly, but I did it).

On the day before the race all of the optimism and confidence of my previous post flew right out the window. I let real life problems wiggle through the cracks of my steely reserve--throwing me off balance.

One of my children is being bullied, in a very subtle-not-noticed-by-grown-ups kind of way. That child's pain has had an impact on his/her behavior at school and the fall-out of a recent incident led to raised voices and short tempers amongst the adults in the family. As we snapped at one another I couldn't help but feel defeated. Really--on the *day* before my race? On the day when I *should* be built up by the people in my life who know how hard I've worked for this? REALLY???

It took most of the day to shake off the feeling of betrayal. I spent a long time on the phone with the child in question's teacher and felt good about our talk. I hustled the littlest kid off to his grandparents' house so that I could drive out to the resort where the race would take place. I packed my bag, taking great care to select only articles of clothing that made me feel powerful.

I filled the car with gas and hit the highway, slowly creeping through the late-Friday afternoon traffic that plagues my city.

When I got to the resort I put on what my husband calls my "conference face": the one with a cheerful smile for anyone who crosses my path. I brought out my schmooze skills and worked the exhibit hall, stopping to give sincere thanks to the race founders and others who had supported my training.

I waited for my roommates to arrive and when they did I went to dinner, head still in a fog.
I wasn't ready--but this was going to happen one way or another.

***                           ***

I wish I could tell you that I woke up refreshed and mentally strong. That the doubts of the night before had vanished in the face of race day. In truth I tossed and turned all night. Our lights were turned off by 9:15pm, alarms set for 5:30am-- and I don't think I slept more than an hour at a time all night.

I woke up and drank a cup of bad hotel coffee. I solemnly unpacked my peanut butter sandwich and choked it down, along with a banana. I laced up my Sauconys and headed to the lobby.

My husband and kids showed up just before we had to line up at the starting line. My children had bedhead, and the baby looked dazed. He had scraped his chin at his grandparents' house the day before and I clucked worriedly over his wound. We exchanged quick hugs and kisses and then I was off to line up.

My running mentor Lisa was by my side, as were two other amazing Zooma ambassadors: Leigh Ann and Missy. We shuffled back and forth in the cold waiting for the race to start.

My stomach was clenching. I was terrified of not being to finish. There was a rock in my shoe; I kept pushing it back and forth with my toes, too out of it to actually *remove* the darn thing.

Go time.

***                      ***

Once Lisa and I got out on the course my fear started to recede. I remembered the route from our course preview, knew when to expect the big hills. We laughed and talked as we ran--commenting on the "team outfits" sported by some, wondering about the sour expressions sported by others. The weather was cool and overcast, just the way I prefer it on a long run.

We stopped to get our picture taken in the bluebonnets. A lovely woman who had made a wrong turn on the 5K course was our photographer. She was now trapped on the half-marathon course and was walking to the finish line--a full 10 miles further than her intended race distance. Despite the miscalculation she was in good spirits and we wished her well as we continued on.

The middle-miles, miles four to seven, were magnificent. I remember little beyond my happiness. I remember my breath, my feet moving in concert, my arms swinging in the chilly air. I remember picking a runner ahead of me and trying to pass her. I remember watching the form of other runners, appreciating the diversity of craft. I remember hearing teammates cheer for one another and getting swept up in their enthusiasm until I too was whooping and hollering.

I loved those miles.

Those miles were the miles with the biggest hills. Hills that loomed up before you, hills that said "Go on--I dare you." Hills where the down part was just as terrifying as the up part.

And I loved them.

***                                 ***

The last three miles of the course should have been easy; they wound their way across the smooth golf course, not a hill in sight. Lisa warned me: the concrete would hurt our legs, feet and hips. Erika warned me: the sight of all the runners in front of you and all the runners behind you, endlessly weaving along the path, would make it seem like you were going nowhere. I *heard* them, but I didn't believe them.

Until I got to the golf course.

Man, those miles were the worst. Every step I took made my left knee and hip flexor contract in pain. I could feel blisters forming on the arch of my right foot. I was cold and my fingers swelled to twice their size.

I was no longer having fun.

Lisa had saved a pep talk to deliver to me on mile 12. She saw the grim look on my face and knew it was time.

She gave an impassioned and beautiful speech about how this was *my* first half-marathon and no one could ever take that away from me. About how I needed to dig deep and finish strong. She reminded me of the sprint exercises we had been working on.

I snapped: "We are NOT doing those."

She let it go. She extended grace my way and kept up a steady pace by my side, willing me to move my leaden legs.

"Just a little farther. Just around this corner. I promise you the finish line is right there."

***                                  ***

And it was.
There was Sean and the kids. There was Melanie's family.
Miss A was jumping up and down waving a sign for me.

I grabbed her hand and together we ran across the finish line.

***                                          ***


All through the training process Melanie and I would joke about the similarities between becoming a runner and being pregnant:

1. You can't talk about anything else
2. Your feet hurt, and sometimes they swell
3. You buy all new clothes--even if you *intended* to stick with the same ratty pair of sweatpants
4. You google evey ache and pain incessantly and worry about what the internet diagnoses
5. You read every blog you can find related to running/pregnancy
6. You constantly compare your size/appearance/form to other runners/other preggos
7. The closer the "big day" gets, the more excited/nervous you get
8. You eat A LOT
9. You have to pee every 45 minutes (from hydrating pre-race)
10. You act like you are the first person in the world to ever run a race/have a baby

It is amazing to me how apt this joke metaphor turned out to be. Those last three miles for me were absolutely akin to the transition stage of labor. Just as with my two deliveries, I hated every minute of those last miles--and then as soon as it was over I wanted to do it all over again.

I am so proud of myself for doing this, and of my friends for finishing strong.

I am a runner. For real.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


In two days I will run my first half-marathon.
The thought of this accomplishment fills me with both terror and a giddy joy.

 I have been training with steady determination since the start of 2013, when I was selected to be the ZOOMA Texas Muscle Milk Light Half-Marathon Challenge athlete.

For the first few weeks I looked at the training plan askance. I assumed that once the mileage on the long runs surpassed 4 miles/5 miles/6 miles/surely-not-10 miles, I would quit. I would hit a mental wall, or injure myself and would have to resign my position. I would be outwardly chagrined, yet secretly relieved.

Throughout the training process I have had some rock-solid running friends by my side. This too is not what I imagined. In my mind running was a solitary pursuit. I would try to time my runs for bits of the day when normal people are at work. I would huff and puff my lonely way down the trail and if I did happen upon another runner, I would tuck my chin down and power through without making eye contact, not looking up until we were well past one another. I did this because I felt sure that in the other person's eyes I would see reflected my own fraud. That the other runner would know instantly I wasn't a "real" runner. My bright red cheeks and thick waistline would give me away, as would my shuffling gait.

And then on the second week of our training plan there was a kick-off event at a local running store. My running mentor, Lisa, wanted to meet before the event to run a few quick miles. We arranged to be there early. I was certain that she would write me off as a lost cause, but instead she immediately charmed me with her warm nature and no-nonsense support. I was afraid she would critique me throughout our run; instead she approached our relationship with the notion that *of course* I was going to do this. We were going to do it together.

 Lisa was not afraid to talk about her own past injuries, or her own aches and pains, or the days when she really didn't *want* to be running. She showed me that having those thoughts and feelings doesn't mean you aren't a "real" runner--instead, it means that you accept the breadth and depth of a commitment to a sport and lifestyle. Every run will not be a joyful experience, but every run does carry the potential to bring you long-term joy. When I run with Lisa I am not concerned about pace or stride. My legs and arms find their natural rhythm and my mind clears. Through her mentor-ship I was able to shed my visions of failure, and replace them with a vision of myself as a runner for life. Not necessarily long distances, and not necessarily with the purpose of winning races, but absolutely in order to be a healthy and strong woman. Now, in mid-life. Twenty years from now. Forever.

My friend Melanie was also in attendance at the kick-off event. She was in the process of completing the Couch to 5k program and wanted to check out some running shoe options. She met me there after my first run with Lisa and together we hit the trail once more. We returned to the store and got fitted for shoes, and ate free bagels and talked to the other amazing women involved with this program and somehow, by the time we left, Melanie had registered for the half-marathon too.

I am so impressed by Melanie's commitment to this race. She took a huge leap of faith in upping her running goals from a 5k to a half-marathon. She has encountered set-backs, and faced them with grace. The other day we set out on an 8 mile long-run that neither one of us was too excited about. By mile two Melanie was struggling with calf pain and needed to take a break. We walked until she was able to run again, and despite the fact that we could have very easily cut the run short she made sure we pushed through and achieved our target distance. Her mental fortitude inspires me.

I used to read running blogs with deep cynicism. I sneered at the people who purported to have been instantly transformed from sloths to elite athletes. I couldn't believe that it was as simple as lacing up a pair of sneakers and opening your front door. I thought that a runner's high was a myth, and that all these gleeful sinewy runners would end up injured hobbled wrecks within ten years.

I was wrong.

The main error in my thinking was the notion that running exists as a pursuit separate from everything else in your life. That you compartmentalize: there is running, and there is everything else.

Instead running becomes the support and under-current for everything else. You do more yoga and strength training because you want to keep running without injury. You drink more water because you want to be hydrated for your runs. You get up early because you have a tough work meeting on the agenda and you know you need to clear your mind with a run before you tackle the tasks at hand. You pay attention to nutrition and sleep patterns because you see a direct correlation between what you put into your body and what you get out of your runs.

Since starting the ZOOMA training plan I have been transformed. You wouldn't know it to look at me--I am still amply padded, and I still don't *look* like an elite athlete. But I am stronger. In my legs, in my endurance, in my commitment to myself. I am less afraid to look foolish or vulnerable. I have seized professional and personal opportunities that I might otherwise have let slip by. I have been fearless in a way that I *know* is directly related to my relationship with running.

In a way this weekend's race doesn't matter. I mean, *of course* it matters. But while the race has always been the goal, it is no longer the prize.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

And the universe laughed.

I don't know that I've mentioned it in this space yet, but somehow this:

 ...Gave birth to this:

Yes, the Universe had a good long chuckle when it granted my suburban goth womb the makings of a true blue Texas Competitive Cheerleader. Miss A began in tumbling classes three years ago and made the switch to cheerleading two years ago. Her natural gift for gymnastics, complemented by her super-sized personality, are a great fit for the sport. I watched in wonder as she jumped, and cheered, and stunted her way through performances. She looked so happy out there!

 Last May she decided to try out for her gym's brand new competitive cheer squad.

Her try-outs took place the day before we left to travel to Seoul to take custody of YH. It is pretty amazing to think that as her little life was on the cusp of complete upheaval, my babe pulled herself together and plunged headfirst into a major team commitment. All at the age of seven, mind you.

I got the email telling us that Miss A had made the squad as we sat in the DFW airport waiting to board our big blue Korea Air plane. Her coaches wanted to be sure she knew what a big responsibility this would be. She was one of the two youngest members of her team; there would be no time for goofing off. She would have to come to every single practice, all year long, no exceptions. She promised me she would; she was taking this seriously.

Part of me had doubts. Part of me expected that about a month into the season she would realize how much of her weekends were now devoted to practice, and she would stop wanting to participate. Part of me was already drafting the email to the coaches politely declining the opportunity.

And that negative part of me was thinking back to my own childhood, when I quit every damn thing I ever started. I had great enthusiasm for discovering new activities; I *loved* reading through recreation association brochures, imagining my as-yet-undiscovered genius in watercolors/rocket building/pottery/tennis/soccer. But once I started classes, and realized I was solidly middle-of-the-pack (or lower) talent wise, I dropped the activity.

Piano: took too much time during the week. Trombone: made my lips feel weird. Lacrosse: all that running made me tired. Field hockey: "B" team didn't get to wear the cute plaid kilts. Ballet: eh, not my thing.

And so on. I was an accomplished quitter by the age of eight.

Miss A, on the other hand, has never once asked to skip practice. Since mid-August she has spent the better part of her Sundays at her gym, working her heart out. She smiles the entire time she is at practice--and not because that's what cheerleaders are supposed to do. She does it because she is genuinely thrilled to be there.

Last weekend her team performed at a rather large competition. As they were warming up one of their flyers (the girls at the top of stunts and pyramids) injured herself. She had to leave to seek medical attention and the judges granted our team one hour to rework their entire routine. One hour!

They did it. And they did it well.
And when I asked Miss A if she was ever worried that they wouldn't be able to pull it off, she looked at me like I was crazy.

"No way Mom! We work hard, and we support one another. That's what a team does, no matter what."

Man, I'm proud of her.
And man, I wish I'd stuck with something long enough to have felt that way when I was a kid.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Three. (and three.)

On Monday our YH turns three.
Three years old!

I cannot possibly tell you how this happened. How this moment is suddenly upon us when only yesterday we asked to parent a wee eleven month old baby. (and then waited...waited...waited)

This birthday feels momentous to me, and sad, and happy, and lovely and terrible. I guess that's what parenting this child will always be, no? A sudden punch of every emotion known to man.

Of all my children this one has brought me the most opportunity to examine my own shortcomings. It is as if each morning I put my weakness under the microscope. I take a deep breath and peer through the eye-piece, and there I see some green things twist and bend. My intentions wiggling up against my limitations. My hopes and dreams suddenly obscured by slimy doubts. My frailty crawling alongside the bravery needed to advocate for YH.

This boy.
This beautiful boy.
He's three!

Monday will be a full day for YH. I will open the door to his sleeping nook early, and crawl into his toddler bed next to him. I will press my lips against his full cheeks, and gently wake him. He will protest in his own YH way.

"No thank you mama. No thank you." as he burrows under his pillow.

I will persist and within an hour we will walk to school with Sweet Bubs. YH will wear his Thomas the Train backpack and I will marvel at how he can walk with it bumping against the backs of his knees. I will clasp his tiny hand as we walk into the cafeteria, where his new pre-school teacher will greet him.

After months of endless evaluations YH has finally qualified for our district's PPCD (pre-school programs for children with disabilities). He is the youngest in our school's current PPCD group and so he will spend his day with four year olds, working on expressive language, articulation, and self-help skills. He will come home exhausted, with a mouth sore from the effort of being understood.

The goal is for him to make significant progress in his speech development. While I (of course) want this for him it is hard to imagine YH speaking in full sentences and paragraphs. So much of our communication now is achieved through the intimacy of our bond. I alone know exactly what he needs/wants with just a gesture. I alone can decipher his frustrations. We have "inside" jokes that require not a sound to be uttered. One of us will raise an eyebrow and send the other into a fit of giggles.

I'm not sure I'm ready to give that up just yet. I'm not sure I'm ready for our own code language to be replaced by phrases intelligible to the rest of the world. Selfish thing that I am, I want to protect our private language. I want to preserve his dependence on me as interpreter.

YH is turning three and after three comes four and after four comes five....

****                     ****
The other three that looms large in our home these days is the three-some unit that is YH and his two older siblings. As you may remember our first few months together as a family of five were rough for the bigger kids, especially Sweet Bubs. Sweet Bubs wanted so desperately to be a big brother, and he was crushed by YH's lack of interest in playing with his siblings.

I am happy to report that now, ten months in, Sweet Bubs and YH are inseparable. YH follows his big brother everywhere and insists on having Sweet Bubs in the tub with him, tucking him in at night and holding his hand when we run errands.

Their relationship is amazing. AMAZING.

Miss A now gets to roll her eyes at the antics of her two little brothers. She naturally assumes a leadership role when it is three of them engaged in an activity and she will not hesitate to correct any act that violates a "rule" (imagined or otherwise).

When one of my three gets hurt the other two rush to the injured party's side. They huddle together on the sofa to look at books and they sing along to awful pop songs in the backseat of the car, each trying to escalate the volume higher than the other two. They squabble and fuss and pout at each other and sometimes they just fall in a heap on the rug and roll around like wolf cubs.

They are three.
Three together.
Three parts of the whole.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Wooing

In the mornings I slip out of our darkened bedroom and into the kitchen. I start the water boiling for our french press coffee and pack the big kids' school lunches. I fill the dog and cat bowls, and putter about as the older members of our family get ready for their days.

When they leave for school and work I have a few precious minutes to sit with the animals. I stroke their fur and think about what I will do that day to make YH love me--just a little bit.

I have never worked so hard to win another person's love. Ever.

Just as with romantic love, I take care in my appearance. Are my clothes soft enough for him to press his cheek against if he needs comforting? I slather myself with scented lotion--the same kind we put on YH's dry skin--so that he will associate my smell with the pre-bedtime massage that he likes so much. I make delicious meals for him--paying attention to his ever changing food preferences and making sure to select his favorite utensils.

He is often waiting for me when I go to collect him from his warm bed each day. He sits upright in his bed, kicking his feet. I open the french doors to his "room" and he greets me with an enthusiastic "Good morning Mama!"

Most days he lets me crawl into bed next to him for a cuddle. We lay there with our foreheads pressed together and make lists of the people we will see that day.

"Mom! Owen, mom? Oz, mom? Mom! Baba. Nana. Mom! Mom! Kye. Jacob?"

That he allows us these moments of closeness is testament to the fact that the wooing is working. In our first few months together he was all business. And all busy-ness. Wake-up time meant leap out of bed and dive right into play time. He *liked* me ok then, but mostly I was a means to his ends. He wanted yogurt, I was the yogurt lady. His diaper needed changing, I was the diaper lady.

 Hugs and physical affection were on his terms. Yes--I will sit on your lap lady, but only facing outward. I will hold my little body stiff when you draw me in close for a hug. I will put my forearm against your chest, so that we aren't really hugging. I will let you carry me when I am tired but I will lean my torso away from you as your carry me on your hip. I will grasp your sweater in my tight fist instead of wrapping my arms around you. I will not allow you to hold me in a prone cradle position. No. I will not willingly make eye contact as you rock me.

We went slowly with discipline, recognizing that most of his tantrums were due to the tremendous upheaval in his wee life. His burgeoning language skills have cut down on many of the angry and frustrated outbursts. Instead of time-outs we do "time-ins"--a small window of time where YH can sit on a step with me by his side and work on calming his body/mind to the point where we can talk about the unwanted behavior/his frustrations.

I always end the time-in with a hug and an "I love you".

Last week something amazing happened.
YH started to lose it. He couldn't make a particular toy car do what he wanted it to do. He started banging it against the table and making louder and louder noises. His face was turning red and his brow was furrowed. I felt a major meltdown on the horizon and moved closer to him to help get him through it.

But before I could say anything he dropped the car and turned to me with a teary face.
"Mom, hug. Hug please mom?"

I pulled him in close to me and he melted against me. His head lolled heavily against my shoulder and our breaths fell in sync. I rubbed circles on his back and buried my nose in his spiky cowlick.

"Mom? Hey mom. Mom, Sunshine?"

He asked me to sing "You are my Sunshine" to him. I sing this to him before bed each night, changing the words each time to reflect something that I love about him.

"You are my sunshine, my wonderful sunshine. I love you so much, my little YH-ie. I love your cute nose, I love your stinky toes. You are so funny, and so so smart. I love your big heart, I love your dancing. YH-ie, I'm so glad I get to be your mama today and forever."

And so on. He never responds when I do this at bedtime; I had no idea if he listened to it at all or if he was patiently waiting for me to finish and leave his room.

But this time, in his moment of distress, he *asked* for his special song. He *asked* for me to hold him to help him feel better.

When he was ready to go back to playing I smoothed the hair off his face and said "I love you little man."

And he looked me right in the eye and said "I love you Mama."

The wooing is working, I think.