Friday, January 29, 2010

Knock-Knock Jokes at Breakfast

Annie: Knock-knock!

Me: Who's there?

A: Pig

Me: Pig who?

A: Pig tail!


Jemma: Knock-knock!

Me: Who's there?

J: Pig

Me: Pig who?

J (long pause): Tomato!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Of COURSE the Rat's Dad Dies

I just put Annie to bed after a very intense conversation about death. Some highlights:

  • "When I'm a grown-up, will you and Daddy die?"
  • Sigh. "When you and Daddy die," looks down, bites lip, "I'll still have Jemma to love me."
  • "Is Great-grandma Stryker going to die soon? Because she's really, really old."
  • "Is heaven dark?"
  • "How can God be here AND other places at the same time?"
  • "I won't ever, ever get sick in heaven."
  • "The saddest thing in the whole wide world is when somebody dies."

The cause of all this? The movie Ratatouille. I have HAD it with the Disney tragedy. Well, had it as much as a person who is 16 days away from, you know, going to Disney World.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

State of the Union

A dear friend from our dental school days adopted a little girl from China this past summer, and I just had the chance to read their adoption story. It's fascinating and heartbreaking with a happy ending, and I had to post a small part of it here to remind myself how incredibly lucky I am to be a woman and a mother raising daughters in this country.

One day in mainland China, I had an opportunity to sit down with a young Mother who happened to be fluent in English. Her husband was with us and spoke to Dan while I spoke with her. She began asking me what it was like to be a Mother in America. I explained to her that when unless the woman is young and unprepared or unsupported, a pregnancy is joyful. She looked at me in disbelief when I told her that we have baby showers to celebrate a pregnancy and that gifts are often given to new parents and new babies. She asked many questions, mostly because she couldn’t believe that we see birth as a celebration instead of a stressor. Then she began to talk.

The things that this young Mother told me were shocking. I have read many books about China, and have been reading countless internet articles and blogs for the 42 months we’ve been waiting for Nina. Perhaps I should not have been shocked at what I heard, yet I was. This Mother told me about all of the women who run away and hide in the country when they become pregnant, fearing that the government will force an abortion if she is found. She told me of a Mother who was hours away from giving birth to her second child, only to have the government literally kidnap her (with her husband driving behind the ambulance) and forcing her to have an abortion. She heard the baby cry once and then it was killed. She said that babies will be killed up until the moment of their birth; they are not considered alive until they leave the Mother’s body, but even full-term babies who are “aborted” will not be kept alive. The woman’s own brother is hiding one of his girls from the government by not registering her. They live in the mountains so that they do not have to give her up and the wife’s family puts constant pressure on them to abandon her. My new friend spoke for an hour about tragedies such as this.

This Mother has one son. She says that the government comes into the shop where she works to see if she is pregnant. They shake their finger and warn her not to become pregnant or they must prove that they can pay a huge fine to the government. If she becomes pregnant and they do not have the money, she will have to run away and hide, and they will lose everything.

In social work school we talked about experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder through our clients. I felt traumatized after speaking with this woman. I couldn’t help but cry when we left our meeting place and I couldn’t stop looking at Nina and thanking God that I had her - and that I was taking her home.

I am well aware that it is a problem of Chinese history and tradition. Communism requires that families pass their land to their sons and give their daughters to the family she marries into. Naturally, this poses a huge problem for a Chinese family. They love all of their children, but they can only keep their boys if they want to hand their possessions down. Boys become men and men provide for three generations of families when they are grown. This poses yet another significant hurdle.

Dan and I have a beautiful product of this problem sleeping upstairs in our home. How we are grateful that we found her and that she has completed our family. I am happy that she will grow up in America and that she will be free to have, or not have, children. I am so grateful for the way women and girls are appreciated in the United States. I am also grateful to China for giving me my beautiful daughter. I am hopeful they can find solutions to some of these issues so that so many Chinese families and children do not need to suffer.

Thank you for listening.


Soup it Up

Ahhh, soup. Jason usually hates it when I make it for dinner. ("It's not enough!") He changed his tune:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What a Difference a Year Makes

After I wrote yesterday, and after I looked through the pictures of Annie in her skis, Jason took the girls ice-skating on Reed's Lake while I ran around it, happy to be pounding the dry pavement instead of snow and ice. In the afternoon, we took the girls swimming, where Annie swam all the way across the pool several times without any flotation device whatsoever.

We came home, and I cooked dinner while Annie and Jemma helped set the table. We decided to be "fancy" and eat by candlelight, and while we ate, we talked about all the things that Annie can do today that she couldn't do a year ago:

  • Ride a bike without training wheels.
  • Swim unassisted.
  • Ice skate.
  • Play soccer.
  • Ski.
  • Read.
  • Write.
  • Set and clear the table.
  • Choose all her own clothes and dress herself every day.
I know everyone says that the first year of a baby's life is full of huge changes, and it's true, but watching her eat turkey sausage and pasta by candlelight, it was pretty clear that this last year has been full of change, too. I am so, so proud of you, Annie.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Annie had her first ski lesson yesterday. By the end of the hour she was real-deal using the tow rope and following her instructor down the hill, turning back and forth and snowplowing as needed. She fell a few times, of course, but just like when she's ice-skating, cold weather and falling don't seem to lessen the appeal of a sport for Annie. She came home proud and hungry, eager to go back and do it again next week. I bet she'll be better than me by the end of the season.


Earlier this week, Annie and Jemma were playing together upstairs while I was making dinner. This happens more and more these days, an hour or so here and there where they play totally without direction or intervention or fighting. Though (unfortunately) it can't be called up on demand ("OK, now you guys go play nicely upstairs for one hour while I get this done without interruption!"), it is pretty glorious when it happens.

They had played wedding and built a fortress with blocks and put on a show for their animals. Then Annie decided they should move on to playing tag: "Jemma, let's play tag! I'll chase you! C'mon! It'll be fun! I'll let you catch me!"

Jemma's response (unheard by me) must have been less than enthusiastic, because a minute later, Annie was skulking by the kitchen door, looking like her puppy had died.

"Jemma said she didn't care." She made her most pathetic facial expressions, then dropped into a chair and put her head down on the table. I did minor encouraging ("She doesn't care about playing tag right now; could you find something else to do together? Want to stay down here and color? I'll play tag with you when I finish making this!") but her sadness persisted straight through dinner. The girls sat across from one another, Jemma eating obliviously, Annie moping and sighing, me thinking about photographing the scene and captioning it with Able To Dish It Out, But Not Able To Take It.

I tried to provide some closure. "Annie, why don't you tell Jemma how that made you feel, so that she can apologize?"

Annie summoned a whine: "Jemma, when you said you didn't care, that made me feel really, really, really sad inside."

Jemma, mouth full of food, sing-song-y: "Sooooorrryyyyy!"

But then, ten minutes later, as we were just finishing up, Jemma came over and put her hand on Annie's arm. "Annie, I'm so sorry," she said, apologizing in a sincere way that beats out any effort Annie has made in her five-plus years of life. Annie smiled and nodded, Jemma ran off to play some more, and I couldn't resist teaching a little lesson of my own.

"Do you think you might remember how sad you feel right now the next time you want to say something unkind to another person?" Annie looked at me uncomprehendingly, so I tried again.

"Remember times when you've said unkind things to me and Daddy and Jemma?" Annie still looked innocent/confused, so I plowed ahead with some examples: "You've said, 'I don't like you; you're poopy; you're butthead; you're throw-up.'" A flicker of recognition. "See how that feels? It makes people feel sad inside."

I saw a light dawn inside before she scampered off to play with Jemma. Later that night, as we were choosing her clothes for the next day, I lobbied for her green corduroys. "I wore green cords on Monday, remember?"

"I don't care," she said, then immediately looked stricken. "I mean! I mean, I don't care that you wore those green pants. I do care about you, Mom." I smiled. I reassured her that I knew what she meant. I tucked her in, hopeful that this little lesson in kind words and sincere apologies might stick around for a while, just like the ski lessons and the ballet moves and the words she has learned to spell.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No Amount of Popcorn Could Help

It's the most ordinary of Wednesdays - school, gymnastics, watercolor painting at the dining room table, Jason working late - and yet each minute of it seemed excruciatingly intense. Each everyday action - helping Jemma wash her hands, walking Annie to school on the icy sidewalks, soaping their little shoulders in the bathtub - was so tangible. I can't stop touching their cheeks, feeling their hair, listening to their giggles, kissing their foreheads. I can't stop thinking about the movie.

I went to see The Lovely Bones last night. When we made plans to go, I felt a twinge of uncertainty. I read the book, years ago, and remembered it being, well, lovely as well as tragic and disturbing and interesting. The twinge wasn't enough for me to rally the group to another choice, though, so I found myself sitting in a theater last night with four other mothers of two little girls each, watching as one family was ripped apart by the abduction and murder of their little girl.

It was brutal. Parts were gorgeous (the girl spends much of the movie watching from heaven), and there was a satisfyingly redemptive ending, but I spent much of the movie feeling physically ill. I sat clutching my own arms, covering my face with my hands, shaking my head no. I thought about leaving. When it was over, I felt horrible inside. We all did. I came home, and I cried. I went in and sat on Annie's bed, pulled her covers up around her shoulders, and watched her sleep. I prayed, an Anne Lamott-like prayer that went along the lines of please, please, please.

And then this morning I woke up, and like a gift, Annie sat eating her Cheerios and writing YOU ARe THe BesT MoM in her High School Musical notebook. Jemma stood behind her closed bedroom door and giggled, the way she does every morning before she comes out for a hug. Jason made me coffee. Annie and I walked to school, holding hands and stepping on the crunchy ice.

Right now, I can't even sort out what I am feeling about this or say exactly why a movie I saw (of a book I'd already read) is affecting me this much. But tonight, the girls tucked safe and sound in their beds, all I know is that a part of me is glad that I did not, in fact, leave the movie. A part of me is glad that today, an ordinary Wednesday with my family, seems like such an amazing, vibrant, generous gift.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Disaster, Averted

Now that we've been fully immersed in winter for a couple of months, I've been back at the gym on a fairly regular basis, too. Even though it's been warmer the last few days, the sidewalks are all packed-down snow and ice; nothing I'd want to run on. So I run in the street when I can go without a biker and a jogging stroller accompanying me, and I work out at the gym when I have the girls with me. I'm not crazy about the morning madness in the kid's area there, plus Annie's always at school then, so we often go in the afternoons, when it's nice to kill that pre-dinner grumpy time with some activity.

So even though we hardly set foot there apart from the outdoor pool all summer, it's been part of our routine since November, though the first few times, Jemma took some convincing. "Will there be a bird there?" she'd ask fearfully, somehow remembering the single time, over a year ago, that the gym hosted a member's appreciation day, complete with free bottled water, chiropractic adjustments, chair massage, and (strangely) the Grand Rapids Griffins mascot. That day, I watched from my treadmill overlooking the kid's play area as she FLIPPED OUT when he approached to give her five. In November, Annie and I reassured her that, no, there would not be a bird there, EVER EVER AGAIN. It took a week or so before she believed us.

This afternoon, I took the girls to the pool after quiet time. There we were, having fun swimming about, when I looked out the window to the hallway and saw the mascot approach. I immediately grabbed Jemma and put her arms around my neck as I backed away from the window. Annie noticed the bird, too, and whispered urgently, "Mom! The bird!" while I shot her a look that said something like, "I know! Don't speak of it! Don't look at it! Will it to go away as soon as possible!"

I held Jemma's face two inches from mine and asked her all sorts of questions: "What's your middle name? What did you and Marta play this weekend? Show me how you kick so hard! What was the letter of the day today on Sesame Street? What letter does Annie start with?" - anything to keep her eyes focused on me instead of turning around, where the damn mascot was still at the window, waving wildly at the kids in the pool and showing no signs of leaving. He finally did, and Annie and I gave each other wide-eyed looks. Eventually, Annie took her floaty off and swam all about the pool, even diving down to the bottom for things, so we stayed for another half hour while she gloried in her newfound swimming bravery.

We did our usual snuggle in the sauna before getting dressed, and the girls were both helpful and efficient and independent and adorable. Jemma offered to hold the bag with our wet suits, Annie closed all our lockers and put the towels away, and as we walked out of the locker room, I was not thinking about the bird at all but instead about how taking them both swimming is actually fun and easy this winter, especially compared with last year, especially compared with the year before.

And then we rounded the corner and There He Was. Again. I scooped Jemma up and held her tight, smashing her face into the crook of my neck a little by pushing on her big, puffy hood. I shushed Annie, who went ahead of me with a very solemn face, and thanked goodness that Jemma is a snuggler, a cuddler who thinks nothing of a random hug from Mom on her way out of the gym.

A gym employee passing out bottled water caught my eye as we walked out the door and gave me an understanding look. Jemma's face still firmly in my shoulder, I shook my head sadly, said, "Been through that before," and grabbed a bottle of water. Member appreciation day. Good grief.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Embracing Winter

It was sunny again today, and not to talk about the weather all the time like an old person, but I think the frequent sunshine is making all the difference in my view of winter this year. Usually by mid-January I am HATING THE SNOW and very busy trying to hide under a blanket while I eat carbohydrates.

And maybe I am gloating too soon, but I think the combination of sunshine and the fact that, for the first time, the girls are really, truly old enough to play outside in the snow for semi-long periods of time is making it . . . fun. I never thought I would say that about winter (and clearly I would prefer that it be 70 and sunny right now), but it is true. I am not filled with a sense of dread every day. I don't feel trapped in my house. I am not counting down the days until spring might finally be here. Instead, I'm working out regularly both inside and out (even getting my butt out of bed for that 6:00 a.m. bootcamp at least once a week), going out with friends on weekends and drinking too much Lefthand Milk Stout, gearing up for our neighborhood's annual progressive dinner this weekend, and using some of the bonus indoor time to try new recipes and get more writing done.

This afternoon, though, the girls and I got our snow gear on and put the sleds in the back of the car. We went to Manhattan Park, where we made a snowman, had a snowball fight, and went sledding down a nice, big hill. We had the place all to ourselves and the girls were so thrilled to be doing something special that they didn't once complain about the cold or about the long trek back to the top of the hill. We'd all cram in the sled together (the hill basically ends at the road, so I didn't trust them going down without me to stop the sled at the bottom), a mess of boots and hats and sunglasses, then Wheeeeeee! all the way down. Over and over again, under the bluest sky with the sun shining on our faces. It was the best hour of my week so far.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Snow, Art, and a One-Person Play

It's been sunny, which helps with the freezing coldness and all. Yesterday afternoon we bundled up, popped each girl in a sled, and ran them all around the sidewalks around our house, eventually ending up at the football field for a lot of chasing, snow-angel-making, and tackling.

Jemma wore her sunglasses.

Today, we had a coloring fest for almost an hour after lunch. And guess what? Jemma knows how to draw a face. She makes very big, hollow eyes, so it sort of looks like a skull, but still: a face. With a lot of pink hair.

Annie is practically a Disney animator by now, what with all the princesses she's drawn. Here's something she brought to Jason after her quiet time yesterday. For anyone not current on their Disney characters, that would be Sleeping Beauty (eyes closed, red rose tragically resting on bosom) with the three fairies crying in the background. I think "DAD I LOVe YOU" is a totally appropriate caption.

The girls played miraculously well this afternoon after quiet time, so I abandoned thoughts of the gym and decided to make a big dinner instead, in the hopes that Jason might actually get home on time to eat with us. And guess what? He did! I made this. He liked it. (Meatballs that incorporate BACON? Yes.)

But really, the girls. They were upstairs, they were downstairs, they were taking all the cushions off the couch and doing gymnastics in the living room, they were wearing dance outfits and requesting The Nutcracker Suite, they were taking care of babies with broken legs, they were flying an airplane to Florida . . . . they were being sisters, just playing, and it was so fun to see.

Later, Jemma was the last one in the tub. I was hanging out with her in there and realized that she literally had not shut up for ONE SECOND the whole time. So I went and got the computer and typed a verbatim transcript of the last 4-5 minutes of her bath tonight. Please note, this is her having a conversation with herself; none of the speaking is me:

I can’t find my other cat friends.

Well I can help you.

Well my leg is broken.

Well I can help you get your leg on. Let me set you in the water to put it on. There you go. I’m putting a Band-aid on it. Now get out. Now splash in.

I don’t want to swim.

You should because you’re a kitty cat.

But kitty cats don’t swim.

The washcloth goes around and around and around and around The Washcloth! End of story! Of Cinderella and fishes going around them and they all fall down ahhhhhhhhh!

Oh, well, you can swim with me.

I’m swimming with a washcloth in a tub. Oh Belle, fairy godmother, Beast: Save me! Oh! Oh! Cinderella!

Hmmm. That was just a story about a washcloth. Two washclof-es.

I don’t want to use two washclof-es. I just want this one to be out of the bathtub. Let it dry right here then we can take it out. (Giggles.)

I’m singing a song like fairy godmother song. Cinderellaaaaaa got a pretty dress and it was blue and red and white it was colors. Sunshine and it had so bright and it was the sunshine and she got a bigger from getting apples and cookies so she picked up um picked on a tree then found some cookies and she picked one of them and ate it. Then she covered a tree then some princesses um got the cover off then ate some cookies. The end.

Fairy Godmother was sad about Cinderella did put a cookie on her dress and I’m sad about the stepmother is going to get me. Ahhh! Don’t get me I’m way up here. Ahhhhhh! Heavy breathing. She jumped into the water. Wah! Ow! Ow! Oooh oooh ooh. (Dives under water, blows bubbles) “Are you OK?” (Giggles.)

(Sees self in the mirror.) Look at me! I’m naked! And my feet are wet. Whoa! I’m pretty wet. Do you see me in the mirror? I don’t see you cuz you’re far away right there and I see you right now. What is that brown thing? Oh It’s mommy – mommy’s hair. Hi Mom! (Waves.) I love you! Mom. I’m counting goldfishes. There’s one. One, two . . . where’s the other one? Mom I can’t find the other goldfishes. But I’m counting them! There’s some over there and I don’t see the other ones. Ah! There is one. Oh, that is just . . . . we’re never going to find those fishes again.

Yes. I think my head will go in that big cup. Pours water on head. Can we have the bath crayons? Oh, can you get this off me? No one can go right here. Mom, right now I really want to be all done with my bath. I’m going to push the drain.

I don't know. I feel like this might explain why I am so TIRED at the end of every day, mmmm?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pleased as Punch

After spending an hour a week since she was born being forced to watch from the window, Jemma, freshly three years old, was finally able to go in the room and participate in her very first dance class with beloved Miss Amy. To say she loved it would be an understatement.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Girl Wants to Potty All the Time

First of all, I don't even know, at this point, who sings the song that goes, "My girl wants to party all the time/party all the time/party all the tiiii-ime." But let me start by admitting that, for years and years and YEARS, I thought the word "party" in that song was "potty." I really did. (I also thought that Ruby Red Squirt was called Groovy Red Squirt. Maybe I need my hearing tested.)

Second of all, my version of the song turns out to be an apt soundtrack for this period in my life with Jemma. Although it would probably be more accurate to insert "poop" where I used to put "potty." Here's how it goes around here, lately.

We wake up every morning and put Jemma's undies on her after she uses the bathroom. Before we go anywhere - I mean ANYWHERE - we ask, "Jemma, do you need to go potty?" She occasionally says yes, but mostly says no. Sometimes I make the executive decision to make her TRY before we leave the house, because if I don't, what generally happens is that we get where we are going, and she tells me she has to go potty. So we find the nearest public bathroom and take her coat off and take her tights and underwear and boots all the way off (yes, it's always tights; this child only wears pants under extreme duress) because otherwise she isn't comfortable up on that big, germy seat. I am hunched down on the floor, trying very hard not to touch anything and also trying very hard not to let her hands or (bare) feet touch anything. I am sweating slightly. We wait. Sometimes she goes. But other times, she scrunches up her face and says, "Actually, no." And then we wash our hands for half an hour and she ends up peeing later, when we get home.

In the afternoon, to prepare for nap time, I require both girls use the bathroom after lunch and before quiet time begins. Jemma usually poops and pees. I put a Pull-up on her for her nap, read her a book, and tuck her in. Five minutes later, she's at the door. "Mom, I have to go potty." She sings it, happily. I glare at the door, usually mid-e-mail, but I go to get her. It's her get-out-of-jail free card, and she knows it. We go into the bathroom where, likely as not, she does manage to pee a teeeeeeeny bit. Sometimes she poops a little more, too. Again with the Pull-up and the hand-washing and the tucking in.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, she's back at the door. "Mooooom, I did go poop in my diaper." At this point, I might be involved with some raw chicken, or on a phone call, or in bed with the book club book I have very little chance of finishing before next Tuesday. I go in. I change the poopy diaper. And AGAIN with the hand-washing and the tucking in.

I don't know what my point is here, except that yesterday I posted about the song Jemma is currently singing to me, so today I thought I'd post about the one I should be singing about her.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Jemma's Song

Jemma has started singing a little song she made up. She mostly sings it after I get her out of the tub at night and have her all bundled up in a towel. It goes:

"I love you, Moooooom/for everything that you giiiiiiiive me . . ."

And that is all. And it kills me every time.

Farewell, Christmas Vacation

This morning, the dream Annie has been speaking of for over a week came true: she got to go to school. Seriously, she's been counting down since last Sunday night, when she moped around dramatically, sighing, "I wish I had SCHOOL tomorrow." Today, she was dressed and ready to go with time to spare, watching out the window for the carpool and gleefully anticipating the dream coming true.

It's good, I guess, to be back on a schedule again. Jemma and I did a puzzle, played Memory, and made smoothies. I put laundry away, made some phone calls, and showered in peace. Truthfully, though, the two weeks didn't drag on like I thought they might. Photo-style, here are some shots of my favorite memories.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

So Far, So Good

The new year is off to a solidly good start. We spent New Year's Eve with a small group of college friends, most of whom we've spent the holiday with for the past ten years. There were martinis, there was cheese, there was terrible techno music, there was The 80's Game, there was toasting at midnight. My parents were troopers, wide-awake when we rolled in well after 1:00 a.m., my mom merrily knitting away and my dad happily watching sports round-ups.

While it was fun to stay out late, it was significantly less fun when Annie woke up at 5:15 a.m. the next morning. Happy New Year!!!!! Jason gave me a few hours "off" for the day, and I spent it at a great yoga class. Afterwards, I did some virtuous grocery-shopping, full of good intentions to make more fresh, healthy food in the new year. I even bought cucumber and lemon so I could try to re-create the delicious water we had at the spa in Hawaii. Then, I walked in the door to a house that smelled like Burger King, thanks to Jason's enthusiasm for our new mandoline and a potato chips test-kitchen moment. Zen moment, ruined. (But I do have that pitcher of water in the fridge . . .)

We bundled up late afternoon and took a walk around the block, then headed across the street for some ice-skating on our neighbor's rink. Jemma was adorable, skittering around with a hockey stick and puck; Annie's hockey skates from last year still fit, and she is sort-of kind-of able to skate!

We spent today at the gym, running errands, doing laundry, writing thank-you's, making mix-in muffins (our mix-ins were dried cherries, chocolate chips, and crystallized ginger), and watching a movie with the girls. We made edamame and Vietnamese bun for dinner and since Jason was going to run out a grab a few sushi rolls to round out our meal, I made candy sushi with the girls. How cute is it? I know! I totally want to think up a party to throw, just so I can get five or ten kids around a table, making this.