Friday, December 23, 2011

Train-riding kid

My boys went to Boston to visit friends and ride the T.

I stayed home and... uh... untangled yarn. And listened to Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And not a whole much else.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cats - an anniversary (and now that I've added these pictures, I'm kind of shocked at the difference)

Nervous Riley

Comfortable Riley

Skinny Ban Lu

Healthy Ban Lu

December 23 is the two-year anniversary of the day we brought Riley home. Getting a cat two days before Christmas is a really crazy and stupid idea, I know - but it actually wasn't that bad. The proximity to Christmas was mostly a coincidence - Trixie had died close to Thanksgiving, which was also a coincidence, and letting a month pass between your old cat and your new cat is a reasonable thing to do.

My husband's school vacation started around then, so we were all available to go down together.

Riley's shelter was in Rhode Island, and we were planning to be in RI that day anyway, to see family members and visit graves.

Most of the Christmas festivities weren't even at our house, so Riley and our other cat Melody didn't even have to endure a whole day of crinkly paper, loud children, and tons of people-food.

Also, AwesomeCloud had only been home for three months. Three months between Cloud's entrance into the family and Riley's! We were keeping the festivities very low-key for his sake. In a certain way, it was the perfect Christmas for a new cat.

And then a month later we brought home Ban Lu. We had offered to take them home together, but Ban Lu was being held at the shelter for medical reasons, and the shelter then contacted us in January saying he was terminally ill and were we still interested? Yup, we were. What's a terminally ill cat on top of a crazy hyperthyroid cat and a newly adopted toddler?

Obviously, the story has changed now. Ban Lu is still with us, and he's fit and healthy. It's not that the shelter vet was wrong; the vet's diagnosis was mostly accurate. His digestive system really was going to kill him. It's just that we found a way around that, and once he was able to eat normally, he was also able to live normally. And Riley still has hyperthyroidism, and we still think of her as crazy, but actually she's improved tremendously.

And AwesomeCloud... well... I don't think we could have a Christmas as low-key as that one anymore.

I still miss Trixie, though. She's not the only loved one I've lost near Thanksgiving. She's not even the only beloved cat who passed away near Thanksgiving. And there will surely be more in the future.

Maybe this is one reason why I'd like to get into fostering cats. Foster cats hardly ever die in your possession. They move on quickly, replaced by more and more foster cats; they do not live with you for 15-20 years until you can't imagine life without them before dying. I have no problem saying goodbye to someone going out into the world, on to bigger and better things. But I'm not so good with grief.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We went Chinese house!

Today was a mostly Chinese-themed day. I've been lax in introducing Hanyu into the household, so today I looked up a bunch of verbs in the dictionary and tried to get AwesomeCloud to practice them with me.

pǎo - run
tíng - stop
tiào - jump
- kick

He wasn't very interested when I tried to do it at home. He mostly just wanted to watch TV.

But this afternoon he had a kung fu class, and we somehow arrived several minutes early, so while we waited, I had him running around the kwan and following my newly learned Chinese verbs, and then he started to get into it. I think that more practice will help. He responds just fine to words that he's learned before, although he speaks very few of them himself, and is a little resistant to coaching. If I just keep trying, the Chinese vocabulary, what little of it I can offer him, will sink in.

Kung fu itself is a lot of work, as well. The class is taught a little above his age level, most certainly above his maturity level, and he's expected to work hard and practice high levels of concentration. The older kids who take kung fu seriously are good classmates for him, and help him focus a little bit better. (The 'older' kids are four years old, five at the most. So we're not talking much of a range of abilities.) I'm trying to make the work easier for him by psyching him up for class before we arrive, and by practicing at home.

And yes, I realize that no matter what I do, AwesomeCloud is still a three-year-old taking kung fu. He is clearly more humorously adorable than he is fantastically skillful. In his little kung fu uniform with the little orange belt... he makes everyone fawn and giggle at the same time.

But life is full of difficult tasks for people to overcome, and teaching oneself Chinese is definitely a very difficult task, requiring a lot of self-discipline. If Cloud learns a tiny crumb of self-discipline at age 3... I'm not saying he'll be fluent in Chinese in no time, and able to kick the butts of anyone who looks at him funny no matter how big... but if he learns a tiny bit of self-discipline now, he'll open the door to learning a lot of self-discipline later.

And he probably will need it. It's a big ol' world out there, and I can't teach him everything.

It would be really cool if he learned kung fu IN Chinese, but that's not really what this kung fu studio is about, and that would be kind of too much of a niche market for our area, anyhow. (I bet there are a few in Boston.) It's not about being Chinese there; nobody else there is even Chinese. (All those moms who worry that there are only three other Chinese students in their kids' kindergarten class... yeah, we can't do that here. Here, I inwardly cheer if there's a kid who's not blond, and even that doesn't happen every time.) It's about learning kung fu for the self-discipline, and using the self-discipline to learn other things, such as but not limited to Hanyu. And he will get the extra bonus of being able to say that he's studied kung fu (as opposed to tae kwon do or peewee hockey or Suzuki piano or whatever). Now, whether it will bother him that all his kung fu teachers have been non-Chinese people... that will be up to him.

I just want him to have some Chinese people in his life, in some context. And not just in restaurants. Someday, when he's old enough to understand, or probably before, I'll explain that the Asian population has a majority in the world, and that Asian-type people outnumber us pale-type people by almost 3 to 1. I will also tell him that thanks to human migration, he and I have a common ancestor who is not all that far back. But I also want Asian-ness to feel normal to him, and that's quite an achievement around here.

Fortunately, it's not impossible. You see, after kung fu, our family had the great honor of dinner with the Chinese students from my husband's school. They were delightful. They loved AwesomeCloud. They answered my questions about speaking Hanyu. I went over my newly learned verbs with them, and they reinforced and slightly corrected my efforts. They even managed to coax a few words out of Cloud.

When we left their dorm, Cloud happily referred to it as, "Chinese house!"

I'm always glad when he uses the word "Chinese" with a positive tone. He told our friend at the restaurant that she was Chinese, but he said it proudly. If he's not always interested in learning vocabulary when I'm practicing it on him, at least he seems to feel that Chinese things, and being Chinese, are good.

I will be sad and angry when he hears people state otherwise. I'm sure that's coming soon. I hope that maybe non-China-loving people will try to be diplomatic when they're around him when he's a little older. I hope he doesn't allow any anti-Chinese sentiment to sink in until after he's developed a sense of cultural and individual pride.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Traditions that are dying a painful, ungraceful death

I'm going to miss door-to-door caroling. I've actually been door-to-door caroling. Someone even gave us hot chocolate. It's a memory I'll always cherish. Has anyone else ever been door-to-door caroling?

The tradition was well on its way out when I was a kid. It's not like I did it every year, nor did my house ever get carolers when I was growing up. But it's the principle of the thing. Nobody carols anymore. Nobody likes strangers anymore.

Maybe they think that "We want some figgy pudding" is actually a euphemism.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Weird things I scream at my kid


Then I told him that he needed a couple of minutes to pull himself together, and that I was going downstairs and I'd come back when he felt better. So what does he do? He stands at the bottom of the stairs and begs three times in rapid succession for a treat.

And just now I told him, "Might I suggest that you be careful how much you bother me about treats. My threshold for whining is fairly low right now, so you may not want to bother me very much."

I love the fact that AwesomeCloud talks. I love it to death. Now I'm setting on that long, slow path of teaching him language comprehension and rational negotiation. Oh, how the years drag on.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

AwesomeCloud's sense of materialism

My son is three. Therefore he loves his toys. He really loves his toys. He walks around clutching a tractor in one hand and a plushie cat in another hand, and if he needs to use his hands to do something, like use the potty, he stands there, clutching his toys, and howls until I do it for him. (Eating is the exception. He lines his toys up on his seat, because they're not allowed on the table, and reaches down to touch them between bites.)

When he goes to a library or a preschool or, as happens rarely, a friend's house, he immediately selects the 4 or 5 toys he likes the best and he holds onto them. He'll run around playing and shrieking with a fire engine, two school buses, a caboose, and a delivery truck (for instance) all clutched awkwardly to his chest. If one falls, he carefully stops to pick it up and then rearranges his whole collection until his grip on it is solid.

When we transition from one place, or one task, to another, his preferred toys change too. If I tell him to get in the car, he drops his previous handful on the floor and runs to get some very specific toy out of a pile in the other room. Sometimes it can get very specific. Not just any tractor; the green tractor. Not Brown Cat; Orange Cat.

I find the whole thing hilarious. I see greater messages of human behavior in his antics. Some people still cherish their possessions just as strongly when they're adults. Those people have their rationales - "I didn't have much growing up, so I'm making up for lost time." "I've lost valuable stuff before, and I don't want that to happen again." "I've worked hard for all this stuff. It took me years to build up my collection." "It's what makes me happy in life."

I have mixed feelings. I get the urge to purge stuff as often as I wish to keep it. The two instincts sometimes conflict with each other, and I sometimes have to make hard decisions against myself.

I think what I really want is to have less stuff so I can feel more strongly about wanting to get and keep stuff. It's easier to furnish a bare room to your liking than a cluttered room. So I try to bring my rooms a little closer to bare once in a while so that I regain the impression that, if we get more stuff, it'll be okay.

New hobbies are the most difficult. I'm supposed to be teaching myself how to design and sew geeky plushies. But sewing supplies take up so much space! There's nothing I can do about it. If I want to get anywhere with the sewing, I need to get more stuff. I don't want more stuff. Well, I do, especially if it's free... but...

I've been holding off, dragging my feet, wondering if maybe we can jettison the accumulation from an old hobby before adding a new one. I look at my piles of yarn and wonder if I should kill the crocheting. But I don't want to. I crochet quite a bit and I enjoy doing it. Not a whole lot; not enough to turn three baskets of yarn into storeable items anytime soon. But it's certainly not a dead hobby.

In anticipation of Christmas, and the addition of more toys, I've been trying to guess which toys Cloud has outgrown, or are redundant, and boxing them up in the basement for removal later. But he's onto me. He found the boxes under the basement stairs, and now, every couple of days, he goes down to see what toy he hasn't played with in awhile. Nevermind the fact that I generally choose toys that have sat around untouched in his room for a month or more. If they're in the basement boxes, they feel new again to him. And precious all over again.

Also, the number of small, almost-junky-but-not-quite toys he accumulates is staggering. You know, not the McDonald's prizes, but the toys a notch above that? The ones that don't look like trash anymore because you have some actual McDonald's prizes to compare them favorably to? It's fun to let him pick out a cheap cheap toy at a yard sale, figuring you'll box it up in a month or two and in the meantime it's worth $0.50 to let him clutch it for a while. But when it comes time to purge all those old $0.50 toys, it's harder than it sounds.

Once I do finally get them all in a box, there he is ready to rediscover his old/new toys all over again.

And I don't really want to break the cycle by getting rid of the boxes immediately after filling them. Rediscovering his toys is fun. Well, it's fun to him. That's good enough.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Small child, growing up

Today marks two major firsts.

First first: Today I exchanged the crib for the toddler bed. We can't have them both around at the same time because they both share the same mattress. Therefore, the toddler bed going up means the crib comes down for good. Why was he still in a crib? Inertia, for one. He wasn't objecting to still sleeping in a crib, so I wasn't scrambling to make the switch. For two, enforced naptimes are easy with a crib and impossible with a bed. I need enforced naptimes in order to do my job.

Second first: I'm working. Right now. And he's downstairs by himself and has been for an hour. I set him up with some Halloween candy and told him he could watch TV by himself or play with any toys he wanted. He could take a nap by himself any time he wanted. Best of all, when I went down to check on him, he'd gone to the potty by himself.

My baby is turning into a little boy. Sigh.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Goodby Halloween, hello NaNoWriMo!

No kids came to our house, as usual. But we did manage to take Cloud trick-or-treating twice today, and while I was idly waiting, I hacked out a jack-o-lantern. Which I would post here, but I can't find the camera card port. Sorry.

Then I toasted the seeds. Burned them slightly, but who cares. Cloud won't be eating any. All he wants is chocolate and lollipops. He really likes lollipops. He chooses them over anything else, which means there's less chocolate for me. But I have pumpkin seeds.

Tomorrow we will leave all this behind us and start NaNoWriMo, during which I and my husband will each write a 50,000+ word novel in a month. In the month of November, no less. Funny funny. I don't expect to succeed, but success is hardly the point. I just want a solid track record. I don't want to have to admit that I skipped out for a year because I have a small child. That year could turn into two or five or ten. No thanks. I'd rather write about nothing and fall far short on my word count than to admit defeat before I've started.

In fact I don't have an idea yet.

I'm starting tomorrow anyway!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bad words out of the mouths of... wait, what counts as a bad word?

I was at my mommy group last Tuesday, and the topic of children speaking bad words came up.

(I have a mommy group now! It only took me two years to get into one!)

One mom's elementary-school-age daughter came home from school with a citation. For assault. Her crime? Making a razzberry at her classmate. The mom reported that she supported the teacher's decision by giving the girl a very stern lecture.

Another mom described how she caught her son saying, "Darn it!"

My husband and I are... hmm, how shall I put this? We are not like that. We yell the S word when we drop things on our toes. we refer to the TV show "Bullshit" by its proper name. We wonder what the hell has gotten into people. We laugh at silly euphemisms. ("We gotta get these monkeyfighting snakes off this Monday-Friday plane!")

We have a game we play with our son. It goes like this:

Cloud: "Oh geeeeze!"
Me: "Oh man!"
Daddy: "Oh drat!"

On and on, ad nauseum.

Can my kid get in trouble at school for talking the same way at school as he does at home? My guess is, absolutely! And then what will I do?

Teachers believe that I should support their decisions. I know because I'm married to a teacher, and because I read articles on the internet by teachers making this request. It's a reasonable request. Teachers don't want to be stuck in an endless cycle of discipline drama. When a parent supports the child over the teacher, it undermines the teacher's authority, and losing authority means losing control in the class.

However, I can't be sternly lecturing my child over every unfair citation given to him over silly behavior disagreements. I don't want him to be a bully, but I don't want him to be completely unexposed to the idea of childhood teasing either. Teasing is a fact of life. It happens in adulthood, too. What will happen if he grows up, and then one day finds a comment on his blog that says, "YOU SUC YOU STUPID MORON I HAVE PERSINNAL EXPEIRENCE WITH THS TOPIC AND PPL LIK YOU DEZERVE TO BE SHOT!"?

Of course, in today's culture, the slightest teasing sentiment is met by admonitions that the kid has just irrevocably traumatized his classmate. It's the hit-a-fly-with-a-sledgehammer style solution. I know that kids can be cruel to each other. I was, if not excessively teased per se, at least not very far up the social ladder.

(The social ladder is a terrible construct, and I think encouraging kids to abolish it is a better solution than shaming them for teasing each other. Teasing is just a symptom of the social hierarchy game. It used to be that kids formed a social ladder naturally based on their ages, but when all the kids are the same age, they tend to try to force a social hierarchy into existence. They don't have to. But once a few of them start the process, it consumes everyone.)

Anyway, I think there's a middle ground between letting my kid get away with bad behavior in the classroom and stomping on him every time he scowls at his classmates. I can't support a really bad discipline decision made by the teacher. For one thing, my stern lecture will sound totally insincere - I have a policy of honesty with my son, and I'll let him know my true feelings. How else will he learn how the world works? Superimposing a partly fictional world of false rules and imaginary order onto real life helps no one, not even kids.

(That's why I'm not pushing the Santa Claus thing. When people ask me why I'm doing such a sloppy job at convincing him of Santa Claus, I say, "Come on, it's not that good a story. If I'm going to pull a fast one on my kid, it'll be over something much better conceived.")

And for another thing, if self-esteem is the issue here, I don't see how citing small children for tiny infractions will help their self-esteem. The girl performing the razzberry knows it was grossly unfair, the girl who received the razzberry knows it was grossly unfair, and the teacher's authority has been usurped by a sense of distrust and suspicion. I know. I harbored distrust and suspicion for every teacher who ever shamed me and/or treated me unfairly. There was no particular teacher who did it a lot. Most only did it once. But one incident would make me shut down in front of that teacher forever after. I was a deeply distrustful kid. It really took unfailing and genuine fairness to keep me open.

I think I'm much more forgiving now. I let small things slide. But I have my limits, and I still have the instinct to protect my kid.

I just don't protect him from the eight words you can't say on television. And this new thing about protecting kids from mildly negative words like "darn" and "stupid" and "hate" ain't happening. I can't imagine the amount of self-censorship that would require. And to what end? If you remove the word "hate" from a child's vocabulary, you take away his ability to express a lot of really important thoughts! At least until he learns the phrases, "That bothers me" and "I could probably stand to live without that."

I can't wait that long. I know what it's like to have a kid whose ability to communicate lags far behind his ability to think of things he wishes to communicate. I want him to have his tools as early as possible! Even if those tools have the word "hate" in them.

Also, the "Oh darn! Oh geez!" game is really cute.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Playdates, or, Mama and Cloud both get social lives

You may have noticed that this blog rarely contains mentions of other people. There is my husband, there are random encounters with people in public, and there are occasional references to relatives who live far away.

All of that is... probably not about to change very much. I've been making better efforts at befriending other moms and their kids, and having more success. But I'm going to respect their privacy by not talking about them much.

However, meeting them has affected me, and I'm always happy to talk about me. Likewise Cloud.

The first friendship was a long time coming. I met her on the playground a long, long time ago. I looked at her Asian kids and she looked at my Asian kid and we said, "Hey! Adoption connection!" But we sorta let the opportunity slide by, and then next time we saw each other we were both in a hurry, so she slipped me her business card and I found it a year later and emailed her asking if she remembered me. That email turned into a playdate, which has turned into a group playdate because she already has friends and she invites all of us at once. Neat. Instant group.

The group is mixed age, and all but one of the kids is older than Cloud. That's good for him, though. The older kids give him language models and, for better or for worse, behavior models.

My other new friend is the mom of one of Cloud's preschool classmates. The four of us have our playdates at the library after school gets out.

Thirdly, I have joined a parent chat organized by a local child development group. It's at a preschool, upstairs where the kids don't go, and we may leave our kids in the preschool if we bring them. Three other moms participate, and two of them have four-year-olds. The other has two children in grade school. I like the group a lot - the moms aren't exceptionally similar to me, but we all want the same thing out of the group - support and adult conversation.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I am descended from Confucius

Yes, me. No, this is not a pun, a metaphor, or a figurative truism. It is the truth. At least, according to this man's description of population genetics plus statistics, it is.

In other videos, he explains how race is not a genetic trait. I've come across this point in several other sources, too. Genetic traits are inherited individually, and race is a sweeping social construct that comprises a package deal of physical traits. It's easy to say that people with similar characteristics from a certain place constitute a race, but if you mix those people in with other populations, race is the first thing to disappear from their descendants.

That's why people invent things like the "drop of blood" rule - if there's any African ancestry in you at all, then you have a drop of African blood, and the privileged light-skinned people may oppress you with impunity.

Except, well, we're all Africans. We're all Asians and we're all descended from Caesar.

I already knew I was descended from Caesar, actually, but I'm glad to learn that my son is, too, and that I am descended from Confucius. Now, Caesar probably appears in my family tree a bazillion times, and Confucius most certainly appears in Cloud's tree a bazillion times. That's what being Han Chinese, in his case, or Italian in my case, is all about. And of course I knew that his tree and mine converge somewhere, that we had a Most Recent Common Ancestor a long time ago.

It wasn't that long ago, though, apparently. 550-1000 BCE... that was like yesterday in biological time! I'd been thinking something like 30,000 BCE.

But actually, the way humans move around so much, that now seems unlikely. 32,000 years is something like 1200 generations. Which would still make us fairly closely related... but that would only make sense if humans only moved outward and never moved back. They absolutely do move back. And forth and back and up and down and all around.

I've been pondering how to explain race to my son ever since adoption first came up as a possibility. If my explanation evolves... if it's more scientifically current and accurate than the one recommended to us by the experts... then, yay. I'm for that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2 years today!

Happy Adoption Day, AwesomeCloud!


Today we had a playdate with two wonderful, brilliant local kids (and their mom). She invited another mom, and someone else they knew was there too, so I got lots of social time.

The playdate was at a playground, and the playground had no restroom, and consequences ensued.

Amusingly, though, ever since we got home, he's been insisting on using the potty by himself without help every 20 minutes. I've been letting him. He announces, "Be right back, okay? Be right back! Okay?" And then he keeps saying it while he's doing his thing by himself in the room - just to hear the sound of my voice, I suppose.

In other news, he's hit a contrarian phase. If I say "don't" he does. If I say "do" he doesn't. He's always done that to some degree, but this time it's intentional more often - I can't blame the language barrier or the two-year-old mentality anymore - and his giggling is a dead giveaway.

I try not to sweat the small stuff. But sometimes I end up yelling anyway. Oh well.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Child trafficking in China

This article in the NYT is pretty unnerving.

AwesomeCloud is highly unlikely to have been abducted or otherwise trafficked. There's no sense in child traffickers choosing special needs children. But I'm alarmed just the same. We're told that China handles its adoptions ethically. But just because the government oversees all adoptions doesn't mean everything is ethical. I mean, ponder that idea for a while and see how ridiculous it is. Still, we have to believe in something, so we put aside any reason for suspicion and go forward with our adoptions, assuring ourselves that our agencies are trustworthy and keeping our minds on the children that will soon be ours.

Anyway, it's not as if China is the only adoption scandal surprise. What about Spain? That trafficking scheme went from the 1950's to the 1980's and was perpetrated by Catholic clergy.

Same story for the child trafficking scandal in Australia.

Don't think it's just Guatemala and Vietnam. (Those were surprises, too, as I recall.)

What's the root of the problem here? People wanting to make money off of other people's suffering? Authority figures making women's life decisions for them and against their will?

Yes, yes, and more. However, as much as it pains me to say it, the biggest root of the problem is demand. There are too many families willing to pay large amounts of money for a healthy infant. We adoptive parents create the market. Without the market, it would be difficult to illegally traffic any child.

We view it too much as a women's rights issue, I think. If women have the right to decide whether and when to have children, and how many children to have, then surely women who have trouble giving birth themselves should be extended the same rights. Right? Affluent families deserve every possible opportunity to strategically form a family to fit their wants and needs. (With adoption, you can even - ethically - choose the child's gender. How cool is that?)

I don't really believe that, though. Maybe that makes me a misfit in affluent society. It will certainly make me unpopular with the adoptive parents. But I believe that my parental rights as an adoptive parent should only be addressed after the rights of the original parents are completely taken care of. I believe I should be outraged when I hear that they are not. I think I should take these scandals seriously and be sickened by them. I believe that I should take measures to not be part of the problem.

We did that by choosing special needs. Actually, our local agent declared she was limiting herself to special needs adoptions, because the NSN programs were getting out of hand, and we decided we were totally on board with that. Even though we weren't specifically trying to help where the need was greatest, we were certainly open to the idea of adopting a perfectly good child whom, due to circumstances, few people wanted. I have always found that the best way to get through life was to go where the competition was least. The idea that adopting through the special needs program helps me avoid scandals is a great bonus.

A very valuable bonus, in fact. I can't imagine having to live with the guilt of finding out my kid might have been the victim of a child trafficking scandal. No wonder so many parents just close their eyes to the possibility. It's a horrible thing to have been the cause of. It's horrible to think that you and your money and your sheer determination to create a family your way, consequences be damned, inspired someone to commit a crime against the child and his/her original family.

My own defense is that, well, as much as I hate the One-Child Policy and the crappy medical system in China, and the stigma placed on children of imperfect health, those things do exist at this time and therefore my son fell through some very real cracks and was very legitimately in need of some love and stability in his life. There were not a lot of other people clamoring to step up and act like parents to him. If China improves socially, and the adoption market more-or-less dries up, I will be absolutely thrilled. If it had already done so, I'd like to think, we would not have pursued this adoption. Our thought process at the time supports this claim. We were looking for the path of least resistance.

I'd also love it if the US social services cleaned up its act and began to act efficiently and ethically. That would be the best of both worlds.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

All of a sudden, he is not traumatized by preschool!

A lot of things have been happening lately. To tell a coherent story about our life, I really should post every day. (Haha. Sorry, I don't like blogging THAT much. I did when we were stuck waiting and idle, but now that we're living and busy, not so much.)

Yesterday was AwesomeCloud's third day of preschool. It was obvious when we got there that he'd hit a turning point. He wanted to swing on the swings and run laps around the field while we waited for people to show up. (I like being early. I think I'll keep doing it. It's more fun to spend a minute getting coats and shoes on and ten minutes running around the school grounds than vice versa.)

Then when kids and parents started gathering near the door, he came willingly and shuffled around instead of hanging onto me.

And then when the teacher showed up, he said, "Bye!" and didn't even look back for one last panicked, sorrowful look.

He was happy to see me when school was over, but actually I think he was happy to see I put his Beanie Baby cat in my purse with its head hanging out. I did that the first day of school, and he cheered up when he saw it. On the second day, he was disappointed that the cat wasn't in my purse, he opened my purse up and checked every pocket inside, even though I told him I was sorry I had forgotten Cat. Third day, I remembered. Apparently, having Cat peeking out of my purse when I get Cloud is an essential new tradition.

I like this new tradition. It's easy - as long as I can remember it.

Another weird little thing - he compares where I park to pick him up to where I parked to drop him off. At first he asked, "Moved car?" As if he were surprised I'd do such a thing. As if I'd spent 2.5 hours twiddling my thumbs while sitting in the driver's seat. He probably didn't realize 2.5 hours had passed. He probably isn't ready to wonder what I'm doing when I'm not right there with him.

On the third day I parked in the same place twice. So, in effect, maybe I didn't move the car and maybe I did sit in it the whole time he was in school. This time, however, he seemed surprised that I didn't move the car.

Afterwards we went out for lunch to the Chinese restaurant. Wo men pengyou (our friend, the owner of the restaurant) had a friend of hers working there. Or maybe they were sisters, or cousins; who knows. This new woman is a recent arrival and has a child Cloud's age. We immediately started chatting playdate. Pengyou also has a 3-year-old son.

There's also the butterfly garden. Another season is ending. It was fun to watch AwesomeCloud improving his butterfly garden skills again this year. At first he started off interested in the digging and weeding we do in the spring, but as time went on, he grew impatient with that. By July, I started going in the morning once a week by myself, just to keep up with the weeding. But then data collection began, and that involved walking and looking around. At first, Cloud was uninterested or even afraid of the butterflies. I remember his first close-up sighting - I was weeding, and I looked up and saw a Checkerspot on the orange flowers. It was right next to where Cloud was standing.

"Look, a butterfly," I said.

Cloud looked around but didn't see it.

"It's right there," I said. "Right next to you. Near your arm. On the flower right there."

He saw it and recoiled, startled. I assured him it was harmless and we stared and stared and stared.

Now he can spot the sulphurs before I do and he can even tell an orange from a clouded sulphur. It'll be a while before he learns the challenging species, like pearl crescent or American copper, but I think he's learning to ID the cabbage leaf, and he knows a monarch, even if he mangles its name.

The end-of-season party is in two weeks, and I'd love to show off his skills to the other volunteers if he'll cooperate. But he probably won't. He may be a type A personality, but he gets performance-shy just like most kids his age.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Second day of school

First, a funny conversation in which Cloud picks up on my mannerisms:

Cloud: "Snack?"
Me: "No, you can't have another snack."
Cloud: "Lunch?"
Me: "Not until lunchtime. Why are you asking for food? You're not hungry. You just ate a giant cookie. Your tummy is full."
Cloud: "I wish."

That was yesterday on the way to... something or other. Audubon? Library? What did we do yesterday morning? Yesterday afternoon he started kung fu again. I really like the group of kids he's with this time. There is one boy with limb differences who, if he can't follow all the instructions to the letter, is a really sharp listener and understands what the instructions are. There's one boy whose attention span isn't great but he's not wildly bouncing off the walls either. And one girl who is very timid and cries a lot and who needs her daddy to come rescue her a lot. When she finds her kung fu comfort zone, she is probably going to achieve all new levels of personal growth. I hope she sticks with it long enough for that to happen.

And then there's Cloud, who thinks everything is funny, still has trouble understanding what's going on, and has to follow every instruction ever given at all times. (Actually, he's gotten better. He lets the other kids take their turns now.)

The Chinese motifs around the kuan make me more than ever wish that there were some Chinese being spoken there. He's so ready to hear Chinese now. I will have to pursue my other resources. One is the lady who owns the local Chinese take-out restaurant. She has taken an interest in Cloud. I plan to take Cloud out for lunch there at least once a week, if I can afford it, just so we can practice our words on her and learn new words. Last Friday she taught us "lu se" (green) and "hong se" (red). I told her I already knew "lan se" (blue). I also know "bai se" (white) and I looked up "huang se" (yellow). We are ready to learn colors!

Also, Cloud and I invented a game called "Qu, lai." I tell him, "Qu! Qu! Qu qu qu!" and he runs away. Then I shout, "Lai lai lai lai!" and he comes back. That's two verbs learned right there! Maybe we can add more verbs to the game later.

Anyway, today was his second day of preschool. He seems to have adjusted right away. I made him do exercises before we left home, and then we got there early so he could swing on the swings for a few minutes. When the crowds came and the teachers came out to get the kids, he got that wide-eyed look again. He seems unnerved by being asked to stand against the wall and leave me standing several feet away from him. But this time, he said, "Bye!" He still looked scared, but he was resolutely going to go through with the painful task of entering the school building.

Then his classmate began to cry, and the boy's mother hastened away with a pained look on her face, and for a moment I thought Cloud was going to bolt. But he didn't, and he went in and I left. I was going to take a nap when I got home - I have a horrible head cold and I didn't sleep at all last night. But I couldn't lie down and anyway my boss called me needing a document.

Speaking of, I'm going to finish this later because my vision is blurry and even though I still can't lie down, I need to at least sit and close my eyes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Black, white, whatever

This slam poet is awesome.

Is my son a 'whatever'?

In other parts of the world, I'd be a freak and he'd be the status quo. Does it sound appealing to go to those places, just to see what it feels like? Just to have that experience? Even if you didn't have to?

How about if someone took you and brought you there? Would you do all right as a 'whatever'?

Friday, September 9, 2011

I'm home alone (Wheee!)

AwesomeCloud is at preschool. Without me. For the very first time. I came home right away and here I am.

He was cheerful and playful until he realized that the teacher holding his hand was going to drag him into the school. Then he made a grab for me. So I picked him up, hugged him hard, reminded him that school was fun with lots of toys and a snack, and put him down again. The teacher grabbed his hand and pulled him forcefully into the school.

The administrator I really like came up to me and asked me how I was doing, assuring me that it was hard to let go and I could call the school in a while and ask how he's doing. Now I feel like I ought to call the school and ask how he's doing. I'm pretty sure how he's doing involves crying. Do I want any more information than that? How early is too early to call? How late is too late?

My boss hit me with a document I need to revise and email to him immediately. It's 10:00 already. 2.5 hours isn't a lot of time.

I'm refusing to stress-eat. I did have a peach.

This post is just about me stressing and otherwise not very informative, so I'm going to stop here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In which I get indoctrinated into modern preschool mommy culture

This morning, AwesomeCloud had his first day of preschool. Actually it was an hour-long orientation and meet-the-teachers event. His actual first day will be Friday.

This is the season for blog posts about our kids' first days of school. My post is not going to be any more witty or brilliant than the average back-to-school post. However, the experience was interesting to me because I am new at this. It is strange to me. And my ideas about preschool and the parenthood of preschoolers are a little bit... uh... outdated.

First of all, I wasn't even certain he was going to be in preschool. For most of the summer, the uncertainty hung over me. His speech therapist last year was going to make an effort to snag him a spot, but then she and the entire administration left on summer vacation, and when they returned they got busy sending me paperwork and robocalls but were not often there to answer the phone and answer my question directly:

"Is my son enrolled in preschool?"

I left messages on several voice mails, and then I got a call from one of the people in charge, a very friendly woman whom I like very much. She told me that Cloud was in, and that he was scheduled for two mornings per week.... but she didn't know which mornings.

So, for about a week, we were left hanging on which two calendar columns to fill up with little 'school' notations. That dragged into two weeks, as Hurricane Irene delayed the opening of the entire public school system by a week.

Today, less than an hour before orientation was to start, Cloud's old speech therapist called me back. She informed me that he would be attending on Tuesdays and Fridays. She assured me that he would see her. (He'd been asking for her. Or rather, every time I tried to get him to say the name of his new teacher, he'd say her name instead.) I told her I was coming to the orientation and she told me she'd see us there.

Once there, I found Cloud's classroom and we entered. There were five other children present, and two of them were nonwhite. No other Asians, unfortunately. There was an African-American girl and a medium-brown-skinned girl of unclear ethnicity. I hope Cloud enjoys the diversity of preschool, because it will probably get worse as he goes into the higher grades. I'm pleasantly amazed at the significant scattering of nonwhite children at that school. It's a little pocket of diversity in a region where it's hard to find places with races all mixed together. Cloud may not spend much time looking at faces that resemble his, but he can look at various other types of faces.

(On that note, I'm glad I didn't end up paying to send him to a private preschool. I'll take free diversity over expensive homogeneity!)

I introduced Cloud to his teachers, who were conveniently labeled with name tags, and they took him to the craft table to play with Play-Doh. He was eager to get playing. However, when I told him I was going to pop into orientation and then come back and play with him, he bolted out of his seat and announced, "I come too." He took my hand and started toward the door. The teachers looked on in amusement.

"Um," I said. "This is grownup stuff. I'm just going to listen to them tell me something. Then I'll come back, I promise."

The head teacher jumped up. "Sometimes we let the kids see the room, just so they'll know where Mommy is."

So we did that, walking together to the room. I opened the door, and when Cloud saw the boring rows of chairs with dull grownups sitting in them, he hesitated.

"Let's go play with Play-Doh," the teacher told Cloud, and he moved away from the door... and then the administrator I really like came up behind me and gave me a push. "Just go," she whispered. "Quickly before he has time to think."

So I went in and sat down and began initiation rites.

Actually, much of it made sense to me. The oddest bits of orientation mostly seemed like little clashes between the school's needs and parental behavior. For instance:

"Park on the street across from the school and you won't have any problems," the speaker said. She then launched into a long, complicated description of moms and buses jockeying for position in the same strip of drop-off curb, and how leaving your vehicle to walk your child to the teacher was both necessary and a matter of crucial timing, and how parents in a hurry do crazy stupid things and endanger everyone (so don't be that parent!), and throughout it all I kept thinking, "Sheesh, I'm just going to park on the street."

It's not a busy street and it's not that long a walk. Sure, Cloud and I got rained on when we parked on the street this morning, but rain happens. We're not afraid of rain. I'm more afraid of blocking a school bus and getting admonished for it.

(Later, as Cloud and I were walking back to the car, I overheard one mom say to another mom, "That's the dropoff curb." The other mom nodded appreciatively. What? Didn't they hear the advice to park across the street? Hey, if they want to jostle with school buses, more power to them.)

Then there was the whole thing about classroom birthday parties. The general message was, "Sigh... if you must... we're going to make it really hard for you and limit your options."More literally, it was, "Warn the teacher ahead of time, don't bring any food, and make it relevant to the curriculum." That's not a birthday party - that's classroom volunteering. With extra stickers. Not that I'm opposed to classroom birthday parties - there can only be a maximum of 15 birthdays a year, and that's if Cloud's classroom ultimately fills out to its maximum 15 kids, and none of them were born in summer. But when I was in preschool, all we did was have our name put at the top of the felt board and then the class sang "Happy Birthday" and that was it. I think that was kinda nice. We all felt important enough, just being sung to. And anyway, I don't want to throw my son a classroom birthday party. He already gets like 5 parties per birthday with just his extended family members.

It's a peanut-free school, which sounds a little extreme until you learn that there is actually at least one student who is deathly allergic to peanuts. It's not hypothetical. I'm in favor of letting that kid get through the school year alive. That's what sunflower seed butter is for, anyway. But in preschool it's not an issue because the teachers provide all the snacks themselves. Fruit or crackers or cheese, they said. Fine with me. If Cloud learns to like fruit at preschool, I will be happy.

When I reentered the classroom, Cloud wasn't crying. The teachers praised him to me. However, as soon as he saw me, he demanded, "Go home, eat lunch." Over and over again, repeatedly, until we walked out the door. (At that point, he suggested, "Restaurant?") It was only 11:00 AM. Oh my goodness.

Supposedly there was a list of supplies for me to buy hidden somewhere in my packet of paperwork, but I didn't see it. I just remember something about travel tissues (got those already), a bottle of soap, sanitary wipes, and a backpack. The backpack is for Cloud, obviously. The other three items are for the teacher, and if there's more on the list, I don't know what it is.

Anyway, while Cloud and I were out shopping for another item, I got it in my head to find some backpacks and let him pick one out. It had to be cheap, and small, and I was hoping to find something tasteful and boyish but unique. First we went to Marshall's, where I discovered that small backpacks are really, really hard to find. There was a good selection of backpacks. There were plain black backpacks, backpacks with sports logos on them, Dora and Thomas the Tank Engine backpacks... and they were all HUGE.

"Who would buy this?" I pondered out loud as I held up a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack that was almost as tall as my son. A passer-by overheard me and grinningly agreed with me. Seriously, anyone under ten would struggle to drag that monstrosity across the school grounds.

Cloud was disappointed. He was in love with the idea of picking his own backpack, and Thomas is at the top of his list of favorite motifs. But Mama was on a grand search for a small backpack, and he was helpless to change that.

We went to Ocean State Job Lot next. I figured that OSJL has a lot of odd things, and apparently, small backpacks are odd things. No luck. But right next to OSJL is TJ Maxx, so I figured, what the heck, it's just like Marshall's but we're already right here. So we went in.

The selection was decent, and with a whole lot of searching, Cloud and I found kid-themed backpacks in the back. The smallest one had Dora the Explorer on it, and Cloud was happy to consider getting that one, but I nixed that idea without telling him why. We then found a tiny black one with a basketball player logo protruding out of it. "We can buy a patch with any picture you want," I told Cloud, "and sew it on." After I pried that gawdawful logo off of it, of course. "We can go to the railroad gift store and get a patch with a train on it, or..."

"Train!" agreed Cloud.

"...Or a boat..."

"Train!" Cloud insisted.

At the register, we saw more backpacks, and as if by magic, there was an even tinier black backpack with a nonprotruding, embroidered logo on it. I made him try it, and then I made him trade his other one for it, and then he reminded me that he wanted a train patch for it. "Yeah," I agreed, "It will be even easier to sew a train patch onto THIS backpack." Cloud was sold.

The cashier fawned over him, telling him fifty-plus times that he was sooooo cute with his tiny backpack. He put it next to his seat in the car, occasionally bringing up the promised train patch, and proudly showed it off to Daddy when we got home.

Oh my god. I hope I can find a train patch. Imagine if the railroad gift store doesn't sell patches?! I can try the hobby store, too... gah, I hope patches aren't so totally out of style that no one sells them anymore. I will paint a train with acrylic paints onto that thing if I have to. But I kinda like the idea of using tourist mementos to personalize one's possessions. It'd be so... so Cape Cod of us.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Words keep a-comin' all day long

I have a talking kid.

I also have a potty-trained kid, at least mostly, but I'm not going to discuss his private doings all over the internet.

So, I have a talking kid.

This is a hugely welcome development. My husband and I are both extremely verbal communicators, and it's not easy having a nonverbal person in the household. Especially when we are in charge of meeting that person's every need. It's like having another cat - but worse, because cats lick themselves and use their own litter boxes (ideally) and you can rest assured they're not intelligent enough to be dwelling on their experiences of pain and trauma.

Children, however, start dwelling on pain and trauma at some point in their lives, and even though I don't expect my son to be an open book all the time, it bothers me to think that he can't express ANY thought that he has. Not even "I want milk."

For a long time, the 'language explosions' were tiny. As far as I was concerned, five new words in a single day was a language explosion. Ten words in a week was, too. I didn't know what people were talking about when they said children's language acquisition was amazing. It's not amazing! It's excruciating.

Until now. Now we are in a bona fide language explosion. Pronouns! Still used incorrectly some of the time, but there are more of them.

Here's a funny development: when Cloud momentarily forgets which of us is 'I" and which is 'you" he asks for "own." As in, "Own muffin... please!" when he doesn't want to share my muffin. "Own spoon" when he wants to use his baby spoon instead of a regular teaspoon. It gets the point across in an innovative way, and i don't correct his pronoun usage as much.

Verbs! He now has the phrase "I want" and uses it copiously. He can 'walk' 'ride' 'dim' (swim) and 'deep' (sleep). He likes to go 'dogging' (jogging).

He answers questions. And not just randomly - he actually listens to and understands the questions and then answers them with actual intent. This is huge.

He has learned the skill of diversion - changing the subject if he doesn't want to go along with what I'm telling him, or asking for something else if I tell him he can't have one thing.

He has learned to nag and whine. Someday I will count how many times in a row he can ask for a snack. It's a lot. He also barely pauses for breath in between inquiries. (He and Riley the cat have that trait in common.)

(In fact, I have accidentally called him Riley a few times now.)

I have begun, occasionally, to tell him to shut up and/or stop whining. I try not to say those things very often. How often is not very often? 20% of the time? 5%? 5% still has me shushing him at least once a day.

He has begun repeating phrases after hearing them only once. He's especially good at this if the phrase contains words he already knows. For instance, I doubt he'll say 'brachiosaurus' again without prodding, but he could say "going to flea market" again soon.

I guess this means it's prime time to start him on Mandarin.

(I've been a little complacent about the whole Mandarin thing. I've been working at it a little... a very very little... but I have some ideas I could pursue.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our day with Irene

Howdy all! We have internet again! Hurricane Irene knocked our power out for 9 hours, or phone for 3 days, and our internet finally came on late last night.

On Saturday night, it rained, but by Sunday when the winds picked up the rain was already gone. We live on high ground (Compared to the waterfront, that is) so we didn't see any tidal surge. (If we had, half the Cape would've been washed to sea!) So, for us, it wasn't the water - it was the wind.

At around 10:30 AM, the lights flickered, so I put on a pot of rice pilaf. The power went out for good soon after the water boiled. At noon, we ate the rice pilaf, which was still warm, and that was the last hot food we had for the next nine hours. We also had grapes and crackers, and for supper I made peanut butter and honey sandwiches out of hot dog rolls. The fridge and freezer were taped shut so that little fingers or forgetful minds wouldn't accidentally open them.

We took out two board games - Candyland for the Kiddo, and Empire Builder for the grownups. Empire Builder is an epic railroad game. Cloud loves to look at the pictures of trains. He picked the game out for Daddy last Christmas, most likely because he liked the pictures of trains. We like to play it, but it's difficult to play it with guests because it's just too epic.

With the lights out, and no rain outside, and aside from 30-40 mph gusts it being a beautiful day, inevitably we all went outside. We started patrolling our street to look for fallen branches, and we found lots of them. It became part of our routine - play a round of Candyland, take a few turns of Empire Builder, catch the news every half hour on the radio, and then go outside to clear the road of any fallen branches.

After we cleared one intersection of fallen locust branches, two men came along with a camera. They pointed the camera at our new pile of branches by the side of the road.

"You missed it," I said. "These were all on the street. We already cleaned it up."

"Wow, all these were on the street?!" they said.

Well, most of them. Those trees are really brittle.

When dusk arrived, we took out two flashlights and attempted to keep playing our game. Cloud invented his own new game - hog the flashlights. We had candles, too, and eventually we just let him have the flashlights because at least it kept him away from the candles.

The power came on just before bedtime. In the morning Cloud and I went grocery shopping and got enough food to make a nice big hot baked chicken meal, half of which I brought over to our elderly neighbor. It turned out he'd been at his daughter's house and not stranded without power in our neighborhood, but he took the chicken anyway.

Hey, it was good chicken.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Hi! We are just to the east of Hurricane Irene. The wind is fun to watch; we didn't leave much outside to blow around in it. Anyway it seems to be in the 5-20 mph range - no 50 mph gusts yet. No basement flooding (yet).

I have several half-finished posts in 'edit' mode on this blog. I guess I haven't felt like writing much. AwesomeCloud is in a true language explosion, and half the time he has me cracking up. The other half he makes me groan and bang my head on the nearest solid object. For instance, I asked him to do something and he replied, "No, too late." A few minutes later he was plunging an open sharpie into his mouth.

"Really?" I asked. "You were going to eat a sharpie? Really?"

He just grinned and headbutted me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sneaking adoption into casual conversation with a 3-year-old

My newest dilemma: AwesomeCloud is almost three and a half and I've hardly made any effort to talk to him about adoption, families, our family, and China. He's overheard me talking about those topics to other people, but those conversations happen less frequently as he gets older. There was a time when random people on the street would come up and boldly initiate conversation, and I would share and educate. Because I was lonely, because they were interested, because they needed to be corrected.

Nowadays, not so much. People are less bold and I'm less sharing.

Cloud is old enough to understand what's going on; I think people are able to correctly assume that at first glance. However, he's not verbally articulated enough to hold a conversation about such topics on his own. If you want to talk about trains, trucks, or cats, he's all there - as long as you don't need him to utter all the words that form complete sentences. He kind of skips around like someone on a cell phone with a bad connection. That's fine if he needs to ask for apple juice. It's not great if he wants to inquire about his first mommy.

I thought maybe I could just start rambling to him about it while we were doing other things. But that's easier said than done. It's not like talking at a wordless baby anymore. He interrupts me to talk about trains or trucks or cats, because there is usually a train or truck or cat nearby to be discussed. So far, he's done it every time I've mentioned adoption. But so far, I haven't mentioned adoption very much.

It's not like he's living in a vacuum. He has picture books. He goes to adoption agency events. A couple of times, we've spent time with other families with mismatched races. We don't have travel group reunions like some other families, because we didn't have a travel group. We don't have any China adoption BFFs. I am possibly failing my kid by not immersing him in Adoption-World or China-World. But he's not completely isolated from it, either.

I don't know what I plan to say when I do get to talk to him. But I'm not anxious about it yet. I just want to get the basics out first. I hope he'll ask questions when he can; I may need the extra prodding. THEN I can be anxious. But I'm much better at answering questions than I am at blurting things out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The wonderful thing about tiggers

Cloud thought my rendition of Tigger's theme song was HILARIOUS.

Also, he was awesome in KMart. I'm so proud of my well-behaved little shopper who keeps his hands to himself. And this was AFTER I got him a smoothie at McD's for no reason at all except that I had a coupon. It used to be that treats made him want to whine more, not less.

Actually, he hasn't whined more after a treat since last spring, when I had some harsh words for him about a lollipop. I said, "You know, I gave you that lollipop because I thought it would make you happy. You don't sound happy. Maybe lollipops don't make you happy, and I should just stop giving them to you."

I had to say it twice, on two different incidents, for it to sink in. But if I managed to sound serious, I was. I wasn't trying to manipulate my kid by scaring him. I was seriously giving weight to the idea of no longer giving him lollipops, and being honest and up front with him about my concerns. In some cases, this approach might be a poor one. But in the case of treats, it totally worked.

Now, when he's anticipating a lollipop at the bank or a cookie at the supermarket, he'll sometimes say, "Happy! Happy!" It sounds odd to an observer, but he does it to remind me that he's happy and deserves a treat. I encourage it and I hold him to his promise.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sometimes Mama is cold and distant

Today was a bad parenting day for me. I wasn't exactly a bad parent, but I was a very reluctant parent, and I'm going to blame it on the disgusting mess I found lurking in rarely-checked corners of my kitchen. And also all over one of the kitchen chairs.

It's going to be okay. However, I've been breathing in cleaning fluid fumes all day and I still smell it on me, and I've gotten to the point where if I hear a small child's whine coming on, I run away.

Cloud tried to initiate a make-believe game with his two Beanie Babies, and I went along with it for a while, but my make-believe stamina was very short today and I feel a little guilty about it.

On the bright side, I made fried rice for supper and I think it was my best yet. I'm learning some tricks. For instance, make sure the rice is cooled all the way down before adding it to the veggies and meat. And garlic goes really well with soy sauce - so well, in fact, that I don't have to add anything else.

I've had a few off days lately. Today was the offest day so far. I'm sure it'll get better, though.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Small linguistic improvements

Yesterday, Cloud and I were driving by a certain pond and looking for the resident swans.

"There they are," I said.

He replied, "Right, right. She's right."

If his reply sounds oddly out of context... well, it is. But it has two things going for it!

1) Correct gender in gender-specific pronoun.
2) Expressing a positive thought.

It just so happens that he was talking to me when he referred to me as 'she'. And while 'right' is a synonym for 'yes', it is not always an appropriate alternative.

But I don't care! My kid is saying new things. He's experimenting with language. He'll get the nuances down later.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A cat named Cat: an attachment story

Here's Trixie, the real deal

Here's Cat, with Ban Lu

Somewhere in my pre-adoption reading, I came across an explanation for why children have loveys - toys or objects that they project their feelings of attachment onto. For instance, the security blanket that Linus is so attached to in Peanuts. The book mentioned that adopted children who struggle with attachment issues may not have enough feelings of attachment for a lovey. They're working so hard to form attachments to their adoptive parent(s) that they have nothing left over for the toy or blanket.

Okay, fair enough. But we bought a few Beanie Babies for AwesomeCloud just in case. In case he needed something soft to hug. In case he found it easier to bond with the toy than with us. In case he happened to like stuffed animals.

Well, he didn't. We brought the calico cat with us to China. We chose it because it resembled our cat Trixie, who, we assumed, would be a fixture in his life when he got home. He wanted nothing to do with the Beanie Baby cat, and after all our cajoling and patience, the toys he responded to were made of hard plastic and had buttons that beeped or played tunes.

I understand why some people gripe about electronic baby toys, but for us, they were the only toys that would draw his gaze. Eventually, he also grew to like plastic trucks and matchbox cars. Soft toys, toys with faces, and especially stuffed animals repelled him. Sometimes they terrified him. To this day he still has a little problem with puppets.

He learned to like real cats; however, Trixie died two months after he met her. She was very good with him, but she lost her vision, and then her balance, and then she was gone. (So, as most people reading this know, we got two more cats! But neither of them are calico, so the Beanie Baby no longer resembles a household member.)

Cloud's Early Intervention teacher went to work on his phobias. She brought in all sorts of toys he was afraid of, and put them away when he cried. I was almost amazed that he didn't develop a phobia of her, she did it so frequently. But, nope, he grew to like her. He really dug her. And one day she invented a game so irresistible that he didn't even mind that it involved the calico cat. See, she started playing a wonderfully silly song about cats running around in a circle. And then she made our two Beanie Baby cats run in a circle. After a few runs, Cloud even wanted to hold one of the cats himself.

I don't know what happened to the leopard-print cat. The calico was his preferred Beanie of the two. He called it "Tat." We started calling it "Cat."

He started taking it in the car with him once in a while. Sometimes we'd bring it back into the house, and sometimes he'd realize he wanted it and we'd go into the car to fetch it for him. One day he brought it into a store. Sometime later, Daddy let him bring it to church. He began asking for it as "Tiy tat." (Kitty cat.)

His k sounds are improving, and sometimes he calls it "Cat" now. Recently, he has begun taking it to bed with him. Several times, when he lost track of Cat, he began to cry.

We bought a spare.

We're not going to do anything elaborate, like secretly switch the cats so they age similarly. No, he's already seen that Beanie model in the store, shiny and new, while he clutched his dirty old one. In fact AC Moore carries hem, and he likes to bring Cat into the store to say hi to all the other Beanie cats. Someday, if he loses the original Cat, we'll pull our replacement Cat and tell him the truth about it. Then he can make the hard adjustment in his own time.

I don't know how amazed I should be that this has happened. I don't know what the statistics are for attachment-challenged children growing into the ability to keep a lovey. I do know that not every child with healthy attachment engages in this behavior - 'normal' does not necessarily mean 'universal'.

But I'm glad that he's growing and learning and developing a personality. I'm glad that he's mindful of his surroundings. I'm glad that he's doing things that almost any mom can totally relate to, even if her kids' circumstances were nothing like mine's.

One think I am most definitely amazed about, though, is the Kid's ability to keep track of Cat. Admittedly we live in a small house, and there are only so many places he can leave her. But today in Trader Joe's, he showed remarkable mindfulness. He was pushing one of the kid-sized carts, and when we emptied our groceries onto the register, he announced, "Cart back!" I encouraged him to go put the cart back and then return to our register, and as I watched him, the lady behind me observed, "He put his stuffed animal in the cart. Will he remember to take it?"

"Oh yes," I assured her. "And if he doesn't, I will."

Well, I didn't. He lost sight of me on his way back - he got caught behind a cluster of other customers - and I was waving so hard I forgot to notice he didn't have Cat with him. No matter! He realized it right away, ran all the way back, and had an easier time finding me the second time.

I should probably put our phone number on her tag, though. Just in case. He can remember her just in time 30 times in a row, but it's that one time he completely forgets that matters.

Still, I was impressed, and so were the lady and the cashier.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Talking to people - plus, urine-soaked Cheerios

Today we visited a group of friends and then a group of relatives. There were small children for AwesomeCloud to play with in both cases. I think he really, really needed the social time with other kids. It seems like he's been hanging out with his folks too much lately. We haven't even brought him to the big playground lately. Once earlier this week I took him to the playground across the street, which no kid ever, ever goes to. We just played with each other, as usual.

I think it's sad that the school playground is empty and silent all summer. It seems to me like it should be crawling with kids who wander in from neighborhoods on all four sides. In fact, it seems to me that those very neighborhoods are awfully devoid of kids. Maybe we should sign Cloud up for more activities so he'll have a chance to make friends. However, he already goes to some activities, and he never has time while he's there to make any friends - he's always too busy doing the activity.

Or not doing the activity, in the case of swimming lessons. He manages to avoid accomplishing anything at swimming lessons. However, when I'm in the water with him, he wants to kick his feet while I hold him. He wants to dip his chin in. He seems confident in the water. But as soon as I step away, it's all over.

On the bright side, today at the pool with friends, he was emulating the other kids and getting all sorts of wet. He was a kid playing in the pool, rather than a kid standing in water up to his knees and whining. It was pretty cool to see.

Know what else is amazing to see? He can talk and other people can understand him. Sometimes. I'm not saying his speech is as clear as a bell, and his syntax can be confusing. He speaks in keywords - noun, adjective, verb, and everything else gets skipped.

"Go Hyannis beach!"
"Socks on peeeze."
"Restaurant eat mac'n'cheese?"

But more and more, people react with understanding, and it always fills me with excitement and relief. My husband and I have a lot of practice understanding him, but it's nice to think that we won't be the only ones for much longer.

Sometimes he puzzles us, too, though. And he has a weird, annoying habit of saying "yeah" to all our wrong guesses. For instance:

"Pango." Points to fridge.
"What do you want? Yogurt?"
"Okay, here's the yogurt."
"No! No yogurt!"
"Oh, what do you want, then?"
"Um... um... orange juice?"
"Okay, I'll pour you a glass or orange juice."
"No! No orange juice!"
"Oh. Point to what you want."
"Point to it."
"Really? Really pineapple?"
"This here? You want this pineapple?"
"Oh, okay, here you go."

Sometimes I never guess what he's saying. Sometimes he says yes to all our wrong guesses and I never find out if any were right.

I would like him to utter the word 'the' someday. I tried coaching him, and I got him to say it twice, but it hasn't stuck.

I was going to write about the urine-soaked Cheerios earlier, but when my husband offered to take Cloud out somewhere, I was so relieved that I just scrubbed the kitchen really, really well and decided I didn't want to talk about it. It's not as weird as it sounds, anyway. Cheerios end up on the floor all the time. That morning, I thought I'd work a little bit on potty-training, but then some other stuff happened, and perhaps I wasn't as available for potty guidance as I should have been. Also, he'd refused to pee a few minutes earlier, so I figured that meant he just didn't have to. Anyway, it gave me something new to complain about, and resulted in a much cleaner kitchen. I guess ultimately that was a win. Except that, well, we'd originally planned to spend the day doing other things, so in that respect the whole day was a loss.

I think the moral of this blog post is that I like some things about Age 3. I like the improved talking. Other things, not so much.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What happened to my outdoors-loving kid?

He keeps wanting to turn around and go back inside and watch TV. Or eat. Or run in circles around the living room. Anything but stay outside.

He hates wearing shoes or going barefoot - he just wants to wear socks all the time. I would rather not let him wear socks outside and get them all muddy, but sometimes I do anyway. Otherwise I'd never get any of my vegetable waste to the compost pile, and my landscaping project (such as it is) would never progress beyond a stack of retaining wall bricks in the back yard. (I mean, not that I'm making much progress anyway. I need to spend hours at a time on that project, not minutes.)

And even then, the kid cannot wait to get back inside!

I'm very sad about this. I've tried just going out myself and coaxing him to join me, and not giving in when he tries to coax him back in. No use.

Maybe he'd do better if we were going to playgrounds again. But I can't work on my yard while I'm at a playground. Maybe it's just the yard that's boring.

And overgrown, and neglected, with bricks lying around... you know, if he'd let me spend some time on it, it would look better.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


For your viewing pleasure.

(I'm using my blog as an image hosting site again. Hehe.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mozart will not make my son smarter!

But I make him listen to the classical station anyway.

I want him, someday when he's older and hears some classical music, to think, "Hey, I kinda like that! I used to listen to it when I was little." Instead of, "What the heck is this? I can't relate to it."

I don't know very much about classical music myself; all I know is that the radio station goes on, the radio station goes off. Sometimes the DJ says something interesting. For instance, yesterday after one lovely but unmemorable piece, he mentioned that the composer was William Herschel, the astronomer who discovered Uranus, binary and multiple stars, and nebulae.

Maybe if my son starts earlier, he will do better. Maybe he'll not only be able to discern Bach from Beethoven, but Aubin from Orff.

With visual art, I can do a little better. Exposing a child to visual art is not as easy as switching on the classical station at random in the car, but my parents made sure I got some exposure, and I can do the same. Art museums can be fun. Anyone who takes a kid to an art museum without making it fun is missing out on something great. I also want to inure my child to the traditional staples of art - the nude, the abstract, and the high concept, for some examples. The first time I took a figure drawing course, some of the other students had a very hard time adjusting to the presence of the nude model - they may have been art students, but they'd never had a chance to accept that nudity can be artistic. It's part of our culture. Nudity as a taboo is also part of our culture. The two seem to contradict, but they don't have to create cognitive dissonance if you give a kid time to get used to it.

I want to expose the kid to theater. Theater is fun. It's like movies, but better because it's in person. Cinema is an industry, and that's fine, and he'll inevitably watch a lot of movies in his lifetime. But theater is people creating art right in front of you. I can't keep him away from that. He may even want to try it himself.

I don't expect the arts to make him smarter or better, or even to prepare him for the real world (although they might contribute to that). I don't want to steer him into an arts career - I went to art school and I wouldn't recommend it to people who are good at anything else.

I just want him to love the arts because art is great. Art is part of being human. Maybe there are studies showing that babies who listen to Mozart have better brain waves, and students who join band are better at math. Maybe there aren't. I don't care about that. (Well, I'd like him to be better at math, of course.) I just want him to know what arts are out there, and be familiar with them already, and not have to play catch-up when he's older. Or worse, find himself intimidated by the sheer volume of art and avoid or even scorn it. There are lots of things in life we cannot give him, and he'll be playing catch-up in some way or other. We're not great athletes. We're too poor to engage in many expensive hobbies. We travel a lot, but our travel habits are very specific and leave out a lot of options. It's a big, full, rich, diverse world out there, and if I can't give him all of it, I at least want to give him a well-rounded sampling of it.

I don't expect art to change him. I don't want to influence who he is. I just want to influence what he has.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My kid is covered in stickers

My kid is covered in stickers.

This is a side effect of potty training. Last week, we were at the stage where he would only do his business in the potty if we pulled his pants down ourselves and stuck him there. Now he's doing both the pulling and the sitting voluntarily. Every 5-10 minutes. And then begging for stickers. Insisting on peeling the stickers himself and managing to get 3 or 4 at a time because, hey, Mama's sweeping or folding laundry, so why the heck not?

I took him to the library covered in stickers. Now he's at the post office with Daddy, still covered in stickers. They plan to go to the beach afterwards, so at that point the stickers will have to come off. Except the ones on his shirt - if his shirt stays dry, the stickers might stay.

Next up: bladder control.

(One can hope.)

Oh! And as an addendum to my last post about things Cloud says... some of the things he says sound like me. I know that's to be expected. We spend so much time together, and at least half of his language comes from me. But sometimes he blurts out a phrase that has me written all over it, and after I do a double-take, I have to laugh.

For instance:

"Good enough." (I use this phrase so I can avoid yelling at him when he's doing something unhelpful but not exactly destructive. I guess that happens a lot, because Cloud says it a lot.)

"I don't think so." (I cracked up when he said this. He even got my inflections right.)

"Don't touch! Don't touch!" (Self-explanatory, I think. Usually he says "I do it!" when he wants me to stop interfering, but I guess he wanted to sound more like Mama this time.)

Also, lately he's been saying, "Yeah... true." Sometimes it's appropriate, as in: "Look, there's a robin." "Yeah... true." Sometimes not, as in, "Let's get a cookie." "Yeah... true." So I guess 'true' is just a synonym for 'yeah' right now.

(Do I say "yeah, true" often? I catch myself saying "Good enough" more often than ever now, but I can't recall saying "Yeah... true" to any significant degree. Weird.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Weird things my kid has said

I'm dedicating today to a cleaning frenzy... at least, the part of today that I didn't spend dragging my kid around town so my husband could have some peace and quiet. But I can multitask, so while I flit from task to task, I'll also pause to list some of the odd/amusing/firsttime utterances my kid has been making lately.

At Audubon:

"Chalk." (For a butterfly I later learned I'd misidentified - it was a clouded sulphur, not a yellow chalk. Easy mistake to make.)
"Boardwalk growing." (Referring to grass growing between some boards on the path.)
"Turkey back!" (I don't know what he meant by this, but he was addressing a turkey at the farm.)

At the playground:
"You stay here. I go trash." (An unusual spark of independence! Usually he wants me to go with him if he's moving a distance greater than six feet. When he got to the trash can, another kid's mom was there and he announced to her what he was doing. She looked startled at first but then praised him.)
"Horses sleeping." (That was just weird because the horses were quite clearly not sleeping.)

"Di dian? Di dian?" (What time is it? in Chinese. Only weird because he had been ignoring the Chinese language CD for a long time previously.)

The really weird stuff is yet to come, when he can string together words to make random-sounding sentences. One thing he can do now is blurt out words in a way that makes it sound like he's taking inventory of his vocabulary: "Cat... truck... train... hi... eat... take look... apple... tree... yeah... train... big... running..."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Anime baby (Connecticon 2011)

I should post pictures, but I don't know where they are.

We just got back from Connecticon, an Anime/Manga/video game convention. The list of events was actually pretty small; there were only eight rooms and three halls, including the artists' area. But we hardly had time to do anything anyway; we had to mind our comic book table. Fortunately, with three adults (myself, my husband, and our new intern) it was easy to keep the table staffed. At all times, one person was with Cloud, one person was selling comic books, and one person was free to play games or go shopping. It was nice.

The number one thing to do, though, was watch costumes.

Wow. We estimated that as many as 80% of the attendees had costumes. And some were spectacular.

I brought my lab coat, which I wore until it got too hot in the crowded artists' room. So at least I was that much dressed up. We don't like to go all out with the costuming anyhow, because it detracts from our ability to put people's focus on the books. The characters in Zephyr & Reginald: Minions For Hire wear lab coats, so my lab coat was thematic. I'd love to dress like Picorna from Perils of Picorna, but I'm afraid that won't happen soon.

I did get a really cute black and gold dress for only $20. It has an elastic waist and a flaring skirt that complement my hourglass figure. I may not be skinny, but I'm shaped like a woman, so I may as well emphasize it. One great thing about cosplay conventions is that the skinny girls don't necessarily get all the attention.

We had a room at a motel that was supposedly easily accessed by shuttle bus, but that turned out not to be the case at first. We complained to the motel staff about the lack of shuttle bus, but they told us their shuttle driver was unavailable, and that was that. Sorry. Parking at the convention center was ex$pen$ive, so we had really wanted that shuttle.

Oddly, though, when we drove around Hartford center looking for a cheaper parking garage, everything was closed... except one garage... which was free. We parked there, of course! And then we walked five blocks to the con.

On Saturday afternoon, I returned to the motel to give Cloud a nap, and we learned that the shuttle bus was operational. Yay! When Cloud learned he'd get to ride on a bus, he became obsessively excited, almost intolerably so. We still had to wait 20 minutes for the driver to get ready, and those 20 minutes felt like 20 hours. Cloud refused to leave the side of the bus, not even to run inside for a quick drink of water. I had to think up 20 minutes' worth of different ways to assure him we'd really get to ride the bus.

The bus was just a white van, which I think was a little disappointing to him - he must have been picturing one of the big blue city buses - but he seemed pleased enough when we climbed inside. "There are different kinds of buses," I explained. "The shuttle bus is just one kind."

AwesomeCloud was largely pretty good. There were escalators for him to play on and a patio to run around on. He largely ignored the people in costumes, unless they had candy. For instance, Ev, our artist friend who had his own table, was dressed as a pirate and Cloud shied away from him until Ev offered Cloud some Japanese gummy hearts. Then, Cloud was in love. He stopped by Ev's table frequently to get more gummy hearts. It became a running joke - Pavlov's kid, pumped up on sugar, etc.

The MENSA booth was giving out chocolate. Cloud memorized their location, too. After a while, I felt so bad about intruding on their space that I made some vague promises about trying to take their admission test sometime.

(Don't get any ideas! I said VAGUE promises, SOMETIME! And I said trying. I didn't say how hard I'd try.)

In the middle of all this, Cloud somehow developed a phobia of people dressed as cardboard robots, and the puppets at the puppet show made him cry. (Ironically, as we were leaving the puppet show, we walked right by a 6-foot-something Tusken Raider and he didn't blink an eye.) He also began to cry more readily as the con dragged on and exhaustion set in. But all things considered, he was a real trouper throughout the weekend.

On Saturday night, there were fireworks after bedtime, which were visible through our motel window. Cloud was still awake at that time, so I opened the curtains and let him watch from his crib. He filled in the silence (the fireworks were fairly distant) by shouting, "KaBOOM!" every now and then.

Aside from the ill-fated puppet show, I only attended one event - a plushie workshop. I made a kung fu kitty for Cloud. He likes it well enough, but I think he wishes it had a face. I shall embroider a face onto it as soon as I find my embroidery floss, and after I mop up the basement (which flooded) and unpack and mow the lawn. And rest awhile.

My sister and her boys are coming on Wednesday. So I may forget about Kung Fu Kitty for a while until I have less stuff to do.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Heading To Hartford This Weekend For ConnectiCon!

This will be Cloud's sixth (or so) convention - his second with a hotel room.

We don't have any new books for this con, but we've never had a table at ConnectiCon before, so in some ways it's all new.

Hopefully having the hotel room will make things easier for Cloud. He can take naps.

Back on Monday! Have a nice weekend!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Raising a child Unitarian (and why I am)

I'm not a Unitarian Universalist, but I play one in church. :) The thing is, as a lapsed Catholic and an avid explorer of all things spiritual, I don't want any labels for myself. I don't want to make a commitment. People latch on to labels, and when I fail to match the label, instead of adjusting their labels, they just get annoyed at me for disappointing them.

I am also not calling my son a Unitarian Universalist. He can figure out the label thing himself later. For now, we attend the local church, we avail him of its religious ed program, and we contribute financially to the churchgoing endeavor. No 'tithe' for us; it's 'payment for services rendered.' I like that better. It's less pretentious.

What's nice about UU is how normal it is. Yesterday we went to July 4th festivities at Aunt and Uncle's house, and they invited two couples their own age. The first couple informed us that they attend the UU church in Brewster. The second couple attends a UU church in New Jersey. Not that they are... they attend. They were lovely people and I enjoyed meeting them. My mother, who has nothing but vitriol for the UU church, would have found them delightful as well. They were just so pleasant and normal. To hear my mother talk about UU's, you'd expect them to be some sort of freaks of nature. No, sorry, pleasant and normal it was.

There are a few things that i especially like about UU's:

1) The religious ed program is an overview of world religions. That was the type of religious education I was planning to give my son anyway. His spiritual heritage is ancient and complex, and very few white people respect that. Ultimately, he'll decide for himself how much he cares about Confucianism, daoism, and buddhism.

I was talking to a teenage girl who had attended UU RE all her life, and she said, "They try to give you enough information to decide your religious path for yourself, but most people I know just stay with the church." I guess the latter bit is universal. By and large, people hate change, unless something goes seriously wrong with the religious institution they grew up with. Not to say that exploration isn't common; I think it's both common and important. Hey, I did a ton of exploration, and at the end I was all set to return to the Catholic church... until something went wrong with it.

Whatever Cloud decides to do, I'm gonna let him do it. At least I will be assured that he's not going into his spiritual explorations blind - he'll have a well-rounded background in what religion is all about. I took that liberty for myself without being nearly as prepared, and I turned out all right.

2) UU is like a clearinghouse of social justice and environmentalism causes. What could possibly appeal to me more? Pure, unabashed altruism, no strings attached!

3) Half the members are fine artists. Seriously, this church is stacked with old ladies wielding a mean paintbrush. Admittedly, there's only a scattering of other types of artists - a few talented singers, some crafters, some cooks, and one woman who is really into theater. But fine arts is where my interests lie. I've been stalled out for years now - working on the comic books but lacking any sort of direction when it came to doing paintings and stuff. The best way to jolt oneself out of a rut is to surround oneself with the thing you aspire to create yourself, and I think it's starting to work. I'm interested in making it work.

4) No pressure. I hate social pressure. It makes me want to go away. Many religious communities are so rigid - I can't do that. And I want my son to have some spiritual elbow room too. He's not going to be like everyone else, no matter what happens. Why not accept that from the start and give him room to grow? Who knows what he'll grow into? It might be someone really amazing!

Sometimes he does something totally unique and unexpected, and I laugh and cheer him on. I'm from the Neil deGrasse Tyson school of parenting - if he's damaging something truly valuable and irreplaceable, like a cat*, stop him. If not, let him go. And appreciate the results, whatever they may be.

And only hold his hand when he's reaching for me. And when crossing the street. Any time other than that, I can have a little faith in the kid. And try not to let him see me gnawing my fingernails in anxiety for him.

*Cats in general may be easily replaceable, but individual cats are not.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Who wants a postcard?

I have two 'Boston' postcards sitting around. Who wants to get a postcard from me? First two commenters win. Just leave me your email address so I can ask for your address privately.