Thursday, June 30, 2011

AwesomeCloud at Chowderfest

Chowdafest - a Cape Cod tradition that was just begging to be invented. A thousand people packed into an outdoor concert pavilion, taste-testing chowder from a dozen local restaurants and voting for the best one.

It's hot, loud, hard to move around, and by the end of the day everyone is covered in clam chowder splatters. AwesomeCloud had a grand old time. Unlimited chowder! In tiny cups! plus... free ice cream! (Which his parents forced him to wait until the end to get).

Interesting note: Cloud has now learned that if he asks for chocolate, he won't get any surprises. I'm pretty sure that's what's been going on when he demands chocolate ice cream. I can rattle off weird ice cream names like "moose tracks" and "lime sorbet" all I want, but those names must all sound risky to him. Better to demand chocolate.

Once, I ordered him cotton candy ice cream and he liked it just fine. My logic was that he will probably lose his taste for cotton candy ice cream in the next few years, so he may as well enjoy it now. However, when he's allowed to choose his own flavor, chocolate it is.

In other news, kung fu has ended for the next two months (we'll take it up again in September, when preschool starts) but my husband has managed to sign him up for swimming lessons. There were two choices available - toddlers in the water, and real swimming. My husband opted for real swimming. I'm interested in seeing how well this goes. I'd love for AwesomeCloud to be able to swim. He's safer that way, if, for instance, he's in a kayak and accidentally falls out.

Could happen. I'm not saying it will, just that it could.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Landscaping with a small child

I like digging in the yard with AwesomeCloud. He likes to be outside, and he's getting used to hearing me say, "I can't help you right now; I have a shovel in my hands." Sometimes I do drop the shovel and help him, but if I did that every time, I wouldn't be doing anything anyone would call 'yardwork'.

What I've been doing in the yard, however, hasn't really been landscaping, due to a lack of time, money, and inspiration. I'm working on the inspiration part, and trying to dance around the money issue, but landscaping on a tight budget often involves a lot more time, as you do things by hand with small tools that could be done more efficiently by paying a professional with large tools.

However, if I pay a professional, I don't learn anything. I'm hoping to save money AND learn something. I'm hoping to teach AwesomeCloud something - like, digging in your own yard is normal, and it's okay to play by yourself in the driveway with only half of Mama's attention on you.

The vegetable garden isn't doing very well this year, partially due to neglect, but maybe if I rearrange the yard, I can give myself more vegetable-growing options. One of my primary aims is to greatly reduce the amount of lawn we have. I see no point in growing grass in a yard as small as mine, with oak trees all around the edges. Grass is just a big, fat waste of resources. The strawberries have been doing pretty well, though, and the oregano has grown like it owns the place.

I guess I'll keep digging, and maybe something interesting will sprout up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A hundred little daily rituals

I think my husband and I are giving the kiddo a reasonably rich and varied life - considering that, for our community, we are not rich and have only one car and we've both been utterly exhausted lately. But small children have a way of necessitating - and contributing - a lot of repetition.

The routine of diaper changing is slowly giving way to potty training rituals. Elaborate negotiations for stickers. Careful selection of toys to play with while sitting on the potty. Today Cloud asked for an open cup of water and then plunged his hand into it - apparently a trick Daddy taught him.

I think the crying spells are mostly over (the potty-related ones, that is). The accidents are not. I'm trying to be all Zen about it, but sometimes I fail. All these drama scenes and accidents can be frustrating. He now knows what the purpose of the potty is, and what he has to do to earn a sticker, but he needs to do a lot of work on timing his efforts. Asking to go to the potty voluntarily seems like it's a long way away. He tried that this morning, but it was immediately after he went in his diaper. It probably occurred to him, seconds too late, that he could've used that peepee to get a sticker instead of wasting it.

The thought of saving money on diapers, and releasing fewer diapers into the environment, keeps me motivated. I pulled out the cloth diapers again - at least he feels a little discomfort when they're wet, even if he never acknowledges it - but they're not really designed to prevent a three-year-old from making a mess. They were great when he was two.

Everything else in life has routines and rituals, too. Some of them are funny. When I want him to sit on a chair, or next to me on the couch, he says, "Up cat! Up cat! Up cat!" Until I say "Up, cat," and then he jumps up. Sadly, he's not as graceful as a cat.

This evening we were taking a walk to the horse barn (the only place he ever wants to walk to these days) and he announced, "No roof!" A convertible had just driven by. The last few times we'd seen convertibles, like, last week, I'd said, "Look! That car has no roof!" Apparently if I'm too slow to say it, now he'll say it for me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We adopted the same kid twice

Lots going on lately! I can barely remember what it all is. That's probably why I chose to tell the story of the crow and the corn muffin. Trivialities are easier.

Yesterday morning, the three of us showed up at court bright and early to readopt AwesomeCloud. Two families were ahead of us. There was a lot of waiting, and our agent, who'd planned to meet us at the courthouse, was late. After a while, I took Cloud outside for some elbow room and tried to reach her by phone. When I finally got through, she told me she was having an emergency. Fair enough. An adoption agent with many clients and a family of her own is actually highly likely at any given time to encounter an emergency. My husband was nervous about going ahead without her, but it turned out that the hard parts were all done and we just had to stand before the judge and smile a lot and look cute.

At one point, the judge said, "Someone is supposed to give a speech." He looked around, and probably realized that our agent had volunteered to give the speech. Finally he turned to the two of us and said, "Now you need to say a little something to convince me this adoption should go ahead."

"Well, the adoption's already legal," I explained. "However, his birth certificate is in Chinese, and people have kind of a struggle when dealing with it, and so we're doing this to update his documents so they're in English. Also, his birth certificate says he was found, not born, so we'd like to change that."

(I'm paraphrasing. I can't quote anyone verbatim, not even myself.)

The judge seemed pleased with that. He noted that AwesomeCloud was very clearly a member of our family, which is always nice to hear. Cloud was in fact behaving very well. Not extraordinarily well beyond his age, but certainly well enough to make people smile.

(Oh my goodness, this kid attracts so much doting attention. Some of the clerks and attorneys passing through the waiting area stopped and made lengthy conversation with him (and us)! It was Lonely Grandmother City! And even the people who didn't come right over and coo over him cracked a smile when they saw him. Even when he was crying. I am ever amazed by the way his charm descends upon strangers like a cloud of bubbles. He is going to love love love everyone as he grows up! I'm glad. I don't know how I'll teach him stranger discernment, but social confidence will serve him well throughout his life, much better than social caution ever will.)

Immediately after that was Cloud's last day of 'school', where his 'teacher' (who is really a speech therapist, and it's really just half-hour sessions of therapy, but it's in the preschool building so I call it school) gave us some potential good news about real preschool for September. Cloud's test scores had to be below a certain level to qualify for preschool, and they were a bit too high. His last therapist recommended him for preschool, but scores are scores, and there was nothing we could do to hide the progress he'd been making.

"Because I want him to" is not a real reason. Neither is "because I can't afford private preschool." I mean, we probably could afford it, if he only went once a week or I found a second income. Or he quit kung fu. (Noooo! We love kung fu!)

I'm happy his scores were high. I'm not saying I wish they were low. And since he is naturally outgoing, he didn't freeze up during the evaluation.

Before all this, we trekked up to Waltham to see a specialist. I was dreading the trip - the last MD we talked to from that office was very unpleasant to talk to. He and I just didn't connect. But this time we saw a woman, and not only was she delightful, but she gave us more things not to worry about with Cloud's health. I love the absence of bad news! It's as good as good news! But it was a long trip, and the next day we all had travel fatigue.

Potty training has begun in earnest... um, sort of. We have a plan. It's not a very detailed plan. It's actually kind of vague and uninspired. I bought some stickers, though, in case Cloud suddenly decides to get potty trained.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cape Cod Zen and a crow with a corn muffin

I've taken up Zen, again, after quitting it, again. This time I'm back at the informal meetings, which I like better but which are in the morning. Mornings are impossible during the school year, what with Cloud being young and rambunctious and all, but doable in the summer when my husband can stay home with him. It's one thing to attempt Zen meditation at home, with a cat on my lap and a small child trying to climb up my back and sit onm y head (or just hit me repeatedly and demand attention). It's quite another thing to subject the good people of the Zen Center to such behavior. Plus, to be perfectly honest, practicing kung fu stances 1, 2, and 3 or "cross jab kick" is a much more effective way to introduce a three-year-old to an Americanized version of his culture.

(I also count in Mandarin with him, and use the small handful of Mandarin phrases I know, so in spite of my terrible American accent, he's getting somehing genuinely Chinese too... well, sort of genuine.)

(Also, teaching a child to count to 100 in Mandarin is soooo much easier than teaching him in English! Counting in English falls apart as soon as you get to eleven and doesn't pick up again until around thirty. Mandarin has no such weakness.)

I like informal Zen better than formal because... well, just because. Because I do. Because while the robes are cute, I'm not really into them. Because I'm too fat to sit cross-legged on the floor, but quite comfortable folding up on the old church sofa. Because I like the silly talk of life's little nothings much better than the lectures on the fundamentals of Buddhism. Because I don't care one ounce about hierarchies. Because kung-ans are just in-jokes, just like the pun strings shared by old British fellows, or the drinking references fraternity brothers make to each other.

Because sitting in quiet meditation is the FUN part of Buddhism! Eking out a pathetic garden on a mountaintop is the hard part. Meditation and kung-ans are the perks that attract new monk recruits. That, and not having to feed 5-10 children in addition to yourself and your wife with that pathetic garden. Traditionally, Buddhism was just an alternative method of living in poverty.

Buddhism was a painkiller for the soul before there was widespread wealth, just like biting a stick was a painkiller for the body before there was ibuprofen.

It's intended to be both fun and profound, even for the desperately poor. Well, I'm not poor, and I don't need profundity, so I'm going with fun. I have no intention of becoming a member, of taking the precepts or achieving anything, of ever calling myself a Buddhist. The only thing I want to achieve is nothing, and that's quite possible with informal Zen.

I left the house a little early this morning so I could stop and get something to eat. That something was a corn muffin that was frozen in the middle. (I'm sad that local businesses sell such things. I deliberately chose this place over Dunkie's so I could keep my money in the community, and I wish my efforts weren't rewarded with frozen muffins, but that seems par for the course with this establishment, and at this point I think the owners are just trying to run their business into the ground so they can sell it cheap and move on with their lives.) Past the parking lot was a lovely little ancient cemetery (17th to 19th century, primarily, although I did see one stone that was dated 2010) and in the cemetery was a lone crow being harassed by a lone blue jay.

I watched them for a while, and after a few minutes, I suspected that the crow was eying my muffin. So I threw him a piece. (No big loss; it was a frozen bit.) He flew off with it, the blue jay hot on his heels, and landed on a different stone. I wandered over and threw him two more bites. Then I wrapped up the rest to take home to my son, figuring that the muffin would thaw during Zen.

So, Jim, that's what I meant by "feeding a corn muffin to a crow."

I'm sure cornbread doesn't have a whole lot of the nutritional value that a crow needs to be healthy. That's okay. It's better than a chocolate muffin, right? And I have some vague notion that most acts of compassion that people perform are not really all that helpful, on the grand scale of things in life that would be helpful. Maybe I feel this way because I read a lot of history. (We white people are fantastic at compassionately messing things up for nonwhites all over the world.) Maybe it's because I'm involved in the community of adoption, where every silver lining comes with a dark cloud for somebody, and nothing is entirely good. Many good deeds fall into a moral gray area, and I'm getting better at recognizing those areas.

Zen practitioners speak of an end to all suffering.

But you know what - doesn't everyone?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

When in doubt, find a cat

Here's Ban Lu, looking like he belongs to our family with all his books. (Notice "American Lion" directly over his shoulder.)

Cats and books. Books and cats.

I should write something about my son, too. Let's see. Cloud's imaginative play is becoming hilarious. I'm glad he's not waiting until his speech catches up before launching into elaborate play scenarios. Today he rode a (invisible) car, train, and boat with his beanie baby cat, named Cat (played by me) with frequent pauses for cat naps, cat food, and falling off the boat and needing rescuing. It was a very, very repetitive game (I think he fell off the boat between 20 and 30 times in a row! Oh my goodness, the attention span of that child amazes me) but I'm impressed by his ability to innovate.

I'm sure the development charts will tell me his play skills are nothing special. But that's why I threw out the development charts. Every time he does something new, I'm astonished at how much he can do. I have no other child to compare him to, and that's the way I like it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

How strangers talk to us - updated version

I thinkmy internet connection problem is fixed. I'm afraid to cheer just yet, but we've made some very dramatic fixes, and it seems to me that the internet should just stay on already. Sheesh. This service ain't cheap, y'know.

Of course, as soon as I lose the ability to post on my blog, I get a flood of inspiration. It's been a long time since I described the generalities of life as an adoptive family.

One of my earlier concerns, you may remember, was how to deal with strangers' prying questions as Cloud gets older and understands English more. It seems the problem is working itself out. Conveniently, the prying questions have all but dried up. Now people just say, "He's so CUTE!" Sometimes they say it to me, sometimes they say it to each other, and sometimes they say it to the air. Black men of all ages, however, continue to be the exception - they address him directly, saying, "S'up, little man?" I think that's awesome. Addressing the child directly! And speaking to him like he's a regular person, worthy of respect! What a concept.

My bigger problem now is to stop voluntarily educating people when I don't have to. Many people are curious about our family, even if they don't come right out and inquire about us, and I get the urge to meet them halfway and open the conversation for questions they may have. I have to stop doing that. I've been doing it less often, but really, at this rate Cloud is still going to learn all about his history via Mama's conversations with strangers. (Or near-strangers. For instance, the last person who I allowed to ask me adoption questions was the library storyteller, and we've 'known' her for a year now.)

Someday I will have to have conversations with my son, so he knows more about himself than anyone else does. I hope I remember it all. Not everything of importance is written down in this blog. (If it were, that would defeat the whole thing about him knowing more than anyone else.) It's getting easier to talk to him, as his speech grows ever more sophisticated. I know I should start talking to him about adoption now, because it's unnecessary to wait until he can formulate a question before answering it. I know what many of his questions will be.

But although it feels like the speech thing is making progress, I find it hard sometimes to communicate. For instance, last night I had to discipline him, and I dumped him in his crib without saying a word. It didn't seem unreasonable at the time; after all, what was there to say? I've already told him that hitting was bad. He knows. But in retrospect, this whole Silent Mom Discipline seems a little weird.

It's just... you know... sometimes I talk a whole heck of a lot and say nothing, and sometimes I go to say something and nothing comes out.

Which brings me to another little thing about how strangers' questions and my answers have changed. When somebody asks about some odd little behavior that Cloud is exhibiting, I reply, "It's a thing."

"Oh, a thing," they say. And if they try to get more information out of me, they fail, because I've already explained it to the very best of my ability. I don't know adoption psychology. And even if I did, I'm under no obligation to share my special knowledge with them. "It's a thing" covers all they need to know: I'm aware of what my son is doing, I'm not worried, and they shouldn't worry either.

I mean, he's three years old. The kid says "thank you" every chance he gets. He makes eye contact. He laughs if you act friendly toward him. What more could they possibly want?!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I shall return (dum dum dummmm)

The Comcast guy is coming tomorrow morning to replace our bad internet connection with a good one. Theoretically, that means I'll be able to blog more, since I'll have a reliable internet connection 24/7, not just a few hours in the middle of the night.

No promises until it actually happens, though.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The littlest kung fu master

AwesomeCloud got his orange belt in kung fu yesterday.

My parents were in town for a convention, and they attended the ceremony, as did our local friend. That was really, really great. I think Cloud felt very important, having all those people hugging him and cheering him on. Without them, it might have just felt like one long hour of doing the same old moves he always practices at kung fu, followed by having to walk up to a big table and being handed a new belt.

He is not actually the littlest. One girl is ever-so-slightly littler than him, although she may be older, I don't know. I was proud of how well the little girl did. On normal class days, she and Cloud contend to see who can pay attention the least.

(I jest. They're actually admirably good at following directions, all things considered.)

We got some really nice pictures. I will post the bad ones, as usual, for privacy reasons.

Here he is doing one of the exercises.
Bowing to Sifu.

Small child standing by himself at the big table to receive his belt and certificate.

He wondered aloud whether he'd also earned a sticker, but when we showered accolades all over him for his new belt, he didn't seem too disappointed that there were no stickers.

Apparently many people in the audience squeed about his cuteness. During the exercises, he was doing that adorable thing where he shouts out the commands after the sifu gives them. I suspect that being Asian in a kung fu studio gives him an extra level of attraction. But also, he is just inherently cute.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's potty time!

Cloud had his first successful potty use today. Usually he just sits on it and says, "Pee pee pee" and then pretends to flush. But today he actually did it right.

I didn't have my stickers ready. I searched around and the best I could find was a yellow circle that said "$.50." I gave it to him and he stuck it on his hand like they do with the stickers at kung fu.

And then we had an incident with pee pee on the floor. Cloud began to say no to the potty and became more vehement each time I asked, although I was very careful to not be pushy. What I did do was switch him back to the cloth diapers, which don't hold very much of a three-year-old's urine. They were fine when he was two, and the disposables gave him certain problems that I will not discuss here. But lately, the disposables have been fine, and their extra absorbency makes it possible to think of other things for most of the day. Cloth diapers have to be changed once an hour. It really is a pain. But I'm trying to use their inconvenience to my advantage.

It worked once today. I feel like we can manage this potty training thing, with maybe a few bumps and hills in the process.

Maybe once I get some real stickers, Cloud's resistance will break down a bit. He really wasn't excited about the fifty cents sticker. But then, I gave it to him apologetically. He can tell by my tone of voice when I'm not entirely pleased about stuff.

Following the pee pee accident, and amidst the potty resistance, Cloud also:
1) Tried to run across the busy road while cars were coming
2) Fell to his knees when I finally did allow him to cross, which forced me to drag/carry him
3) Fell off the kitchen chair while I was making lunch, because he was jumping around on it
4) Asked me twenty million times for mac'n'cheese after throwing his lunch in the trash (this is becoming a pattern)

At that point, Mama needed a time out. In fact I wasn't very easy to engage today. Sometimes I was too busy cleaning, and sometimes I was just too emotionally distant. There are a million games and crafts and life lessons I could be practicing with my son throughout the day. And yet I spend more time sitting in a lawn chair, or on the couch, muttering half-hearted, "That's nice" phrases, than actually playing with him. I know that if many mothers with their multiple kids with difficult personalities traded places with me, it would feel to them like a vacation. But I'm just out of energy a lot of the time. I'm lonely, distracted, in a rut, and discouraged. My To-Do list makes me cry, and I haven't even finished adding to it yet. I'm wasting a beautiful spring being unproductive and unengaged.

Also, this stupid spotty internet connection drives me batty. Stay connected, you dumb computer! The tech came by and looked at it, and his diagnosis was, "You're just too far away from the main server." Well, that's real helpful.

What got me down today, I think, was the incident about crossing the road. I was taking him for a walk, which was awfully nice of me to do considering how tired and run-down I've been feeling. I was trying to sing with him and point out interesting things we passed. When he started acting like a little brat, I thought, okay, I can roll with this. But then when he pulled up his feet just as I was leading him through a break in traffic, it seemed to me that if he were willing to risk his life to spite me, that was a little too much bad behavior. Of course, he didn't see it that way.

But I don't think like a toddler, and maybe what happened was that I needed some time to figure out how to think like a toddler. The fact that every kid engages in this behavior doesn't help me.

So I told him to play by himself quietly and leave me alone. That lasted a respectable five minutes, and then he was hanging on my knees, meowing and asking for cat food, or, more sincerely, mac'n'cheese.

I dunno. I wish I were better able to feign playfulness. I wish I could do a mental 180 like he can and forget a difficult moment that has just happened.

Also, geez, how is he still falling off chairs? I told him that I could keep him safe by strapping him into his orange chair from now on, but that news only made him cry harder. I'm not sure what he expects me to do. I don't think there's really any right answer. I want a right answer, because if I were confident in my own actions, these little things wouldn't weigh so heavily. I could say, "I screwed up; of course I can do better." But then I don't do better, and it's also worth noting that there are worse ways of handling 3-year-old behavior than my way.

I may also be in the throes of a midlife crisis. Having a small child is traditionally the domain of younger people, and the things I'm learning to do at my ripe age are things that twenty-somethings do too. I'm not unusual as an older mom in modern times. But historically, I'm going against the social grain. I feel like I should have a whole lotta life ahead of me. But I really only have half a life.