Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Big Adoption Series - Chapter 6

We were a family of three. Our days were no longer ours for the wasting. This notion jolted us somewhere around day three or four, as I'm sure it does to every first-time parent. The only difference in this case is that our guy was nearly 5 months old. He was learning to adapt to a brand new time zone, he wanted to crawl, he was obsessed with his pacifier, he had better things to do than sleep. Unless we were trying to give him a bottle, then we struggled to keep him awake. He was in an unfamiliar world with people who looked different from anyone he had ever seen. The smells were different, the sounds were different. It was all new. He had a lot to figure out.

I wish I could tell you - really tell you - what those early days were like. The truth is, I don't really remember them. And I was too exhausted to write any of it down.

One of my top priorities was to teach Mr. Lee to sleep through the night. Sleep is a big deal with me and the Mister, and it was about to become a big deal to Calvin, too, like it or not. So, I read a book and I carried it around like it was my job in life. And really? It was. I dog-eared and highlighted and I had my experienced sister-in-law on speed dial. Little by little, our guy started to sleep. It happened more quickly and easily than we expected, though he was and is still prone to bouts of middle-of-the-night mayhem. The lightness of his sleep is exceeded only by my own, so between the two of us, we were often at the fringes of bleary-eyed existence.

But the daylight hours, those were the ones that stretched out of my reach and back around again. They went from roughly here to approximately eternity. I just wasn't sure how to go about filling that big pot of time with a baby who was on the go, but didn't really know me, but really seemed to like me, but couldn't exactly communicate with me.

So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I talked to him - all the time. As if he understood every word I said. I sang to him, aglow in the knowledge that he found my squirrely alto altogether pleasant. I read stacks of books to him. I called him every nonsensical name I could possibly piece together. I changed all of his diapers upstairs on his changing table, just for the change of scenery. We took stroller walks. We got groceries.

In no time flat, he was me and I was him and when Daddy walked through the door at the end of the day, we all smiled a little bigger (and sometimes, yes, I handed a cranky Calvey right over and scavenged a moment of peace for myself, gnawing that little bone clean).

I don't remember if I thought it was hard. No wait, I do remember. I thought it was kind of hard.

I didn't know when to shower and my voice got tired on account of all the talking to myself. What I can say now, in blessed hindsight, is that it really wasn't that hard. Calvin was a mostly-easy baby and attached so quickly to us that we never truly imagined a different possible outcome. He was stitched seamlessly into our life. Our days were redundant and sometimes bland, but they were straight and even, the needle passing through one side with the moon and then rising through the other with the sun. In and out. Days into weeks into months.

Something I was not prepared for was the hovering presence of well-meaning strangers, at every turn. On most days, I happily obliged their questions. On other days I grew weary of being asked if he was Chinese. On all days, I was proud to be his Mommy. I wondered though, Does every mama get this kind of attention? That's a question I still can't answer, since I have no frame of reference. Suffice it to say that back then and even more so today, we don't ever show up unnoticed.

Along with the inquiring minds came a host of questions, many of which were down-right ridiculous.

A friend of ours, a very successful, intelligent guy, asked us early on if we intended to tell Calvin that he was adopted.

Um, yes.

More people than we could count asked us if he spoke English.

No, he speaks gibberish. He's five months old.

Some asked if he would know karate.

One, before his arrival, asked, "will he be black?"

All I can tell you is, I felt like the luckiest Mama in the world, toting my happy, no-necked baby to and fro. He was mine. He was so mine that I forgot that we looked different.

We kept right on singing our way through those next months. In October I sang about apples and leaves, in November we talked turkey, in December I reacquainted myself with every Christmas carol I had ever known. We sang in the car, we sang as a diversion to strained peas and squash. And always, always we sang Twinkle Twinkle, since this tune was our only common ground in the earliest days.

Sometime near the first of the year, Cory's Grandma Big Joyce (that's right) mentioned that a friend of the family had a co-worker who was pregnant and might be interested in placing her baby for adoption. I laughed and the words escaped before I had really even formed them. "Of course we would be interested!" And then I laughed again, because it was all so absurd. Of course we wouldn't be adopting again so soon. My heart didn't even skip a beat at the thought. It was just silliness, that's all. These things never pan out so easily, in real life.

A few short weeks later, sitting on the worn Berber carpet in front of the ancient TV, corralling the day's toys into their appropriate corner, the sky dark outside the window, the phone rang.

"My daughter is pregnant and we heard you might be interested in adopting the baby."

My heart skipped one beat, two beats, ten.

"Would you be willing to meet and talk with us in person?"

And just like that, every hesitation we had about domestic, open adoption melted down and slid out through the tiny crack in the dark, the very same crack that blazed bright and warm. The light was coming in. This story was not our own. It had never been.


Join me here next Wednesday* for Big Adoption Series - Chapter 7

(To catch up on Chapters 1-4, click here and start from the bottom.)

*Yes, I am officially switching to Wednesday for the duration of the series! Also? Thanks for being patient with me today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

M&C Smack-Down

You may have a hunch that things are amiss in the hood tonight. It's true, the Big Adoption Series typically doesn't open with a photo of garden produce. But rules are meant to be broken and for everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn) and these times, they are a'changin' and most of all... It's not my fault.

But more on that in a moment.

For now, I have something to get off my chest.

Calvin's last words to me tonight, after bedtime prayers, were, "Mommy, but why do girls have those bumps on their chest with a crack in the middle?"

Have mercy.

You send your child off to kindergarten and they come home talking about chest cracks?

I have never had to try so hard not to laugh. I gave my typical, "That's just the way God made ladies" response, to which he replied, "Well, maybe that's where babies come out. Out of those bumps."

Help me.

I thank my lucky stars that we have real-life people in our lives who have had C-sections. It's a perfect, age-appropriate go-to answer, and I don't even have to fib when I say "Sometimes doctors make a cut in the tummy and just pull the baby out." That blasted clock is ticking so ferociously in my ear - it's only a matter of time before he notices my "sometimes" caveat.

So, back to my day. Er, days.

Have you ever had a meeting with a realtor where photos would be taken for the official listing of your house? And in getting ready for that meeting, did you ever commence the mad dash stash? It seems like such a good idea, at the time. Such a time-saver.

Until you hike the heat box up to 450 a few hours later and very nearly burn your house down via Betty Crocker and Tupperware.

Willy and Nilly could hardly stand the excitement and Pilly? Well, he was like a moth to a flame. He couldn't tear himself away from the melted plastic smoke. It kept luring him back. Not good. Not good at all.

Cory got on his maintenancey groove and the crisis was averted in no time flat.

Good thing, because I had thighs to roast for Clear-the-Fridge casserole.

I started this tradition back in our tiny apartment, with a box of Rice-A-Roni and a pair of ice-glazed breasts. Maybe a tomato or two. A sprinkle of pre-shredded cheese. Who can say, really? It was a hot seller, though. It inspired Cory's very first "This could be served in a restaurant", which should be an indication of just how smitten he was.

Since then, I've noticed that one helping of Rice-A-Roni contains half a day's worth of sodium and I know myself well enough to know that I'll take my salt on a Santita, thankyouverymuch. So, brown rice it is. Hot from the cooker. I've also taken to shredding my own cheese (it actually melts!).

I roasted the gams with a slice of lemon and some fresh thyme and rosemary under the skin. They cooked for 25 or 30 minutes while I chopped up the other goodies: zuchinni, grape tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic, lemon zest, more herbs. (A fresh grate of parm over the top would have been heaven, but I took a late turn for the lazy and opted out.)

Out of the oven, the chicken skin was removed and the meat was shredded. I cooked up the veggies in 1 T butter and a drizzle of oil, then mixed the rice and chicken in just when it started crying out for company.


An unphotogenic meal shot in poor, energy-efficient lighting, that was darn, danged tasty.

Everyone liked it.

If you don't believe me, ask my rice-crusted floor.

But now, the real reason I'm slacking on my BAS. It seems there's a Macaroni and Cheese Smack-Down burning up the town. It seems Jayme, Jen, Teresa and myself all had a different version on the menu. That's what we call serendipity, folks. Kismet.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, I ponied up. I wasn't called "The Shark" at a prior job for naught. I'm in it to win it.

At least that's what I was thinking until I looked a little closer at what they brought to the table. Crumb topping, they brought. Gooey goodness atop a jadeite saucer atop something that Cath Kidston may or may not have had a hand in creating. Velveeta, for the love of Pete! Who can possibly compete with Velveeta? It has magical powers, after all. It doesn't even need refrigeration!

All these elbows and all this special cheese has me feeling akin to the cheerleader with the bad perm. The sympathy vote on the homecoming court.

My M&C insecurities have climbed to a brand new height.

Nevertheless, I give you - Stovetop Brocc Mac & Cheese.*

The dreamy, creamy sauce is spooned over the cooked pasta and broccoli. It was a crowd pleaser.

So, do I have your vote?

Please say yes. My inner, geeky 15 year old begs you.

If nothing else, vote for me out of spite. It is, after all, their fault that the Big Adoption Series was unceremoniously booted to Wednesday.

*I substituted sour cream for the high-falutin' creme fraiche.

Unwrapping Imagination

There's nothing like a clean sheet of white to chase away those cooped up, crumbs-on-the-couch days.

We cue up our favorites (This song for Ruby, this for Calvin, and this for Mommy) and gather where the light is best.

Late afternoon rays illuminate our makeshift studio.

We take up our brushes - some frazzled and in disrepair, bristles splayed, weak and wobbly-kneed, others tapered smooth and fine, the silky end of a cat's tail.

The magic spreads as color on the page. A circle loses its way and becomes a zucchini, or maybe an eggplant - bright green. Accidental vegetation inspires a super-sized snow pea, the errant liquid drop of black landing just where it should.

I don't know much about technique and form. I don't know anything, really.

But when I take the time to notice beauty around a humble table marked with faint reminders of yesterday's color, and today's; when we learn together that there are some moments which carry no rule book; when I teach my kids that recording life is one way of honoring it, I am an artist.

tuesdays unwrapped at cats

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Silo Turns Two

Exactly one year ago we spent our evening doing this:

We were celebrating Silas's first birthday - without the birthday boy. It seemed fittin' to throw him a party in our hearts, and I figured it was as good a time as any to introduce him to our party style- cupcakes with sprinkles on paper plates.

Make no mistake, Pie Pot, we will love you every way we know how, but not with a fancy, store-bought cake or party hats.

I remember the kids and I talking about what we wished for Silas and darn it if their answers weren't the cutest things since miniature donkeys, but I didn't write them down.

What I wished was that Silas was being treated like a Prince on his Big Day. And that he would join us under our roof in a hurry.

Fast forward a year.

Silas turns two.

As sure as I'm sitting here in my sweatpants, he woke up promptly at the stroke of birthday midnight and started whooping it up. At first I thought it was a fluke. Then, I thought he was talking in his sleep. At 2:00, I heard him laughing at his own jokes. At 4:00, I thought I heard him spinning some tunes. At 4:30, Cory found him sitting upright, wide awake, in silence. He looked a little sheepish, having had the cops called on him and all.

Homeboy threw himself back to Korean time and lived it up, transcontinental-toddler-style. I've never heard a happier dark-of-the-night baby.

It made me laugh to myself, up in my bed.

As for today? Ain't no one laughing.

FYI, here's what a 2-year-old birthday boy looks like after partying 'til the break of dawn the night before.

He screamed for 90% of gift-opening.

It was his story. He was sticking to it.

I thought Betty Crocker might have a cheering effect on him, but tweren't so.

Or maybe he was just afraid of the looming claw hand....

In one particularly bright spot, Calvin took it entirely upon himself to make Siley a birthday card.

Before long, he caught on to the fact that if he wasn't going to play with his new things, there were six other small peeps who would be happy to share the load.

He marched around for the rest of the evening, pushing the buttons on a trove of new, button-pushing toys.

Silo, we love you so much, even on your grumpiest of days.

But please, pack up that disco ball and sleep tonight.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Happy Anniversary to the first-string love-of-my-fashion-life.

If it were up to me, I would don you daily.

And often, I do.

You layer up right nicely.

You accessorize well with Santitas.

With a strategically (mis)placed cardigan, you become wearable Boggle.

You are the perfect grey.

I still haven't figured out which STATE you hail from, but when I do, I'm totally moving.

I love you more than the day you arrived in the post.

You are soft and thickish, mysterious and long-enough.

You are, quite possibly, the best $10 I've ever spent.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

About Last Week...

I am still recovering from the unbridled, overflowing, achy-jaws treasure that was last week. I sit in full knowledge that I cannot possibly do justice to our time together, but it's a pretty big deal, so I'll give it my best shot.

Remember the days when we secretly felt like girls were just too much trouble to cultivate close friendships with? Sure, we had a trusty fistful, but by and large, it seemed too risky. Too dangerous. Not worth the effort.

I look back on those years, where I stayed somewhat out of the fray, and I wish I could whisper in my ear the honest truth - Girlfriends are necessary. Not just one or two or five, but all different kinds, from all different corners.

Last week I spent time with three of the most beautiful hearts. I learned from each of them.

The four of us did all of the things a passel of girls does best.

We ate, we shopped, we gabbed, repeat. When all was said and done, I knew they were mine forever.

There was mutual concern that our friendship could not survive the Springfield Extravaganza, but in the end, there was enough chippiness and blue to satisfy everyone.

We are all different. We are all the same.

(Well, except for the guy in the yellow shirt.)

We are at different stages in life, we've all learned different lessons, and we're ready to talk.

It's true, three out of the four are prone to waking up unprompted at 6:45 in the ayem while one of the four will yawn all the live-long day only to spring to life somewhere around midnight, then pretend to be asleep in the morning until the smell of homemade French toasts wafts across the room and she just can't keep up the charade, but that's a whole 'nother story.

I am thankful for Jenn, the friend that is slightly less new to me than the others. She came into my life in a way that made me fear she had been here all along and I'd just been to willy-nilly to notice. The words she speaks are the perfect balance of genuine sugar and salty wit. If I could choose one person to read me to sleep for the rest of my life, it would be her. Her voice is a piccolo tune. Her tender heart softens mine a little through sheer proximity.

I am thankful for Jayme. She gave me an inch of cyber friendship and I took a mile, showing up on her door-step practically unannounced earlier this summer. Together, we have nearly perfected our own written dialect, seamlessly comprised of various accents and eras. This girl wrote the book on nurturing and serving. It would be impossible to escape her presence feeling unloved or uncared for. And did I mention that she's pretty dang funny? And her honey cookies should be patented?

I am thankful for Teresa. It takes a special girl to stay with my crazy, young family for three solid days and truly appear to enjoy the pandemonium. She effortlessly became a part of our routine. She wore sweatpants with me and discussed the virtues of Riggins vs. Coach T, she ate the casserole and frozen garlic bread I served in a pinch, she ignored the clutter, she echoed my very heart and regaled me with exasperating teenager tales, she snickered in the kitchen with Cory and I after Calvin unburdened his subconscious of dreams about talking cloths, and on the last night, she puttered into my kitchen, banged some cabinets around and returned bearing bowls of apple dumplings and ice cream. The amazing part is, I let her do it. It just felt right. She is kind and supportive in exactly the way I hope to be. She is funny to beat the band.

I have learned the hard way, over the years, that growing meaningful friendships can be a little scary and a lot of work. They can be a leap of faith, to be sure.

But finding one new friend who is honest and kind and encouraging and supportive and funny and smart and open and generous and quirky is a gift.

And finding three is a gift of a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Used to be Decoratey

Who doesn't love a peek into a fabulous home? I see them daily in blogville and I swoon and drool with the best of 'em.

Very rarely I stumble on one that truly speaketh my language. And stumble I did, just last week. I flipped end-over-end for my friend Lara's digs. I wanted to sneak in and sit up on her perfectly craggy bar-stools. I yearned to spin the windmill with my own claw-like hand. I pined for horse photography. I wished for a last name that started with a B.

This is the cool thing about "gussying up", whether it be one's home or one's own, personal bod. Different cloaks for different folks.

I'll confess straight up - I have worn the same t-shirt thrice in one week, and I don't care who knows it. Well, I would really prefer that Tim Gunn remain in the dark on this one, but everyone else - come and get me. I dare you to call me unimaginative or misguided.

As for my home, it's working its way out of a bit of a stale era itself, partly on account of this:


For the rest of the story, go here and tell Lara that she really is the cat's meow.

Then whisper a little prayer for me. My favorite t-shirt is dirty and I just don't know what I'll wear tomorrow...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Big Adoption Series - Chapter 5

The next month was a blur, but it passed (they always do) and we were one month closer to our son, rumored to arrive sometime in October.

The winding down of July found me with a persistent case of ants in my britches and a cumbersome black suitcase on wheels, bound for sunny California. I looked forward to the 10-day trip which would begin with an intense work conference and float into a four-day stretch of relaxation and fun with my little sister. I knew the trip would help fill the days and provide one last free-and-easy hurrah. It was perfect timing.

Except for the part that estimated time frames are prone to surprise.

All my life, I have relished a good surprise. I fancy myself one who is not easily surprised, but I've been wrong before.

The Hollywood conference left me bedraggled and frazzled and above all - exhausted, but bluer skies were on the horizon as my sister Keisha scooped me up and we set off to wind our way up the coast to Modesto. Half-way to our destination, we stopped for an afternoon in San Luis Obispo. We filled a bag with fresh fruit from a road-side farmers' market and guilty pleasure magazines and took to the beach.

Keisha's phone rang mid-sunning and as she scrambled to hand it over to me, the ants morphed first into butterflies and then into seagulls. They clanged around in my belly and sailed through my heart.

Calvin was coming early. I was scheduled to fly into South Bend on Tuesday evening. We were to pick him up in Detroit on Wednesday morning.

Momentary thoughts of bailing early were scrapped on account of the fact that I was looking forward to my time with Keisha and there wasn't anything last-minute that Cory couldn't take care of.

The next four days were blissful. Pure delight. Our days were spent doing the very things that most sisters long to do together. We ate well, slept in, shopped for little boy clothes, listened to music, solved some of the large problems of the world. Keisha's world became my own, if only for a while. Her friends adopted me and they all leaned in to hear about our little guy, packing his bags a world away.

After teary goodbyes, I boarded the plane with visions of almond-eyes fixed in my heart.

Rounding the corner to the departing gate at my final connection in Cincinnati, I saw hordes of people and double-backed lines. The flight was canceled. Not delayed, canceled. And, it was the last flight out of the night.

I took my own place in line, feeling sure that everything would be fine. Up at the desk, hope took a nose-dive. I cried. I pleaded with the airline rep. She shook her head and muttered apologies that didn't feel sincere enough for the weight of my fears.

My first, most critical act of motherhood was about to define me as a dismal failure. I would not be there.

So I cried, then I cried some more.

Through my tears I saw an angel in standard-issue polyester/cotton blend pants and a criss-cross tie coming my way. She took me by the hand and walked me to the rental car shuttle. She told me to get in the car and drive like nothing else mattered, because nothing else did matter. The skies were black as I latched the seatbelt and drove that long stretch of highway, headed straight for my childhood home. I stopped just long enough for my mom to climb in, behind the steering wheel, and I dozed off and on for the next three hours.

My head hit the pillow at 2 a.m. The alarm clock went off four hours later.

If anything could make me into a temporary morning person, it's knowing that my entire future hinged upon it.

I wore a skirt and my brown wooden beads, wanting to impress my boy. (Who's to say that he wouldn't be exceptionally attuned to aesthetics?)

We arrived at the airport and each step felt like an inching toward a new, better world.

We met another family waiting for the arrival of their son. We waited. We stewed.

Finally, the doors opened and we watched like a hawk. Every child's distant cry bloomed in my heart then shriveled as tufts of blond hair poked out of the strollers whizzing past.

Before long, the steady stream of passengers became a trickle, and then, it was altogether gone.

We waited nervously, and then...

Two little Asian boys slipped through the gate. I marveled at his realness. I listened to his cries.

The social worker carried him to me as I brushed a brand new kind of tears from my cheeks. She made my wobbly self sit down, and she handed me my son.

"Hi Calvin. I'm your Mommy."

It didn't take long for new fears to sink in. I did not know what to do with this child. I was sure I would do it wrong. Those who helped to get us to this point were conspicuously absent as we simply left the building with him. The "working-towards" was over. The page had turned to a new chapter.

We were on our own. We were a family.

We buckled him into his car seat and pointed ourselves toward home. Over the four-hour drive, we changed his diaper and his clothes, gave him bottles, introduced him to new toys and to us.

He slept only for a few moments.

Mostly, he looked at us with eyes that seemed to grasp the gravity, the newness, the miracle. He searched us and found us searching back. His little fists were clasped in anxiousness; his face, a sea of calm.

Pulling up to our home, under skies dark again, I hardly recognized the self I had become. I felt different. I walked different. I was sure that I looked different, and not just for the fact that somewhere between holding him for the first and leaving the airport, my brown beaded necklace had disappeared forever.

Cory carried his first son into our home and we spent hours that night memorizing him.

The next day would mark a new beginning, waking together and learning to navigate our days with our child who had made the trip of a lifetime to call us his own.


Join me here next Tuesday for Big Adoption Series - Chapter 6

(To catch up on Chapters 1-4, click here and start from the bottom.)