Friday, August 29, 2008

Two Most Glorious Years With Liv

There are simply no words to describe how much we have grown to love this little girl. Yesterday marked 2 years since this picture was taken on the bus, in the rain, as we rolled away from the Guangzhou Civil Affairs Building with the greatest of all gifts life can bring. It is still often inconceivable to me that you can roll up to a big government office with only a red bag of trinket gifts, line up behind 10 other families and then be handed a baby with only the clothes on her back. And you are hers and she is yours.

She has made us 4. She has made us laugh. She has softened us, no easy task in a house full of type A's.

In the last two years she has been scared but now pulls herself away the comfort of my arms. She has been hungry but now fills herself and knows when to read her body's signs to stop. She has known the pains of intimate eye contact with an adult who seeks trust, but now freely engages. She has compulsively and repetitively pulled at her skin as an attempt to soothe what is uncomfortable on the inside and out but now seems calmer as she handles life's daily stresses. She is an shining example to others as she always shows unending kindness towards others. I sometimes ache for her when we are not near. I love her with all of my heart, and then some more.

And, it is on this day two years later that I once again wonder where her biological family is. Are they safe, are they well, do they think of her? I am sorry they cannot be with this beautiful child. I wish they could have seen her two pigtails bobbing through the store aisles while she played hide and seek with me only an hour ago. In my mind I imagine that would ease their burden.

Tonight we will light our customary 3 family day candles.
  • One for China, the country from which she came. They saw fit to trust us with her. We are grateful.
  • One for her biological family. This candle as it is lit comes with a prayer for their health and happiness. May they know in their hearts that the little girl they had to let go landed on safe ground.
  • And finally, one candle for us as a family of four. May we bring each other peace and understanding throughout the years to come.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm In a Chinese School Daze

I know I've mentioned it here before that Ava, our 6 1/2 year old attends Mandarin language classes on Sunday afternoons at the Chinese Community Center. This fall marks the beginning of our 3rd year there. Hardly newbies...and yet hardly fitting in.

I'll start by saying my personal goals and motivations for spending 2 hours at Chinese school on Sundays have absolutely nothing to do with learning fluent Mandarin. In my opinion this is a completely unattainable goal in a non-Mandarin speaking household on a mere 2 hours a week...even if we did practice more. All of my goals are not clearly defined in my own mind though I have put considerable thought into what the heck I want out of a Chinese school experience for my Chinese born child. I'll admit to winging it as a first time parent to an adopted child that I pulled from her home country as I navigate the few cultural resources I have available. I will say that as Ava gets a little older she is pushing back. Chinese school has Chinese teachers, who teach in the Chinese way. It is not like American Kindergarten and 1st grade. You sit down, you raise your hand and you memorize stuff. You study, and you hope to be the best. ( I make a point of offsetting that "being the best" crap whenever applicable.) Ava told me that she doesn't like it anymore and wants to quit. This is the first time I have ever pushed her a little harder to stick with something. So we signed up again.

Before I go further let me say that I would feel like a complete and utter failure as an adoptive parent of a child of a different race and heritage if I did not try to at least expose them to that race and heritage in the formative years of their lives. What an ass I would be if I just assumed that being raised American and white would be enough to insure emotional stability for the entirety of their lives.

I am making an assumption here, but I think my girls will indeed choose some sort of higher education after high school. At the very least I plan to make sure they know it IS an option for them. I believe the life experience of higher education is intrinsically valuable above and beyond the obvious book learning. So, it is off to dorm life they will go...kidding, sort of. With that being said I simply cannot stand the thought of my daughters as 18 year old freshmen walking by the Asian American Alliance or the Chinese campus organization or Asian sorority and turning a blind eye thinking there is absolutely no place for her in that club or organization because even though her skin and face look like those other students...she knows deep in her heart is not them. Their talk is foreign, what they do on Saturday nights is foreign, what their mama's house smells like at dinner time is foreign, their punishing attitude towards achievement is foreign....this scenario seems overwhelmingly sad to me. My girls should know something, even if it is snippets of what it means to be Chinese in America...or France if they decide on the Sorbonne. Again, tongue in cheek. Damn it if they want to "pass" or try to "pass" I think they should be given that opportunity to see if it is where they want to be.

And this is why we go, each and every week. Perhaps my goal is simple normalcy in all that is them, the real Chinese. I told Ava that I honestly did not care what she does at the Chinese school, it could be dance, Gong Fu, Tai Ji or language, but she had to choose something. As of this summer she reluctantly signed up for folk dance. But then her teacher suggested we try a semi-immersion class with children more her own age this fall. Ava has for the last few years been on the younger end of the children in the class. I thought this would be a good idea...some English and some Mandarin spoken in the class of 5-7 year olds rather than the wholly English class of only American families with Chinese children who are a few years older. That English Mandarin class had seriously dwindling numbers and was in jeopardy of closing. So, I signed her up for language again to try this new class.

This brings us to last week. We go to the assigned class, which is now integrated. It is about 50% Chinese families and 30% adoptive families and 20% English speaking non-white families. This is comprised of mixed race families, and 2nd or 3rd generation Chinese or Asian families that speak 100% English in the home. I am ecstastic. We FINALLY get to be in a class where we can associate with some families who are not exactly like ours.

And of course, it is chaos. The teacher is nearly in tears with the number of students, apparently she thought there would be less. And the Chinese families are sitting on one side and the rest of us are on the other. Then one father starts in on how his child needs to have some English in the classroom, because they don't speak Mandarin at home. He is Asian and so is his child. The teacher turns a lovely shade of purple and announces that perhaps this isn't the class for junior, in the nicest way possible, of course. Mr. I Need English states that the enrollment folks told him to come here. Chinese families squirm and some white parents appear wide eyed. I'm in the back, rolling my eyes because quite frankly here we go again. (Organization and finite planning are not this schools' strong point.)

At the end of the orientation, if you could call it that Ava somehow missed being on the list to get a set of books. I stay after class to add her name to the list. The teacher apologizes profusely and I tell her "Hey girl, Don't sweat it." Ok, perhaps I was a tad more formal, but you get the drift. Then I turn on my heels as one of the Chinese mom's starts laying into the teacher. She's speaking Mandarin at about 110 miles and minute and I'm catching only a word or two at very best. Clearly she is not happy, and I do hear FCC families, in English spoken several times. Ok, so I'm at this point inferring that she is not pleased that her little darling is in class with the likes of anyone not authentically Chinese and or speaking Mandarin in the home. I'm somewhat surprised she would have this conversation right in front of me...but heh, she was correct to assume that I don't speak fluent Mandarin. But hey lady, I do speak body language and can understand a few words like FCC Families. Of course I'm also finely tuned in the universal language of "pissy". At this point there is nothing else to do but hold my head up high turn on a dime and get the hell out of there. I did not want to add to the teacher's distress and I honestly never believe it is appropriate for adults to get overly snippy and petty in front of children. That is to be done after they go to bed.

Later on in the week, we all get an email saying everyone has been assigned to new classrooms. And guess what? All the kids who's parents don't speak Mandarin are in one class and all the kids who whose parents speak Mandarin are in another. Lovely...we are now segregated again.

And honestly, who am I to complain? My kid gets to go to Mandarin class...albeit on the fringe. She could take dancing if she'd like. She could take Gong Fu, even though we were told it was for boys. Now that is one I AM willing to fight about. This school is primarily run by volunteers who are serving the people that mostly make up their contingency...high achieving 1st generation Chinese Americans who have attended only the best schools in China and are now doctors and scientists working for a very large pharmaceutical company here in town or one of the few universities here. There isn't one schlep in the bunch. They worked hard to get here...and now nothing will stand in the way of their children topping even their accomplishments.

Is this school the right place for our family? I don't know. I have often spoken to leaders of the community and they are warm and inviting, saying they love our children...their children...see, it's confusing. They want to serve the community at large and you don't need to be Chinese to be at the community center. But, then maybe they are having growing pains too, not always agreeing about the direction and the tone of the organization and the school.

We'll just take it week by week and see what happens. It's times like these that I wish the Muffin Man hadn't forgotten the manual at the hotel in Changsha.

Monday, August 25, 2008


No, not the real Olivia you know and love. Olivia the Pig. All about Olivia the Pig over here.

Sorry, were you expecting something along the lines of Ian Falconer?


I also have some heavy thoughts and observations about our new year of Chinese school brewing in my head...soon to be brewing on the blog. But seriously, I've had to let my white privileged, majority enjoying self cool off and think things through before I make a complete ass of myself by spewing off impulsively. Let's just say I've had a bitty little taste of assumptive disrespectful behavior and, shocker, poor me I didn't like it.

More about muddling through meager attempts at fitting in at Chinese school as the very large and very white elephant in the back of the room later.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Yards of Tulle

I love the section of my newspaper that mentions local small businesses and of course shopping opportunities. I admit I rarely go buy anything from these companies and use them mostly for my own entertainment and creative inspiration. Does this make me a heel? Someday when my ship full of gold sails into the front yard...I swear I'll burn up that plastic buying from local artisans. Right now, baby needs a new pair of shoes, and its sadly not a new pair of pink mary janes with yellow flowers. Capishe?

Last week I saw this adorable web site mentioned...simply sweet tutus. Oh, the adorable yards and yards of amazing cotton candy colored tulle. My heart swooned. My girls need tutus, I thought. Never mind that neither one is especially girlie, but they do enjoy dressing up together. You're seeing where this is going right?

I latched onto this tutu idea like a pit bull to raw meat and while Liv and I were out last week buying some supplies for Pink Evita, I was freakishly distracted by a wall of soft tulle in all colors at the local fabric joint. "I know, I'll make everyone I know a magic tutu for Christmas", I thought excitedly. She picked pink and I picked blue for Ava. Her favorite, of course.

We ran home and I excited started cutting tulle into strips. I measured her tiny little waist and for some reason couldn't stop attaching pink strips of tulle to the elastic. There was bits of tulle flying throughout the kitchen. The muffin man pulled a 6" piece from the microwave. I think there might be ten yards of tulle strapped to her little waist.

No wonder she doesn't like it.
This is what happened exactly 30 seconds after she reluctantly modeled the thing.
In a strange turn of events the puggle is the most girliest of them all here on the cul-de-sac. She can't get enough of the thing. She looks like she's frowning here, but I swear she is at this moment frolicking around the house with the enormous pink puff ball stuck to her nose.

Another craft catastrophe. Hmmmmph...I guess that is why some people pay the professionals to do a job.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

1st Day of 1st

I did in fact attempt to take photos of my dear 1st grader on her 1st day of 1st grade, which happened this week. But, wouldn't you know it, perhaps it was because I was forced to recognize the un-godly hour of 6:30am...all the pictures I took were grim at best. Yes, this shot was the best of the lot.

Poor little kid has to get up at 6:30am to catch the bus at 7:25am. An unwelcome 25 minutes earlier than last year due to the headache inducing major construction project going on next door at our intersection of all American dream and how precious can one road project really get in this town. The one redeeming factor is that by December 1st this little road project which is giving me headaches from the constant day and night banging banging is that my kids might not ever have to take that 7:25am bus again since we are supposed to be getting some kick ass sidewalk out of the deal that leads directly to the elementary school.

So there she is...Ava is now officially a 1st grader. She even had homework last night. Most of which required me to run around the house finding pictures of the family, trips to China, and summer vacations. She was in charge of writing the story to accompany each one. Olivia colored the kitchen table with markers while all this was going on. Seriously, how do large families do the homework thing without the little ones burning the joint down? Email me separately if you know the secret.

I'm thrilled she's thrilled with the whole school shebang, but I'm also ambling around the house a bit. Livi asks to go the pool about 6 times a day, it is closed during the week now and I'm just not sure what our schedule should be. It has dawned on me that I might pick up a broom and clean something around here, but I've resisted and the summer grime persists. Oh joy.

Remind me how I go through this usual 1-2 week funk when our schedules abruptly change each and every summer and fall. Change is not easy for me. I'm like the fish that got tossed out of the tank immediately before someone decides to pick me up and tosses me back into swim the pink coral and 6" castle. Where's Nemo?

Think about how I'll be all sunshine and roses when Livi starts preschool in a few weeks.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

As We Walked The Pork Tent

In my town there are two types of people, people who are state fair snobs and absolutely refuse to attend each and every August even though the state fair serves up big yummy fried stuff and meat on a stick. Perhaps that's part of the reason they are state fair snobs to begin with. And then, there are your state fair enthusiasts. I personally haven't met anyone in the middle politically when speaking of the state fair in mixed company. You love it or hate it, it's a Hilary thing.

I used to be a state fair snob. I went once in the early 1990's and suffered my way through the entire day. It was hot, lots and lots of sweaty people, not one vegetable within ear shot and did I mention the lots and lots of sweaty people...some without teeth. So, for the next 10 years I was a proud and unrepentant state fair snob, wouldn't touch the place.

Then I starting taking up with a couple of little neo-fair'ites on a regular basis. I have repented and seen the light. The light of a fried twinkie, light enough to brighten up even the darkest hour has changed my once dreary and cold heart forever.

Yesterday was it, state fair day. We went with our friends...who are quite frankly, hardcore. Arrive early, leave late and munch munch munch along the way. I am not afraid to tell you I walked a mile and a half after being at the fair for 8 hours just to get the best damn cheese popcorn this state makes. It was that kind of day.

It was a food tour-de-force to make Emeril and Paula blush. This is how good Livi's first snack of corn dog was. This was especially meaningful to the group since it contained BOTH something fried AND meat on a stick.

If that is not worth $4.50, I don't know what is. Mmmmm...good.

The kids ate their corn dogs and fries while I was scolded for choosing that plate of fries for the children to share. My friend explained..."Fries? no no, you can get those any old day, you must get something more exotic it's our day at the fair." Oh, I nodded in sophomoric agreement as ketchup dribbled onto my tee shirt. My friend added a paper basket of fried green tomatoes to the table for emphasis. Oh, and they were heavenly.

On our way over to the rides I stopped for a lemon shake up. In another good hearted but lame move on my part I decided to share with my kids and my friend's daughter. Needless to say I should have upped the order to the 32oz. lemon shake up...I got exactly 4 sips for myself.

Meanwhile, we arrive at the carnival rides section of the fair and my friend announces we need the family pack of at least 25 tickets. (In past years, I have NEVER conceded to let my children ride the rides.) Hey, they are operating on a horses stomach over at the equine barn, who needs rides? All of us rode the ferris wheel and not one of us saw a seat belt! And we lived to tell about it.

After Ava rode the log water ride all by herself my friend started to speak quietly and leaned into me as if she wanted to share a secret. I tilted my head as she announced, "I have a secret. I have been in the closet for years but I LOVE the games. Want to win the kids a stuffed animal?" I replied, "What are you crazy, pay $20.00 for a stupid cheap stuffed dog? " Stop, you must know what happened next.

My little Ava soaked that water balloon with the gun faster than anyone else, beating my friend two times in a row...she and her little friend walked out of there with matching pugs.

After all the stuffed animal winning drama I started to loosen up a bit. How could one not be happy surrounded by so many corn dogs?

This corn dog tent won most original dressing up of corn dogs 2008. Blue ribbon corn dog presentation if you will.

Here is my friend L and her daughter E. Pay close attention to the corn dog second from the left. Don't worry, I don't think Mr. Corn Dog inhales.

After, more fun with corn dogs I promptly purchased a fully loaded cheesy chicken quesidilla. It was all of 20 minutes before I was running to the nearest, ummm, ladies room.

To cheer myself up...a trip to the snow cone kiosk. What else could I do?

But then the same thing happened to the sno cone that happened to my lemon shake up. Why does Liv still weigh 27 lbs but my pants are tight? Interesting phenomenon that should be studied next year in the bovine tent.

After all this merriment we stumbled on the outdoor circus, and saw an elephant walk on a ball. That site was beaten in shock and awe value when we saw a 63 year old woman in spandex "Vogue" as her 5 Afgan dogs jumped six feet bars. The quesidilla was rumbling again, it had to have been the spandex sighting. I looked at my watch and we had been at the fair no shorter than 7 1/2 hours at that point.

It was then that my friend announced she would be walking 1 1/2 miles to the farthest popcorn tent there was in the central state area before getting in the car to go home. Was I in? At that point, how could I say no to yet more adventure. Off we went, working our little pork filled legs to the cheesy popcorn tent.

Today, I'm a little sad there is no champion grey rabbit to pet or 1200 lb. World's Largest Pig to snicker at. Oh well , there's always next year to get the fried bananas foster cheescake.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Accounting 101

In the last 2 days I've spent about 5 hours trying to balance my hard drive version of MS Money to the online version of my bank's assessment of our local checking account. And, I'm approximately 1/2 way done. I'm only out of balance $130.00 for the record. But I still have 6 months left to go.

Why would anyone want or need to spend this much time on such a mundane project? Well, it appears that if you don't actually balance your checking account in 13 might get a little out of whack. No really, it might, trust me.

Let me back up the rolling out of control financial train here by saying that I've been slightly aware all summer that I was perhaps minorly out of balance...a tad out of balance in my world is no need to panic and take drastic measures like printing off an online statement or anything. I really thought I had been sticking my fingers in my ears while singing la la la la taking the passive approach to cul-de-sac financial matters for approximately 3-4 months. The big old 13 months...well, that was a shocker...even to me.

How does one get this out of touch with reality? Well, I don't know in my world money is just not colorful and interesting. It is interesting when I have enough to hop on over to Target to buy whatever nonsense I need this week. In depth teachings from Suzy Orman and Alan Greenspan...not so much. I'm desperately trying to configure a way that I can blame my kids...because mostly that is the way I operate around here...poor me I'm so distracted by two little girls eating their weight in yogurt bars and Yogos. But I suppose that would be over the top even for me...I couldn't balance my checking account since I have 2 kids. Perhaps I will ultimately justify my lackadaisical behavior on the fact that I am truly a work at home mom now. My sewing room seems to foster the "life in a bubble" lifestyle I seem to relish. But then again, I do have several close friends who miraculously work 50+ hours a week, grocery shop, and have 2+ kids. But then again they don't have the Today show habit that I do. Points for me again.

Reading line by line what we spent at the grocery 8 months ago and reviewing online expenditures of $4.99 and below 10 1/2 months ago, is shall I say the true butt lashing I deserve for letting this go on so long.

Maybe I need a brownie to cheer me up. No wait, I don't want to have to balance that damn brownie $2.50 expenditure in the checking account in about another 13 months from now.