Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Birthdays and Blogs.

At her first birthday party, surrounded by her parents and uncle, and dozens of friends of all ages, Xiao Ya Ellyse digs into the chocolate cake and prepares to welcome the big 0-4.
Perhaps it's the harness booster seat in the car that she can almost enter and exit on her own. Or the household chores with which she's begun to help. Or the six inches she's grown in the past year. Or maybe it was the incessant birthday countdown. In any event, it has felt for quite some time like Xiao Ya was about to turn four. On Monday, she did.

The day before, we pulled together a party at a local community center. Amid crafts, music, balloons and more "tofu chicken" and dairy-free macaroni and cheese to feed a small village, Ya Ya's village assembled to wish her well. We even had a handful of folks who didn't bring any kids! It was a perfect day, and our hearts were filled with pride when our little girl did as she'd been coached -- and watched Mama serve every single person a piece of birthday cake before she got her own.

She also played with the older kids and fed all the babies, even taking a minute in the hallway to help a nearby mom who was not with our party change a diaper. She said hello and goodbye to everyone, and was of course too excited to eat everything that we set in front of her.

For me, this was a fitting coda to a long week that also featured an all-day adoption conference. The focus of the workshops I attended was self-identity and cultural affiliation. These raised some thorough, tough yet fair questions about how our children will grow up, where they will live, and whom they will see as role models. It's slightly uncomfortable to realize there is much more to do -- and more still of which to be aware -- while you're simply trying to make sure the dishes are done and she gets out the door for school on time and in matching socks. At the same time, we are very fortunate to have some control over the answers to these questions. Many parents do not.

"This year just wouldn't have been the same if Xiao Ya hadn't shown up," one of her teachers told me yesterday morning. I replied that I felt the full weight of that statement every day. She is an extraordinary human being, and her journey to date has left her uniquely qualified to take on the challenges she'll face in the future. From what we can tell already, she will have the social skills and the sense of humor to handle a life story with more than its fair share of loss, adversity, struggle and unknowns.

Her parents will give her the support and reassurance she needs, as many answers as they have to various questions, and help seeking out the answers to others. We will shield her from friendly but overly inquisitive or insensitive strangers, and do our best to make sure that life story is hers to tell.

To that end, we have decided that this will be the final Planet R-H blog post. The story began with our first post almost four years ago, when Xiao Ya was barely a few months old and none of us had any idea she -- or anyone from her country of birth -- would end up as part of our family. It was about us, and our journey toward raising a family. And while our adoption journey will be a lifelong one, we'd like to begin building a zone of privacy around our daughter.

This is no small feat in a connected world, and it's a world that continues to be more connected in ways that are novel yet terrifying. I have to admit, as a guy who works with words for a living, I loved blogging. I loved the connection with the audience, and the feeling of memorializing the day, the week or the month by emptying the thoughts out of my head and onto the screen. She's a photogenic and personable kid, we got great feedback from every photo and every story, and we're incredibly proud of her. But we have realized we can't claim sole ownership over the subject matter anymore.

At the same time, we also hope the archived posts will continue to serve as a resource for parents, or potential parents, who find themselves headed down a similar path. Here's hoping, for a few years at least, that we manage to tell her as much of the story as we can ourselves before she does any online detective work.

Or at least before she's old enough to reach the pedals.

We remain ever grateful to those we have met along the way, whether in person or only virtually. Your examples have inspired us and given us hope for ourselves and other families like ours. We're part of an amazing, supportive community of people linked across thousands of miles around the world.

To those who took the time to read: please don't be a stranger. Email us, find us on Facebook, or stop us in the grocery store. We're so pleased to have shared Xiao Ya's launch into this part of her life. And thank you so much for caring.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday, February 4, 2013

One Year.

Happy New Year! I hope what's left of our faithful readership doesn't confuse a lack of posting with a lack of activity. We are overjoyed and overwhelmed, well-amused and poorly rested. The big news is how little big news there has been for us in our parenting journey of late, and just how ordinary so many of our days tend to be when compared to the lives of other moms, dads and their toddlers.

But we have some celebrating to do in the next few days.

One year ago today, we met Xiao Ya for the first time. We can't go into the details because of how it all went down and who was involved. But I'll say this -- it was very clear that we had been waiting for our new daughter longer than she had been waiting for us. And while she was a natural charmer, the stealer of the scene, the life of the party, we would have to spend some time selling a tough customer on what we had to offer.

I think we did.

One year ago, we were strangers except for a few photographs that let Xiao Ya see what we looked like and vice versa. We were first-time parents, and she didn't know what parents were. She spoke not a word of English, had met few men, and had experienced an extraordinary amount of medical attention for someone her age.

Today, she is 3.5 inches taller and 10 pounds heavier and pushes her way through clothing and shoe sizes on a regular basis. She knows all of her letters forward and backward, is pronouncing sounds and words more clearly every day, and still surprises us with a phrase here and there. (Ok: "Oh, man!" NOT ok: "What the hell?") While we can only hope we are investing the right kind of time and energy into giving our daughter a good set of values, we already know she is a kind and thoughtful person who cares about the needs of others. We have started weekly Mandarin classes and are considering soccer.

In the past year, we dragged Xiao Ya halfway across the country and up the East Coast nearly a dozen times and introduced her to a vast army of new friends and family members. (She seems better at remembering names and faces than I am...) We have made new adult friends because of her child friends, run into adoptive families in the strangest places, and even recently caught up with one of her little friends from Harmony House who now lives nearby in Virginia!

Ya Ya is much too young to know the intricacies of her adoption story just yet. But she has learned, from her books and our stories and the living examples around her, that families come in many different shapes and sizes and from many different places. Twelve months into this crazy adventure, we couldn't be more pleased at what she has added to our family.

 February 2012.

February 2013.

P.S. We're also far, far behind on pictures from the holidays...


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Late Fall.

So it's December, but it feels like fall...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nine Months.

This week, we marked nine months as a family. Our lives continue to revolve around their small Chinese axis, while the star of the show continues to surprise, delight and occasionally frustrate us.

We had our first parent-teacher conferences this week. I have no recollection of my own as a student, and Lindy conducts hundreds of these a year as a teacher. But for me, this was a chance to learn more about our daughter from a group of people who have invested their time, effort and professional abilities in her success. She is succeeding at school, meeting milestones in nearly every area except language. This is to be expected. We've heard from the group that her progress is notable and what one would expect from a toddler who spoke no English at all a few months ago. While we don't always understand what she says on the first try, she is constantly dropping new words and phrases on us. Case in point: during a wedding reception this past weekend in Ohio, she and Lindy had to leave the long-awaited buffet line for a bathroom break. "Hold my spot!" said the Ya to her parents, again and again. And we did.

Meanwhile, the teachers report that our daughter's math skills are paramount and her empathy is off the charts. They relayed the story yesterday of a classmate having the morning drop-off tantrum, a practice Xiao Ya has all but abandoned. She took this other sobbing student by the hand, led her to the wall where the kids are all pictured with their families and pointed to the right spot. No adult was close enough to hear if words were exchanged, but the reminder that Mom or Dad would be back later apparently calmed the kid down.

We had already travelled to one cousin wedding in Ohio this past September, and the differences between the two, for Ya Ya, were vast. First, she didn't fit in the same dress as before. Second, we learned enough from the prior, taxing, drama-fraught travel experience to limit the number of locations and the moving around this time. Unfortunately, this meant less time around the rest of the family. But on the plus side, she enjoyed the time she spent with everyone much more, and left the wedding reception after eating and dancing because it was bedtime -- not because she wasn't comporting herself as a wedding guest should.

This fall, we have had a plane trip to Michigan and Ohio and a bus trip to New York City, and she takes the actual travel experience very well. We are not averse to the occasional Tic Tac incentive, but have never experienced a meltdown or even had to resort to videos. She can be stubborn, egotistical and overly dramatic at times, but such is life for a toddler. These words could also describe me, along with every other adult member of the family on occasion.

Halloween was awesome in a way I've not experienced since I was much younger, especially given that neither of my parents was fond of the holiday and I married a costume designer. Ya Ya loved dressing up as a Korean pop star -- why shouldn't her first costume with us be of a different gender and ethnicity? -- and was fascinated by the idea that random people would just give her candy. By the time the sugar high from the tiniest of chocolate samples had subsided, I'd gone out to walk the dog as Batman -- awesome -- and we went back to being civilians who had no idea what they were eating for dinner that night.

We are exhausted and often feel more scrambled than deliberate. in short, we are experiencing what all parents feel and what we expected to feel too. Yes, I was that guy this morning. Running across the street with no shoes on, in my Cookie Monster pajama pants, literally seconds before my already-ticketed car was about to be towed. Because I'd forgotten to move it across the street. After having a long conversation with the handyman who came a day early because I didn't get his voice message.

I think the transition between organized, dependable and generally on top of things to one step ahead of the chaos is nearly complete. Sure, it bothers me a little. But I don't think I'm willing to give it up.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Eight Months.

Last night, while Mama was networking at a work-related event, Xiao Ya and I went off and had a lovely outdoor meal at a Vietnamese place in town. Kiddo powered her way through her share of a trio of different dishes using chopsticks, a fork and two spoons all by herself, without any mess or fuss. We talked, joked and laughed. It's like we've been doing this forever. Except we haven't.

Tomorrow marks 8 months since that frigid day in Changchun when we became a family. Our daughter's progress has been remarkable. She's learning new words and phrases, cracking jokes, and probably gained 5 inches, several shoe sizes and a couple of pounds. Neither Lindy nor I can remember exactly what we were doing with our time before we were parents, and none of the nightmare scenarios we read about in the adoption books have come to pass.  She has still lived 80 percent of her life without us at this point,

What is Xiao Ya like as a person? She's tough, can hold her own among the bigger kids (though she's no longer the smallest in her class), and likes to be tossed around a bit, but will still ask to be fed, dressed or carried even though she can clearly do it herself. She's beginning to get into more complicated grammatical structure in her speech, such as, "Mama help Baba make dinner," and has lately actually substituted a pronoun or two instead of the "Ya Ya" that usually begins every sentence. ("Ya Ya shirt! Ya Ya spoon!")

She has a strong sense of the rules, even if she won't follow them all the time as no three-year-old does. Example: observing one of our cats nibbling Lindy's toes recently, she shouted, "Gitzo! No bite Mama ever ever!" She eats like a fiend when it's something familiar, refuses to admit she likes something new that we've made her try, and then keeps on eating. She is loving school and no longer pitches a fit when I drop her off in the morning, but regularly refuses to leave when Lindy picks her up. She has had good play dates with a few little friends, and holds her own with adults impressively, saying hello and shaking their hands. Lindy and I have had a couple of outings on our own, most recently this week, and Uncle Josh's rearing services have been slightly better received by his young charge each time.

Summer ultimately proved to be incredibly stressful on Planet R-H. With Josh new to town and working crushingly-long days in his program, and Lindy and me both having some new challenges in our own work, plus the whole parenting a toddler thing, we've had to pare back to all but the basics. There are some folks we haven't seen in awhile, some things around the house we haven't done, and we've eaten far too many meals outside the home of late. I've been telling folks it's all I can do to make sure we all leave the house fed, clothed and reasonably on time every day -- but I realize that's the struggle of every parent and every busy person besides. I do hope fall, with three weddings and two work trips notwithstanding, brings the chance to move a little higher on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as parents, and as people, than just the bottom level. I'm not expecting to have a self-actualizing three-year-old anytime soon, but I figure we can at least read her an extra book or two anyway.

On tap for the weekend: a play date, a birthday party for a six-year-old, and my first half-marathon.

I also want to give a shout-out (blog-out?) to our friends Kelly and Craig, who just today arrived in Addis Ababa to finish their adoption proceedings and bring their daughter home. They're a couple in Baltimore whom we met through our adoption agency awhile ago when we were in the Ethiopia program. After having been ready to parent Baby K for too long and to be parents in general for far longer, they'll be home in just a few days. We're thrilled beyond words for them.

So, who's ready for some pictures? Lindy and I have known about the Pouty Lip for several months and have occasionally had to excuse ourselves from the room to avoid bursting into laughter when the youngest R-H is taking something very seriously. So here is the first blog appearance for that. And of course, some more pictures with food.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Two links.

Okay, so it's not quite a wordless Wednesday. Here are a couple of links about international adoption, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing...