Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Blackbirds Singing in the Parking Lot

I've been over-analyzing my parenting since about six months before we brought our kids home.  Part of this is because I have every bibliophile's secret belief that somewhere there exists a book that will solve all my problems.  It might be fiction, it might be nonfiction, but if I just read enough, I'm bound to find the passage that makes me think, "Oh!  THAT'S what I need to do instead!"

It only got worse when I discovered blogging.  Pioneer Woman was my gateway drug, back when adoption was still something we discussed from time to time.  Once I was fully launched on this journey, I started obsessively seeking out blogs of people who had adopted from the same country.  Upon return, I discovered the therapeutic parenting blogs, not to mention the regular ol' Mommy blogs.  I found solace in others' stories, whether the poignant AnyMommy or the hilarious Put Down the Urinal Cakes, now more primly named (but no less joyfully rowdy in content) BethWoosely.

Then I found the blogs that ask me to do something.  To Carry On, Warrior, which frankly is challenging enough.  To Stop Yelling, although actual yelling is not how my inner Scary Mean Mommy comes out.  To be a Hands Free Mama, while being Creative with Kids.  And Ban Busy.

Seriously?  I work full time; I have two high needs kids; I have a house and a yard and family and friends and I keep meaning to knit that baby shower blanket for a kid who's already five months old and to take my kids to the food bank to help out and then there's this blog I'd like to write more in...ban busy?  Really?

But I'm trying, and here's what I've learned in the past week or so.

1.  A lot of my busy-ness is actually time wasting.  The odds are I'm not going to just sit and stare into space, so HOW I spend my time is the important question.  Instead of staying an extra hour at work, screwing around on my computer, I shut down, come home, and play with my kids.  I begin my 45 minute free period each day with a five minute walk around the building.  It makes my plan time feel more productive to use those five minutes as my unwind, instead of staring blankly at my screen and trying to think of what I need to accomplish. I know this already, of course, that it's important to spend my time on things that actually matter to me, but I'd let myself get distracted by Instant Gratification Monkey far too often recently. 

2.  Paradoxically, I am better able to Ban Busy if I take more time for planning.  If I have menus planned for the week, it frees up mental space and last-minute-errand time.  If I figure out ahead of time when I can take a 2 or 5 minute meditation break, it actually happens. Planning also allows for flexibility.  (Paradox II: The Sequel)  I had a menu plan.  My husband went ahead and started dinner before I got home, making something not on my list.  The menu I had planned gets bumped out a day, so there is one less day to plan for next week.  We've got the kids in a good routine of getting a certain amount of homework done each day.  Today was the first warm day of the year, so the Winemaker let them get out the slip-n-slide without insisting on chores and homework first, and they will still be able to get it all done in time.

3.  Sleep is very important.  Again, no shit, Sherlock.  But paying this close of attention to how I'm spending my time makes it easier for me to see that when I'm dragging, I'm inefficient, disconnected, and generally blah.  When I make myself go to bed on time, I have more enthusiasm for actually doing the things that make me happy, instead of the things that require the least effort.

I'm not "all better" yet, nor will I ever be.  I have been putting off returning my dad's error-ridden death certificates to the state so they can issue us new ones for, oh, six-eight weeks now.   It's a simple enough matter of putting two pieces of paper in a manila envelope, addressing it, and mailing it, but it sounds so exhausting every evening, so dull each weekend. I still find myself doing dinner-dishes-homework with the kids more than simply playing with them . But we're reading Harry Potter at dessert each night, and bedtimes suddenly seem smooth again after getting wonky for a while there.

I don't know; I guess it's all First World Problems, but dangit, that's where I live.  I took a walk around the parking lot while the kids were at Tae Kwon Do.  The strip mall lot backs onto a wetland, and I was serenaded by red winged blackbirds as I tromped along the asphalt.  I could have used the time to play games on my phone, or to grade papers.  Another night I might do either of those things.  Tonight, I banned busy and just enjoyed the evening sun.

No, these photos have no direct relevance.  They're my dad's pictures, and they are nice and spring-like, no?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Work in Progress

I am working really hard right now on taking better care of myself.  On putting my energy where I want it to go, instead of frittering it away (I'm lookin' at you, BuzzFeed quizzes and Pinterest Humor section).  I am tired of getting fatter and fatter; I'm tired of surviving day to day at my job;  I'm tired of oversleeping and scrambling to get to work on time; I'm tired of being snappish with my kids.  I was thinking I had all these separate issues, and they were too overwhelming to tackle.  But as I start to chip away at the pieces, I realize that I have been pretty darn depressed, and that ties directly to each of these.  Also, duh, could it be that I took my dad's death a little harder than I realized?  Plus, winter is just hard, and I have two close family members who are dealing with a lot of emotional stuff and need some extra TLC--two people I tend to rely on to support ME, so as glad as I am to return the favor, it also means more stress and less help. 

I'm trying to do something about the 30 pounds I've gained in the last 12 months.  None of my clothes are comfortable--I can barely squeeze into my pants, and when I do, I spend the rest of the day desperate to take them off again--and I have rolls in disturbing new locations.  Sweets are my solace in times of trouble, so this is hard for me.  I'm making some better main meal choices, and hoping that will have some effect even as I continue to be ruled by my sweet tooth.  The other angle, of course, is to actually move my ass off the couch from time to time.

Last night Oak asked the Winemaker if he'd go on a bike ride with him after dinner.  The Winemaker said he'd take a walk and Oak could ride.  Linden asked if she could come too.  I paused a moment, balancing the peacefulness of an empty house against the benefits of taking a walk, then said I'd come too.  It was, as walks always are, a good decision.  We wound up taking a longer route than expected, leaving the nature trail to loop around to the duck pond and back home.  Once we'd reached familiar ground, the boys went on ahead, and Linden hung back with me.  She kept saying how much she liked being with me, and I melted into a little puddle each time.  Then we spotted a rainbow. 

A coworker friend and I are introducing Genius Hour to our 7th and 8th graders.  It's a buzzword, and part of my wants to roll my eyes and say, "Can we just call it an independent project?"  Still, its buzziness is was has gained us the support of our principal as we give kids one period a week in each of our classes to work on something they are passionate about, then create a presentation to share what they learned.  You want to make stop animation film?  Go for it.  Bake apple pie from 3 different recipes, perform a taste test, and make a list of key tips?  Save us a slice.  Learn how to pick a lock? Um, maybe not.  (Or our favorite, the kids who wanted to "learn more about how babies are made and make a video about it."  Seeing the look on our faces, he added, "No!  Not THAT kind of video!  I mean the science part!")  But is there another mechanical trick you'd like to master?  Let's think about it.  It takes a pretty hardened 12 year old to not get excited about the change to learn about their own interests.  It is doing good things for morale in our classes, and the challenge of researching and planning the unit together has done good things for my energy as a teacher. 

As I take these steps, and others ( has 2 and 5 minute guided meditations, I use Tae Kwon Do practice time to read instead of text or play games on my phone, I'm reintroducing weekly menu planning...), I'm reestablishing the person I prefer to be.  I was going to say, "the mom I want to be," but I guess that's the point.  I can't be a good mom unless I'm doing alright as me, Wendy.  I can't be a good teacher, a good wife, a good citizen, a good ANYTHING unless I'm taking care of that inner core of me that is both all and none of these things. 

A long time ago, I realized that I would never be perfect.  But effort really does count.  It's the continued struggle to reach the ideal that matters.  It's much the same way I feel about the flag salute.  "Liberty and justice for all" my ass, but would I want to live in a country that didn't at least TRY to achieve that?   I am not kind enough, brave enough, energetic enough, patient enough, generous enough, creative enough, organized enough, or (newer one) therapeutic enough of a parent--but continual striving to become those things will do me much better than giving up would. 

Now I'm off to do my 2 minute meditation then get to bed!

Monday, April 21, 2014


It was Linden's 8th birthday last week, which has resulted in all sort of irrational jealousy from Oak ("It's not fair!") and an unusual level of angst from the birthday girl herself. One of the writing stations in her classroom is making a card.  She brought home one that said "Mom, Today has bin the wrst day mom.  Love, Linden."  Even sadder were the copious illustrations: frowny faces being rained on and then crossed out in bright orange crayon.  She told me that she'd been upset and withdrawn during recess, and when friends tried to find out what was wrong, she had snapped at them to go away and leave her alone. 

She cheered up in the evening (presents!  cake!) but continued to fret a little about how grumpy she'd been with her friends.  Despite all the reading I've done about kids in her situation, the penny didn't drop for me until four days after her birthday, last night. 

She was sitting in the little rocking chair that has found a home in our kitchen, and I was unloading the dishwasher.  "Mom, I want to go back to Baltica," she said.  "I really miss the food there." 

"What kinds of food do you miss?"  I asked, curious.

"All of it.  It was really good.  The string cheese.  The hamburgers."  Hamburgers?  Huh.  I think the orphanage took the group to McDonalds once.

"Would you like to go back and live in the orphanage, or to go back with our family?" I asked, as neutrally as possible. 

"With the family."  Suddenly, she was in tears.  "I want us all to go there and stay there.  It's my home." 

I stopped putting dishes away and knelt in front of her.  I told her that I knew she misses her home, that it makes sense.  I talked about how that's part of my life too, to always long for the people and places that are far away.  (I was thinking that it's time to read Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey.)  I realized I was talking too much, and asked her to tell me more about what she wanted to do. 

It seemed to help, explaining that she wanted to go see her friends in the orphanage, to meet her older sister that she never even knew existed until we got her foster family's contact information, that she wanted us to go live there for a few years, then come back here to our house. 

I wanted to support her feelings, but I also didn't want to create false expectations.  I explained how expensive international travel is, and that it wouldn't work for us to just leave our house for a few years.  I assured her that we, too, want to return to her birth country, and that when we do so, it will be for a month or more, probably in the summer.  I started spinning wild ideas in my own head about applying for another international teaching program, but I didn't share those thoughts, since I could tell she'd launch onto them as a plan.

She teared up again.  "Then you can take all my allowance and start saving for plane tickets.  And I'm going to pick out all the toys I don't need and have a garage sale."

"Oh, honey.  You really want to go."  Miserable but fervent nodding.  That's when it all came together.  "Do you think having your birthday made you start thinking about your past?"  Even more fervent nodding.  "Is that why you were upset at school, do you think?"

"Yeah, and I just told everyone to leave me alone.  I even told the TEACHER that."

"It must have been so confusing to be excited about your birthday and also so sad.  And that would be really hard to explain to other people, huh."

I've been messing up a lot the past week.  Whenever I do, I feel like I'm undoing all the good I've done, that I'm breaking trust and security in ways that make healing harder and harder.  But her face, when I helped her start to put her confusion into words, when I didn't argue with her, when I told her that these kinds of feelings are completely normal, when I took her is one of the rare times when I feel like I did something right enough to help balance out my mistakes.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fourth Time is a Charm

I really want to write tonight, but it keeps devolving into whining and navel gazing.  It would be like putting my 8th grade diary on the internet.  After three tries, I'm giving up on analyzing my current angst.  Instead of writing about what's on my mind, I'm going to jump back two months and write about something that I'm still mulling over from time to time. 

Part of our adoption situation was that because we were adopting from a country some of my ancestors were from (maternal grandfather emmigrated from there as a baby), we were moved up the line.  Less than a year after we adopted, international adoption was closed entirely, except in cases of large sibling groups and those with special medical needs, so that was a significant help in getting matched with our kids.  The expectation, non-binding yet clear, was that in return, we would have the ability and motivation to help our kids know their birth culture. 

Before adopting our kids, I found a lady who speaks their language, and she tutored me once a week for months.  I didn't learn as much as I'd hoped, given that I already speak a similar language,  but I did get enough to survive those first few crazy months with some small ability to communicate with our kids.  My tutor was also our introduction to the local community of ex-pats and immigrants.  The first year home, I tried to get them involved in the children's program of the Christmas program.  Oak balked, but Linden danced and recited poems with the other kids.  The community's president brought our family onto the stage and introduced us, and suggested that the fund-raising side of the evening's events go towards supporting the Children's Home our kids came from.  This was so well intentioned that I dealt with the embarrassment of standing on a stage being gawked at.  Linden danced again at the Independence Day celebration last spring, and again we were brought onto the stage, and the results of the fund raising campaign and the response of the Director of the Children's Home were shared with the group. 

We missed this year's Christmas event.   Life was too complicated to add that in just then.  Linden and even Oak asked about it though, and Linden insisted that I get her signed up for participating in the independence day event again.  So I did, and she did.  We were on our way there when Oak asked, "Do we have to go onto the stage in front of everyone again?"  I laughed and said, no, I think we are done with that.

The kids danced.  Some big girls danced.  There was a keynote speech, then speeches of thanks.  Then one of the moms who organizes the kids' dancing stood up with a bouquet and directed everyone's attention towards our table.  "We want to thank Wendy and Winemaker for bringing Linden and Oak," she began.  Oak gave me a LOOK.  The Winemaker and I shifted uncomfortably.  She went on for a bit about how wonderful we are to do what we do, then brought me the flowers. 


This is the kind of thing that drives adoptive parents nuts.  Being singled out as different.  Being praised for wanting what every other parent in the room already has--kids.  Being respected for simply parenting your children (even though you know what a shitty job you are doing).  The implications for the kids are squirmy too.  That they are "lucky we took them in."  That we rescued them.  That they are weird. 

That was my knee jerk reaction, anyway.  I'm wondering though, if (like most knee jerk reactions) this was entirely fair or accurate.  As I listened to what the Baltic mom was saying, I don't think the message was "Thank you for rescuing these poor little children."  I think (and hope) that the message was "Thank you for maintaining cultural ties.  Thank you for walking into a situation where you feel out of place in order to provide your kids with a situation where they feel in place.  Thank you for honoring their birth culture in a tangible way." 

I feel more comfortable accepting those thanks.  I could say that this, too, should be part of the basic expectations for parenting internationally adopted kids, not something praiseworthy, but frankly, it's not always possible.  People adopt from multiple countries, or from countries they know little about.  People live far away from communities that represent their kids' birth cultures.  People are wonderful, loving, and therapeutic parents who simply don't have the cross cultural background to integrate a second culture into their family life.  It was and is important to us.  We specifically chose to adopt from a country we knew we would visit again anyway; a place we felt competent to teach our kids about.  Then we overcame a great deal of shyness to reach out to strangers and find ways to stay connected to the local community from their country.  When I discovered that the other moms were all 15 years younger than me, gorgeous blonde marathon runners with marble countertops, I kept coming back anyway.  I think it would be a disaster to force Oak to participate in folk dancing, but we insist that he dress up and show up for the final events.   Maybe it's okay to be thanked for that. 

What do you do to help your kids maintain their roots?  How necessary do you think this is to their overall sense of self?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Things that lift my spirits.

  • Goofy dancing in the kitchen
  • Hot coffee
  • Talking to my sisters.  Even when we're talking about depressing things, like the end of one sister's marriage, our father's memorial service, or our inability to stop stuffing cookies into our faces.
  • The tenderness with which my son interacts with his stuffed animals
  • Birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window.
  • Call me evil, but the knowledge that my niece, well-loved and well-parented since day one, blessed with health and intelligence and charm, can and occasionally does out-brat my own kids. 
  • Zoloft.  I missed two days in the chaos of last week, and Saturday I was immobilized by headache and misery.  Now I'm back on track, and feeling fine.
  • Spooning.
  • The way my kids scream "Daddy!" and race to bear hug him whenever he walks in the door.
  • Reading to my kids. They have rejected every chapter book besides the "early reader" types, but right now we are reading the first Harry Potter, and apparently it IS magic, because despite the lack of pictures, Britishisms, and very different pace than, say "Mr. Putter and Tabby Ride the Train," they are listening intently and asking for more. 
  • Being known.  Last night my husband and I watched a movie together.  Afterwards I was sitting on the couch with my laptop.  He wandered past and, without looking at the screen, asked, "What do the reviews say?"  So I told him.
  • Getting outdoors.  
  • The clock on the mantle.  The tick-tock and bonging on the hour drive my husband and son nuts.  But it's the clock that was in the kitchen as I grew up, so the sounds are old friends to me.  I like the ritual of winding it each week, and I appreciate being reminded of the time each half hour.  
  • Time with friends.  
  • Getting into the car and realizing my husband filled the tank.
  • The incredibly soft sweatshirt my husband got for Christmas.  Purr.  It's a win-win, since he loves me to rub his shoulders.  
  • Singing my daughter to sleep.
  • Payday.  Times are tough, and there's a palpable sense of relief each time the bank account gets replenished.
  • Red wine, chocolate, and reading.  Duh

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Things I Am Not On Top Of

1.  Clutter.  It's everywhere.  Mostly paper, or at least that's the format I find most annoying, yet have no solutions for.  The toys I can work around, and then say, "Everything you don't want tossed needs to go upstairs in the next half hour!" and it all magically moves to their rooms.  Jackets--I've accepted that I'm the only person who is both tall enough and invested enough to hang up the coats, and it takes me less than a minute to do so.  But the paper is EVERYWHERE, and CONSTANT, and ALL OF US generate it and NONE OF US know what to do with it. 

2.  My weight.  Four years ago, I joined Weight Watchers, rather self-consciously, because philosophically and emotionally, I am anti-diet.  But I'd gained 15 lbs a year, 3 years in a row, and a friend of mine (who has diabetes, and knows that diabetes runs in my family) was brave enough to point out that I should probably change my habits.  I lost a satisfying amount of weight, then put a little back on, but was still comfortable with myself.  I don't need my body to look like it did in my teens and 20s.  I'm okay with being soft around the middle and having sturdy thighs and actually needing a bra for the first time.  But something changed in the past school year, and my consumption of sweets, always high, because obsessive.  I stop in the car on the way home from work, buy candy and/or cookies, eat most of them in the car, hide them in my bag, eat the rest at work the next day, then repeat.  Not surprisingly, I no longer own any comfortable pants.  The button on my favorite pair of jeans popped off.  The button that is RIVETED to the pants. 

3.  My internet usage.  Blah.  I don't even want to talk about this one.  Not because it's porn or anything, just that it's dumb and such a waste of time--not just time I could be productive in, but time I could have fun in.  Pinterest, Candy Crush, FB, TV tropes...seriously?  Why do I do this?  If I were blogging, or reading the handful of blogs I really feel connected to, or researching for work, that would be okay.  But I get on the computer telling myself I'll do one of those things, and three hours's two hours past my bedtime.

4.  Which is one reason I am blogging so little.

5.  And it's also one reason I'm not getting enough sleep.

6.  #3 + #5 combined are making me less effective at my job too.  Teaching takes a lot of energy.  I have been put into a new position three years in a row, and this year my whole school is undergoing a massive changeover to new technology, so the learning curve has been steep.  I love my job, but I'm tired, and I'm not putting as much into it as I need to be successful. 

Luckily, I have an indomitable optimism. 

No, really.  I also have a healthy amount of self deprecating snark, but despite being stressed and anxious and angry and sad about all of the above, I am still basically okay.  Maybe that's just the anti depressants talking, but honestly, once I survived the ages of 12-15, I've always felt like I'm basically okay.  I screw up, and fail to live up to my ideals, and act selfishly, and am lazier the older I get, and forget to follow up on things...but it's okay.  I'm human.  I'm re-joining weight watchers.  I'm eyeing some simple organization ideas.  I'm thinking of making myself a schedule, so time wasting activities fill in around the edges instead of replacing things I actually care about. 

What's not on this list?  Parenting.  Maybe that's why I'm not beating myself up more for all these failures.  I am putting my energy where it counts most.  It's still a struggle, but it's a struggle I am actively engaged in.  We aren't where we want to be, but the progress is visible.