Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This is togetherness?

I was flipping through a magazine last night and came across an advertisement for a auto company's new minivan. It is full of bells and whistles, mostly involving screens and headphones. One of the "quotes" from the pseudo-scrapbook page that was the advertisement, had the mother joyfully commenting about the 6 hour car trip in which her children made no noise. After the text tells about how each individual has their own screen and port to plug in an MP3, it continues with the line, "We help bring families together." I question this definition of togetherness. It seems about as "together" as a bunch of strangers in an elevator. But at least with the elevator everyone is watching the floor numbers change together. Perhaps a more honest approach would be along the lines of, "We drug your kids so you don't have to."

I feel qualified to comment on this since I am the veteran of thousands of miles of car trips; both as a child and as a parent. They are some of my best memories. But I think they are good memories because of the shared experiences. Our family loves car trips. We listen to books on tape, we listen to music, we sing songs, we play games, and yes sometimes everyone bickers. But, for the most part, we enjoy each other's company. At meals we discuss the book we have been listening to, or remember something funny that someone said. (Or just laugh about how we missed a turn -- again! -- because we were so engrossed in the book we were listening to.) That's my idea of togetherness. Would it be easier to just plug everyone into a screen? Initially I'm sure it would be. But it would be short term benefit without any long term gain. We have found in our many trips that the first day is always the hardest. We haven't hit our travelling stride yet and it takes a little jostling until everyone gets into the "travelling zone". After that first day, thing go much smoother. So smooth that sometimes we try to drive distances that perhaps we shouldn't. For instance, making the drive from Denver to Phoenix in one day sounded like a good idea at the outset, but by the end turned out to be a touch too long.

But back to the advertisement...I actually enjoy talking to my children. I like to hear what they are thinking, to hear their jokes or their songs. I would sadden me to no end to have spent 6 hours with my children and never have a conversation with them. So, please, if you are like this mother and see 6 hours of silent children as a good thing, rethink your relationship with them. In the great scheme of things, your children don't live with you for all that long. I know a day with a whining 3 year old can seem an eternity, but the years go by fast. You can't ever get back the years, so make the most of them.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Thoughts on dishwashing

It sounds fascinating, doesn't it? One of the aspects of using our temporary kitchen that I was least looking forward to was the absence of a dishwasher. Doing the dishes has never been my favorite task and the thought of all the dishes involved in serving 3 meals a day times 8 people was a bit daunting. But over the course of the week I have had a slight change of heart. First, it turns out that all the children love to do dishes...all of it, washing, rinsing, drying. (They're not so keen on the putting away, but I don't mind that.) There have even been some altercations over whose turn it was to wash. I should clarify: over who gets to wash. Even TM and D have done a sink full of dishes. They aren't as fast as some of the older ones, and a little bit more water ends up on the ground, but they get it done and it occupies them for a good chunk of time. We'll see how long this all lasts, as we're only a week into this adventure. It still feels a bit like playing house. Remind me to revisit the dish washing issue come mid-May.

I have also discovered that washing dishes by hand forces you to slow down. You can't just throw them all in the dishwasher and run off to the next activity. Sure, you can run off to the next activity, but those dishes will still be there. Before the general use of dishwashers, I'm sure that most people didn't base commitments on whether they would be able to get the dishes done, but I think there was a different awareness about what there was time for. Instead of giving us time to use to spend with our families, these time-saving devices merely give us more time to fill with activities and outside obligations. I read somewhere that there were those who mourned the advance of electricity in houses. Initially I was surprised at the idea of not being thoroughly thrilled at electricity. But the point was, with all rooms being able to be lighted equally, there was nothing that forced the family members to remain in the same room together. With ease of lighting, came a loss of togetherness.

The biggest benefit I have discovered is the companionship. The whole process goes more quickly if there is more than one person doing the job. It becomes a wonderful time for conversation, particularly with the young adults in my life. I've heard it said that riding in the car is a great time to connect with an adolescent because the parent and child are together, but because the parent is driving it is a less intense conversational mode. It is a way bring up topics that might be too uncomfortable otherwise. I think that washing dishes together provides the same atmosphere. Together, but engaged in an activity that allows for conversation without being overly intense.

And now, to reward you for getting this far, proof that 4 and 5 year old brothers can do the dishes:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Escape!

The past few nights have not felt very restful. After the adventure with the pipes, both J and I are feeling a little skittish about the house and adding major demolition hasn't helped. Plus, we were used to the noises our house usually makes, but when huge chunks of it are torn up and carted away, the noises are different, and in the middle of the night quite disturbing. (J has twice gone walking around the demolished half of the house in the middle of the night, carrying a large section of pipe, because of noises we couldn't identify.) And not only are our lives somewhat disrupted, but the vermin who constantly vie with us for possession are as well. We can now see where raccoons (or possibly squirrels) have gnawed away sections between ceilings and floors to make their own condominium and the remains of nests have also been discovered. Then there are the mice who think of our home as their personal restaurant that have also been displaced. So it wasn't surprising to me when last night I heard the sound of some small animal under or behind our bed. I was tired and decided that if I pretended the sound wasn't there then whatever was making the sound didn't exist. But J heard it as well and decided to wage battle. With shoe in hand he started to slowly move furniture away from the wall. At one point he saw something move and decided it was a mouse and was spurred on to keep searching. I have now decided that I should prepare to bolt should the invader decide to attack. Then J yells, "I see it! It's a ......frog!" Yes, indeed it was a frog, a very dusty frog. Or to be more precise, a very dusty fire-bellied toad. (A species, for those who are interested in such things, which secrete toxins from their skin.) Since the toad belongs to M, we woke her up to return the escapee to her tank. We have no idea how Isabella, the toad, managed to jump out of her tank, but I'm sure she is going to spend the day pouting over the failure of her escape despite the carefully planned disguise of jumping dust bunny.

Monday, January 21, 2008

7 1/2 bathrooms and not a working toilet in any of them

The past 48 hours have been so insane that it was almost difficult to pick a title for this entry. There were just too many to choose from. Today was the official starting date of the house remodelling project we are embarking on, but it was the days leading up to it that were the most eventful. First, we just have a lot of stuff, I'm forever giving things away, but I'm sure it all multiplies by itself in the back of dark and dusty closets. It's the only possible reason I can come up with to account for the mountain of stuff that had to be removed. So, this project of cleaning out nearly half our house was daunting, but the weather did it's best to make it more difficult. For the past weekend, the weather in our part of the midwest has been a bit chilly. The daytime high hovered around 8 degrees. The problem is when it is that cold outside, it is correspondingly cold inside. Sunday morning, the bedroom thermometer was showing a brisk 57 degrees...and it's one of the warmer rooms. Very little could have induced me to climb out of bed except perhaps D running into give me the news that Daddy needed old towels because there was a lot of water in the basement. It was the prod I needed. The towels were needed because a frozen pipe had burst. Luckily J was on the scene and was able to turn off the water. But the only way to turn off the water to that particular point was to stop the cold water from entering the hot water heater. So, not only do we not have water to the two bathrooms those pipes served, but we have no hot water anywhere else. At this point we still had one working bathroom. But what of the others? Well, two were out because of the broken pipe, the third turned out to have frozen pipes as well, the fourth and fifth had been disconnected because of frozen pipes last winter...and really when you have so many what's the rush?...the sixth is in the basement and I suppose it could work, but is so foul that someone would have to be mighty desparate, and the seventh was also victim to the weather with not only frozen pipes but the water in the bowl was frozen, too. (Can you see why we are so excited to do some remodelling?) Well, at this point we do what we always do when faced with house-related calamaties, we called our good friend P. That afternoon, P arrived with several of his children (P, P, P, and P...it's easier just to call them the P Family, which is what they call themselves) in tow, to help amuse the masses, and embarked on a 8 hour plumbing project. At dinner time, when we had no water anywhere due to installing new pipes, I did what any sane person would do, I invited P's family over for dinner. Because who doesn't want to come to dinner in a house with no water or working toilets, where it's hovering around 60 degrees, and where you have to sit on the floor because every surface is covered with stuff that needs a new home? Well, being a good and intrepid friend...or maybe just really hungry...P, the wife accepted and brought the other two P children along. We had a lovely dinner of take-out Italian and it was good to have company to stop me from dwelling on the potential misery. I'm happy to report that at midnight, not only did we have working toilets, but we had hot water in the showers as well. Just the boost J and I needed to finish with the clearing out which was finally done at 1:30 am.

The night was too short when at 7:30 this morning the house was swarming with the demolition crew. The back half is sealed-off, I have a kitchen in the basement, and much of the area to be redone is already down to the lathe, and our backyard is charmingly decorated with not one, but two enourmous dumpsters and a port-a-potty (which we could have used yesterday). I'm thinking that a three week trip to Vietnam sometime in the next few months sounds wonderful for any number of reasons.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One and half years

TM has been home for 1 1/2 years as of yesterday. (We don't count from the day of the Giving and Receiving Ceremony, but from the day we arrived home. The day of the G&R was for TM probably one of the most traumatic of his short life and we don't need to commemorate it.) I've been thinking a lot about the past 18 months and I am astounded at where we are and how far we've come. To think that 18 months ago we brought home a little boy who had an amount of anger that I have never seen and now have a loving, funny son who is definitely an integral part of our family. Eighteen months ago, we spent way too long on an airplane where we took turns trying to keep TM in his seatbelt while at the same time tried to avoid his teeth and nails. We were all bruised and battered and the plane ride didn't help. How would this child fit into our family? What had we done? How would he react to his new brothers and sisters? Had we ruined our family? Would he ever love us...would we ever love him? These were all questions which consumed us on the trip home and for which we had no answers. We could only forge ahead on faith. We had chosen this path because it was the path we felt God called us to, but, boy, it didn't look as we expected it to.

Arriving home and seeing our other children was wonderful beyond words. They immediately welcomed TM and accepted him, quirks and all. To them, he was just another playmate, albeit a somewhat unpredictable one in those early days. TM was much more comfortable with his new siblings. This type of relationship didn't have the same emotional hazards for him and he was able to relax with each of them much sooner than his new parents. J and I were a different story. We were his third set of parents and his fourth placement in less than four years. TM had loved several mothers and fathers already, and the bottom line, in his experience, was that the people you love go away. He did his best in those early days not to love us. I can't blame him, but it is very difficult to try to love and be a mother to a child who refuses to love you. I know I've said it before, but the single most important thing I've learned from this is that love is not an emotion. Love is how you treat someone regardless of how that person treats you. It is a conscious, deliberate act. Those first months, and not just one or two, but more like 7,8, or 9, were hard. It continued to get easier as we went along, but, really, it was just hard.

So where are we today? I can honestly say I love my son and that he loves me. To look back at where we were and to see where we are today, nothing short of a miracle has occured. I no longer feel as though I'm walking on eggshells in all my interactions with him. I am so much more relaxed. We can enjoy each other. But the biggest accomplishment is that I believe TM feels safe with me now. When he first came home and for many months after, when he would get upset in the night he would lie in bed and cry softly to himself. Now, he either calls or just comes and climbs into our bed. It was so wonderful to wake up in the middle of the night not long ago, and realize I had no room because TM was sprawled all over me. That is something I would have never dared dream would happen 18 months ago.

We still have some hurdles to go. Now that I have become safe to TM, we are seeing some attachment issues between him and J. But now, unlike earlier, I have every confidence that it will right itself in time. TM still deals with some anxiety over certain things...suitcases and trips remain at the top of the list...but we know what to look for and have developed ways to help him cope a bit better. The real test will be when we (finally) travel to Vietnam. The long wait to travel has certainly been a very positive thing for TM. He has done an extraordinary amount of healing in the past months.

As to our current adoption...we still have no news, but I am at a much better place than when I last posted. Thanks to everyone for their prayers and encouragment.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Adoption is NOT the easier way to add to your family

I have hit the wall and am at low ebb. I'm beginning to feel as though the Dong Nai officials (if they are still alive) will never process our paperwork and we will be stuck in limbo for the rest of our lives. At least with pregnancy, even a very difficult pregnancy, it is over at the end of 40 weeks (or 42 weeks if you go long as I always do.) There is no pitocin for adoption. And even though I hate it and have vowed never to use it again, if it would bring this process to a close I would happily offer up a vein. I know that everything happens in God's timing and that He knows what is best. I cling to that intellectually, but emotionally I am a wreck. God and Dong Nai have been very silent recently.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Upside of Virtual Twinning

TM and D are considered virtual twins (or like twins...I prefer the former because of my inherent dislike of the word 'like') by virtue of the fact they are less than 9 months apart in age. They just make the cut, though, at 8 months apart. I was somewhat apprehensive about twinning anyone. I had read that it's not suggested because of the effect it can have on the children involved... making them more insecure, more competitive... you get the idea. I'm not going to say that we haven't experienced any of that, because we have. D is very aware of the things TM can do that he can't, and while he's an easy going boy, every so often it gets to be too much. We try to provide a balance of things they do together and things they do apart to counteract this. But there is an upside that is rarely discussed in the adoption literature I've read... and that is how close the two boys are. They are each other's best friend, who will play happily together for looong stretches of time. (That is until one of them hits the other, then they both cry, and eventually end up playing together again.) J and I often wonder what exactly D did with himself before TM came home to be his constant companion. One of the cutest interactions between them happened a couple of mornings ago. TM's latest obssesion has been to learn the alphabet and has spent countless hours writing out the whole thing along with a picture that illustrates its sound. (I'll post tomorrow after he teaches himself to read.) Well, until TM's alphabet craze, letters just had not been on D's radar. He knew they existed, but had less than no interest in them. Now, D is all about the alphabet, but has not caught up to TM's expertise. The other morning, J came across the boys busily writing...TM was teaching D to write the alphabet, sternly correcting him when he wrote something wrong, but giving him huge cheers when D wrote something correctly. So, how horribly would I be abdicating my homeschooling mother's duty if I let TM teach D to read when he's done teaching himself?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sorting through Papers

I've been spending the day cleaning out two desks in order to get ready for the impending demolition. It feels so good to get rid of stuff we don't need, but I also wonder how in the world I let it pile up. It also makes me mourn a bit for the days of letter writing. I love email and use it regularly, but it's not quite the same as a letter. Sure, I could print out important emails and same them. (That is, I could if our printer was working.) But, it's not quite the same thing. Email is so often off the cuff and spur of the moment, while letters tend to be more thought out. I came across in my cleaning the letters I saved from my grandmother. She faithfully wrote a letter to me every week from the day I went to college until she died in 1999. That's over 10 years of letters. They are not profound, just the happenings of the week and more often than not newspaper clippings that she thought I would find interesting. Seeing that stack of letters reminds me how much she loved me and she feels very close when I read them. Thank goodness she never took to computers.

The other thing I found is something I wrote several years ago. I attended a baby shower and we were all instructed to give our best parenting tip to the new mother. I like to give advice, so just couldn't stop at one tip, but wrote 10. Here they are:

1. Look for the humor -- Being able to find the humor in a situation helps to make the stressful more bearable. Just realizing that someday the current crisis will be funny can help.

2. Hug your child everyday and say, "I love you" -- Don't assume that your child knows you love him; say it and show it everyday. Sometimes bad behavior is just a way of saying, "I don't feel loved."

3. Be the grown-up -- You are the person who needs to set rules and limits with the corresponding consequences. Your child will have plenty of friends, but she needs you to be the adult. Boundaries help a child to feel secure.

4. Find friends who are at your stage in life -- Friends provide companionship, advice, and a dose of reality. It is so comforting to call a friend and have her assure you that no, your child has not come down with a case of the plague.

5. Find mentors -- Look for women whose older children you admire. Spend time with them and learn from them; their experience and wisdom are invaluable.

6. Read to your child -- There is no downside to sharing stories with your children, but the benefits are legion. You are spending time together, setting the stage for later reading, and expanding their horizons.

7. Imagine the future -- Ask yourself, "Will this be cute when he's 9?" Poor behavior you might think is cute in a toddler is usually not attractive in an older child. Nip bad habits in the bud while your child is still young (and you can still pick him up).

8. Create memories -- Look for ways to do special things with your family. Occasionally that may take the form of special trips or expensive events, but most don't have to be. Look for ways to turn the everyday into something special.

9. Develop family traditions -- Traditions are one of the things that make each family unique. They help to slow us down and to spend time with each other. They can become anchors throughout the year, especially when life gets hectic.

10. Regularly attend your place of worship -- If passing your faith on to your children is important, then they must see that your faith is important to you. Remember that actions really do speak louder than words. Just saying something is important without doing anything about it won't work.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Demolition, Dust, and Death

These three words pretty much sum-up life in the big, ugly house for the past week. Oh yeah, we had Christmas, too, and stayed up to welcome the new year. But those seemed more like lulls in the middle of chaos than anything else. The day after Christmas, one of M.'s gerbils died. This was fairly traumatic since she has had these gerbils for going on four years. This was the gerbil who would ride around in her pocket. The other gerbil continues to be healthy, although probably a bit lonely. The other death was A.'s new hermit crab (one of five) who were a Christmas gift from her grandparents. This was not quite as traumatic, since the afore mentioned crab had only been in her possession for 24 hours. For those who are interested, the current Curry family pet tally is: box turtle - 1; aquatic clawed frog - 1; fire bellied toad - 2; gerbil - 1; hermit crab - 4; plus the two rabbits we are pet-sitting for the next two weeks.

On to the demolition and dust...for the past 6 1/2 years, we have been planning on remodelling the back of the house. Currently, we have a very small kitchen and several rooms that, while functional (in the milder months), are not overly pleasant or temperate. (The two very small radiators just can't compete with the size or lack of insulation.) So at long last, we have an actual date for the demolition/renovation to begin. But before the contractor can come and start, we have a lot of work to do ourselves. The most important of the projects was to make a second access point to the basement. The basement stairs will be part of the renovation project, and since the laundry and soon the kitchen will be down there it is important to be able to get down there. Constructing the stairs first involved demolishing a small bathroom which was built in the landing of what used to be ther servants' entrance. This demolition was done on the 23rd, so Christmas Eve and Christmas were a little dustier than they might have been. We also had to keep guests from unknowingly using the bathroom that no longer existed...and walking off into space instead. (The first two pictures, taken from above, show the old bathroom as it existed, useless bathtub and all. -- The following pictures show the new stairs, which come up through what had been the wall and bathtub, from below. Note that you can see the part of the exterior door that was at one time the servants' entrance. -- The plan is to finish the space a bit more, but it is now a functional stair to the basement!)




Progress has been made. We now have stairs, and are well on the way to having a temporary kitchen set-up. I'm thankful that we will still have a functioning kitchen, but it will be a constant battle to keep up my spirits while cooking down there. It is an unfinished basement...during winter...when it's dark.... But, I keep telling myself that I will appreciate the new kitchen (and the heat in the kitchen and the counterspace) so much more. We still have a lot to do, but packing boxes for storage and moving kitchen gear downstairs seems pretty easy compared to what has already happened.




And to continue with my Pollyanna state of mind...it's probably a very good thing that we aren't travelling to Vietnam in theses early weeks of January. I'm not sure how we would have accomplished all we needed to...both to get the house ready and to pack. On that note, please continue to pray for the provincial officials to complete the paperwork. At the rate things are moving it seems that bringing K. home before his 2nd birthday at the end of March is looking more and more unlikely.
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