Friday, May 30, 2008

All on the Underhills' Tab

Whew. We've gone from extreme to extreme this week.

Aaron was off to Michigan from last Tuesday afternoon to Sunday evening. I worked worked worked like a mad fool, since I foolishly squandered so much work time before he left (and had some unplanned life interruptions). I pretty much planned my week around How much work can I get done while Anna's asleep? and How can I wear her out so she sleeps? We took some walks around the neighborhood and on the beach and made a shopping/Chinese food run. She was really good for me but dang, I'm glad I'm not on my own all the time.

Even when Aaron got home, no rest for wicked me--I was really really pushing for my Wednesday deadline. I worked more in three days than I usually do in a week and was staring at the computer longer in one day (Tuesday) than any non-cyborg should be. But I made my deadline and got good feedback, so I'm pleased. Imagine how rich I'd be if I worked like all the time--naw, forget it. I do need to up my hours/productivity, but not to that level. What's the saying? In all things . . . procrastination?

Aaron brought a visitor back with him: our old friend Sami, who was a youth group student of his way back when, then a student leader, now a soon-to-be-married college grad. The first couple days we pretty much used her as a nanny while we got caught up on things; Tuesday night they took some kids to a concert (I pass on heavy metal). Wednesday night as our small group was wrapping up some kids stopped by to wish Aaron happy birthday and scope out this Sam person they'd heard tell of.

Yesterday was Aaron's birthday and after our now-standard lazy morning, we drove north for a hike to a waterfall we'd never in 4 1/2 years made it to. The sun came out and the trail did not disappoint; just as you're wondering If that little thing's the creek, how big could this waterfall be? out of nowhere you come to a skinny Indiana-Jones-esque bridge where the creek drops off a 75-foot cliff! Anna was fearless on the bridge. Her dad, not so much. (Chill, Mom. It's totally safe with metal mesh fencing.) Anna loved being carried on her dad's back. And beating him with a fern to make him go faster. If he'd bounce her a little by skipping, she'd burst into giggles.

On the way back we did a couple of errands--when you live in sticksville, at $4.19 a gallon of gas, you have to make the most of your trips to semi-civilization--and hit our favorite Mexican restaurant. Anna was great through all of this despite her shortened nap and the extra excitement. I suppose being carried three miles isn't as tiring as doing the carrying.

To top off the evening Aaron chose one of his favorite movies, Fletch. For his birthday I gave him a basketball hoop, which he said he wanted. And a Bloody Mary, and a steak sandwich . . . and a steak sandwich. I put it on the Underhills' tab.

Monday, May 26, 2008

For All Who Serve

For all who serve,
past, present, and future,
near and far,
known and unknown:

Thank you.

We remember.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

For SCC and Family

I have a clear picture of the sunny summer day when I was perhaps seven or eight, with its blue sky and green grass and the grasshoppers languishing on our dusty gravel driveway. My mom came home from the store, I think, and I wandered up from playing by the barn as my dad also came out to greet her and then suddenly turned serious, trying to find the way to tell her what he'd learned that day as a fire/rescue volunteer. "Something bad happened today," he said. "Mary Anne Wilson ran over her own son in their driveway."

I remember my mother gasping and holding onto him, crying, as I shuffled around nearby, half-playing, trying not to look like I was listening in as my dad told how the boy had been riding his bike fast down their long, curvy, country driveway as she drove up. This woman was a local teacher and had three or four boys ranging from a little younger than me to around my older brother's age. Our small town knew them well and I'm sure extended much grace, and yet . . . the shadow of what happened hung over her for a long time. In a few years she returned to teaching.

I read this morning that Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman lost a daughter in a driveway accident. And while it's strange to me in a way to be part of blogging about the tragedy of a family I don't even know--somehow feels a little borderline gossipy--I keep flashing back to that moment in my yard when I saw my mom's heart break for another mother's lost child. And we do have a connection (and I don't just mean that whole smart-aleck autograph incident) because their family helped unite ours by giving us a grant to help with adoption expenses. And so my heart and prayers go out to them, and I ask for yours too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Voted

In lieu of sticker . . . photographic proof!

Can I just say that I freaking love voting? It just makes me feel so stinking patriotic to take the time to go to my local polling place, see all my fellow community members, say hi to all the nice old ladies volunteering, fill out and turn in my ballot, and wear that awesome "I Voted" sticker all day. I love to see others wearing it too, no matter who they voted for--the most important thing is that we all participate. If you don't vote, you can't complain, I say.

Of course now that we live in Oregon all voting is done by mail, which works well but is not nearly so satisfying. I like to at least drop my ballot in the drop box rather than my own mailbox, since that makes me feel like it's at least a little bit more important than paying my cable bill.

Aaron is getting ready to head to Portland to fly out early for Michigan for his bro's wedding. Anna and I should have sufficient stores of whole milk and ice cream and TiVo'ed TV to get us through these five and a half days. And events have conspired to keep me away from my work, so every moment she's asleep and I can stay awake, it's nose to the red-penciled grindstone for me.

Remember the Friday movie plans? Six of us gathered and piled in a friend's gas-guzzler, drove to the theater and the power was out. Happily, the babysitter was available for a do-over the next day, and we had a great time and enjoyed the movie despite its in many ways bearing little resemblance to the book. Spoiler alert: Prince Caspian looks like young Keanu Reeves. But he never does say, "Whoaaaah."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Face

(Yes, she's happy.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Miscellaneous May

We are having a heat wave. Here on the coast that means 80 degrees and one billion tourists. It’s going to be even hotter tomorrow—pushing 90—and I was already sweating all afternoon. I have become weak. But Anna can wear her cute sundresses!

I am hoping to finish reading Prince Caspian tonight before we go to the movie tomorrow. Last trip to the movie theater was July 2007 (for Harry Potter V). And we’ve rented exactly one movie since then. What can we say—TV shows are more our after-baby’s-bedtime attention span these days. (Long live David Cook.)

I have new work which is paid at a flat rate instead of by the hour. You’d think this would motivate me to burn right through it, but so far it’s not meshing well with the nice weather and movie plans.

John Edwards made my day yesterday. Love that two Americas spiel ('cuz it's true) and the focus on cutting U.S. poverty in half in ten years. GR is in shock because they weren’t aware there were any Democrats in GR, let alone 15,000+. All my GR people were calling me and bragging. Okay, not all my people. Those who like Obama and/or just get excited when Bland Vapids makes CNN (*cough* Mom).

Next week Aaron is going to Michigan by himself for his brother’s wedding, and then a friend from there is coming back with him to visit (which I keep forgetting about). It’s a horrible time of year for a trip—so much end of the school year stuff going on—so he’s extra busy this week and it will be a short trip. It may feel long for me, depending how much baby girl wears me down. Props to you single parents who do it all the time.

In related news, with the pediatrician’s encouragement, Little Ms. Independence has been introduced to the concept of Time Out. It’s just a minute or two in her crib alone (screaming) for offenses such as malicious destruction of property, attempted injury/dismemberment of self or others, and willful driving of mother to insanity.

Ah yes, the doctor. Anna had a checkup last week and she is officially older, bigger, and more skilled in the arts of growing up. She’s 22.5 pounds and 30 inches tall. She has a big head and six teeth. She has a few new skills (scribbling, kissing, attempted use of spoon) and a few new words (doggie, moo, Obama). She got two shots but only screamed madly for about one minute.

She is certified adorable, but you didn’t need a doctor to tell you that. You only need a photo fix. Here are a few from Mother's Day, which was a normal Sunday—mellow in between busy—but nice. We wore our red clothes for Pentecost. The red shoes were her birthday present and can I just say I stinking love them and that sweater?

In the evening the youth group played a hilarious imitation of softball (90 percent of us having no softball skills whatsoever). Anna demanded, between sippys, to hear some chatter out there.

Today she was my laundry helper, handing me the clothespins one at a time. Later she was happy to take them back and put them in the bag.

And if you think that's adorable . . . wait till you see her discovering she loves the slide at the school!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Any Youth Worker Could Have Told You That

"Depression, teens and marijuana are a dangerous mix that can lead to dependency, mental illness or suicidal thoughts, according to a White House report being released Friday. . . .

"For example, using marijuana increases the risk of developing mental disorders by 40 percent, the report said. And teens who smoke pot at least once a month over a yearlong period are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than nonusers, it said.

"The report also cited research that showed that teens who smoke marijuana when feeling depressed were more than twice as likely as their peers to abuse or become addicted to pot — 8 percent compared with 3 percent."

Really? Pot is not a good thing? And it's addictive? But all the lazy, depressed, spaced-out pothead kids and their lazy, depressed, spaced-out pothead parents say it doesn't affect them, so it can't possibly affect them. After all, everyone knows that nothing gives you the ability to conduct an honest, thoughtful self-analysis like being on drugs. So just mellow out, doctor dudes.


Student: My stepmom gave my stepbrother pot for his birthday because she said she knew it was all he wanted anyway.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

For All Who Love

Happy Mother’s Day—to me. How odd.

I am getting used to the idea that I am a mother, although once in a while it still catches me by surprise to be awakened by a baby crying over a monitor or to realize just how many diapers I’ve changed over the last year when my previous record was, well, zero. But Mother’s Day was never a day for me. It wasn’t even a day I particularly wanted to be for me. I have usually felt more aware of how awkward and painful it can be for those without children than able to imagine myself accepting a hand-drawn card from a toddler of my own. I think being married but not having kids for years made me a bit more aware of how hard it can be for some to always feel locked out of the Hallmark store (and I hope I don’t forget this now).

It’s not that I was reluctant for our daughter to join our life or that I don’t enjoy being a mom, because I wasn’t and I do. It’s just that I never had a clear picture of myself at this place in life, a fuzzy dream in my mind beckoning me Someday this will be you. I was never one of those girls always looking forward to the day they would get married and have children. I remember a friend dreaming out loud about graduating from high school so she and her much older boyfriend could get married and thinking Are you crazy? You’re thinking about that now, in sophomore literature class? I wasn’t opposed to it in some kind of independent girl with something to prove way; I just couldn't picture myself that far ahead and didn’t think motherhood was a foregone conclusion, although I didn’t necessarily picture something else for myself either.

Then Aaron and I got married, young, and there were the requisite jokes and questions about when are you going to start cranking out the kids? and we’d defer, graciously and vaguely, since we could honestly say that he had to finish school before anything else and maybe in five years we’d start thinking about it since we’d still be crazy young. Five years came and went, and schooling came and went and came and went and finally got finished and went away. I started telling people that every time they asked when we were going to have kids, our even considering it got deferred by two months, and we already had a two-year backlog from being asked so much. (I really think that unless you’re close or the context of the conversation indicates the person would like to share their plans, it’s a pretty rude question that makes a lot of assumptions—namely that everyone should and wants to have children and that your question isn’t stabbing me in the heart because we want to but haven’t been able to, which was never the case for us, but please, people, be sensitive to others for whom it might be, especially on Mother’s Day.)

Then we got kind of busy moving our childless selves to the Oregon coast and feeling like this was a calling that we were sure of and that was keeping our two-person family pretty busy already. Meanwhile some kind of silent fertility bomb was apparently set off back where we came from, because our friends there started getting pregnant, and having babies, and getting pregnant again. And asking us if we were ever going to join in.

I don’t want to get into the whole thing here and now, but let me just say that that question is not as easy as it might seem when you have a genetically passed medical condition in the family, especially after bad things have happened in the family that remind you what that once-easy-to-ignore condition can do. And so we continued to defer and dance around the question, though we danced a little closer and a little more often.

How we got from there to adopting from Ethiopia is a book unto itself, but obviously the first decision that had to be made was yes, we want to be parents. Yes, I want to be a mom. What was the tipping point?

I finally felt like I could be a good mom. It had nothing to do with being around babies, as I remained blissfully-yet-terrified-ly ignorant of everything that entailed until we brought ours home. My transformation came from teenagers. Our girls. It came from moments in the kitchen making them snacks and making them laugh, challenging their teen psuedo-logic and asking about exams, listening to their complaints and refereeing their bickering. It came from marveling at these hearts and minds so fully formed before I ever knew them yet changing before my very eyes and suddenly feeling in my heart I want to share a whole life with a person, to know a child from their cradle to my grave.

So it is that I find myself this year as the one being wished well and honored on Mother’s Day. And I appreciate that, I do. Being a mother is important and tiring and just plain damn hard work sometimes. Many say it’s the greatest thing a woman can do—but let’s remember, being a mother is not the only way to love. My mother-love is exercised every day now, but it was there long before, as it is seen in each of us every time we step outside of ourselves to care for someone else. That is mother-love, no matter whose child receives it.

And so today I want to celebrate, thank, and affirm all the women who nurture—and isn’t that all of us?—and even especially those who nurture those who are not “their own.” Loving my daughter is easy, most of the time. I’m a mom now. It’s what we do. It’s my role, my job, my identity, my responsibility, my joy. But to serve others so consistently, so selflessly, so freely? That is hard, and I fall short. I am blessed to have so many who love and give so extravagantly in my life as an example. They are the ones who have planted the seeds of love that are bearing fruit in my mothering now.

I pray I may be like them in remembering, even as I fill my home with the love of a family, to open the doors and let others come in and be loved—for it is in loving that we find love, in giving that we find abundance, in seeing others that we recognize ourselves, in sharing mother-love that we become our Father’s children.

Does a husband make a woman into a wife? Does the birth of a child make her a mother? What lies sleeping inside a daughter of Eve that waits to be called out by one or the other or both? . . .

Could a mother’s love also lurk inside the heart of a woman who nurtures a stubborn garden, or a book, or a classroom of other people’s children? Is it mother-love to cheer the efforts of an awkward teenager’s attempt to serve a volleyball, or to set a perfect table and prepare a favorite meal (whether it’s hot dogs or homemade pasta) for a dear friend’s birthday? To craft a poem or tell a story that will delight a small handful of people, or even just one? Couldn’t that be a kind of mother-love too?

Does a wife’s heart beat in the woman who believes resolutely in someone else’s dream when the rest of the world says “get serious”? Who listens for the meaning behind the words “I’m tired” or “I’d rather not talk about it, that’s all”? Is it wife-love to overlook an unthinking slight or to remember that someone else likes chewy cookies best, instead of the crispy ones that you prefer? To stay still and let silence speak when words can’t say enough?

Maybe the same kind of love is there for the spending whether it’s focused on one man, or four children, or a roomful of old friends, or a stranger. Maybe it’s not lost in the spending, either, but strengthened and sharpened and multiplied.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Making What We're Told Come True

Recently My Too-Smart Brother Guru shared with me this blog post noting this column describing (yes, I know this sourcing is getting really indirect) an experiment by psychologist Sian Beilock regarding what's known as "stereotype threat."

Two groups of female college students were given a math test. But before the test, one group was told that the purpose of the experiment was to find out why men usually do better at math. And? "The students who were reminded of the stereotype that women are worse at maths did worse at maths, performing 10-15% less well than the others."

In other cases, "
merely asking school children to tick a box to indicate their ethnicity, before completing an intellectual ability test, causes black pupils to do worse than if there's no tick box." Yikes!

This trick of the mind can work in our favor if we're reminded of a "positive" stereotype (i.e., south-east Asian girls did better on math tests when reminded not of gender but of their ethnicity--a group typed as good at math--rather than gender).

The stereotype threat is that "stereotypes about what certain people can do, however unjustified to begin with, become true because they eat away at us; we make them real."

As a parent and especially a transracial adoptive parent, I find this fascinating and also sobering.
What we push our children to try, how well we expect them to do, and how we communicate the value of effort vs. success can have a powerful impact on their confidence or lack thereof. What they're told becomes what they tell themselves, and prophecies become self-fulfilling.

So many stereotypes are ingrained in our world, just waiting to remind our kids that boys will be boys, girls gossip, smart kids don't have to study, some hair is good hair, and big boys don't cry. Non-white kids often feel the added burden of the extra layer of stereotypes against which they are examined as they play basketball, dance, use slang, excel at math, wear baggy pants, and cluster with those who look like themselves. My child will have to find and keep her own balance as she navigates the no-win minefield telling her that if she does certain things she's "acting black" and if she doesn't she's "not black enough."

Being aware of what messages we and others are sending our kids is a constant battle. If we're always complimenting her beauty, will she think it's more important than her brains? Am I expecting and therefore reinforcing certain abilities or traits or behavior from her because she's African? adopted? a girl? our first child? so much like me? my chance to live vicariously? We can err on the side of paying no attention to our messages or on the side of overanalyzing and overcompensating at every turn.

Yet no matter what we do, each child comes with their own strengths
and fears and stubborn spots and ways of expressing themselves. They may seem to be just like us or to come from some other, utterly opposite planet--or maybe both in the same day--and all we can really know is that though we shape them, God made them. We can't alter their person or potential one whit, but we can help them stretch them to their fullest.

And so what will I tell my children? What is the essential thing I want them to know so that they can be? I think it is that they are loved, and that they are loving. God willing, both will be reflected with abundant clarity, this truth will be made true, and they will become who they were made, with love, to be.

(But to be honest, I really wouldn't mind if one of them could also be really good at football or a really good singer . . . )

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Overheard in Parenting: Linens Say What?

Anna has been learning to make animal noises. "What does a sheep say?" "AAAAAAAAH." "What does a bee say?" "Ssssssssszzzzzz." "What does an owl say?" "Woooooooo."

It's pretty much adorable. And recently it led to the following conversation:

me, seeing clean laundry: Should we put away these towels?

anna: Wooooooo!

me: Oh, sorry—TOWELs, honey, not owls. . . . Good job, though.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Post #202: 22 Things

There is a tradition in the bloggy world of dedicating one's 100th post to 100 Things about yourself. Well, my 100th post was long ago, but I did notice that I just passed #200. So for post #202, I give you . . . 22 things (because come on, 202 is waaaaay too many)!

  1. Anna was up at 5:30 a.m. and I couldn’t get her back to sleep and really just wanted to turn in my mommy badge or maybe build a soundproof room in the garage where either she or I could sleep. Finally when Aaron decided to get up and shower, she went back to sleep and so did I—oversleeping through my alarm clock for over an hour. Good-bye, morning!
  2. I have a project taking me forever that I wish would just go away already so I can turn to restoring order to my papers and finances and kitchen counter and brain.
  3. I usually use the dictionary on my computer because if I use the book, I get distracted on the way to the word by all the amazing unfamiliar words just begging me to read their definitions.
  4. My speech is too frequently sprinkled with quotations from my favorite movies and TV shows, such as: Seinfeld, The West Wing, A Few Good Men, Christmas Vacation, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and The Princess Bride.
  5. We have a dog named Fezzik after the giant from The Princess Bride. Why? Because he’s big, friendly, and dumb.
  6. I plan to name my next dog Pavlov. (The one after that, Cleanup. Maybe Cleanup Crew if he is particularly gangsterish. Third next dog, Dyson.)
  7. I get teary watching people win things: the Academy Award, the Super Bowl, American Idol. And sometimes when Oprah gives away amazing stuff (because she’s not giving it to me) and occasionally at sappy TV ads. I never used to be this way, so don’t ask me what happened.
  8. I had never changed a diaper by myself before we adopted our daughter. Inexplicably, they still let me have her.
  9. I am a huge Detroit Lions and NFL football nerd. I sometimes watch the NFL Network and have watched portions of the NFL Draft on TV three years running. (We’re Lions fans. The draft is our Super Bowl.)
  10. I have never had surgery, stayed in the hospital, broken a bone, or had a cavity.
  11. The talent I most wish I had is singing. With a big black gospel voice. Like Melinda Doolittle, my favorite Idol ever.
  12. Talent I would like to learn: photography.
  13. TV shows I like to watch: CSI, Ugly Betty, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, American Idol, Oprah, Seinfeld . . . let’s just stop there and say I like to watch too much TV.
  14. If I come across a Seinfeld rerun on TV, I am powerless to resist watching it.
  15. My favorite food is ice cream. But if I had to live on just one food it would probably be cereal. There’s rarely a time of day or night when a big bowl of cereal with really cold milk doesn’t sound good to me.
  16. During high school I worked at McDonald’s. Feel free to insert a Wendy’s-related joke here, as customers frequently did when they saw my name tag. (“Aren’t you at the wrong restaurant?” “Is your dad’s name Dave [Thomas]?” “Does your dad know you’re working here?” Yeah, he does, and I’m a spy, but his name is Denny, so I report back to him at 3:00 a.m. over Moons Over My Hammy. Now do you want fries with that?)
  17. I can count all my blood relatives on my fingers. We are truly a rare breed.
  18. Favorite candy: chocolate orange! Fantastic morning, noon, or night.
  19. I grew up a country girl on a mini-farm.
  20. I was technically too young to drink alcohol at my own wedding.
  21. Some of my favorite Bible passages are Psalm 51, Psalm 90, 1 John 4.
  22. My worst habit is staying up and then getting up too late—see #1.

That’s all . . . I hope to blog again soon—if I don't stay up too late eating ice cream and watching TV.