Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Huh. That was weird.

Tonight was weird. You’ll need some backstory to understand, so I will do that annoying thing where I take the whole blog to get back to tonight’s story.

This entire weekend was long and overbooked. It felt surreal: I’ll admit it was unfortunate timing. There wasn’t a choice available to me other than just sucking it up and going to work. In one of the gigs, I had some wonderful solos and loved the conductor and the repertoire. In another, I’ve already asked out of some things and didn’t want to jeopardize my paycheck. In every gig I have, the fee is per service. There is no sick leave, no maternity time. Man, I sound desperate to justify the packed weekend, don’t I… sigh.

Well, it seemed to all go swimmingly. Our little bit of spiced fierceness loved meeting everybody and her brothers have always loved tagging along for symphony weeks. At break in Eugene she wanted to wander around, following the sound of the instruments. I even wished we had had more time before the second half of rehearsal.

She fell asleep as planned in the car after lunch on the way to my second gig two hours away. The boys were great, playing and giggling with her in the long stretches of the boring drive and then pointedly ignoring her when we wanted her to sleep. Honestly, she is easier than Isaac ever was as far as sleeping and schedules go.

On Sunday, she met a LOT of wonderful people at church. Most of them were pros, smiling and saying hello without invading her space, being playful and fun while following her lead. Just a couple insisted on touching her arm or trying to grab at her hands. She doesn’t freak out, just pulls back and shakes her head fast, clinging a little tighter to me with her legs. It’s hard to know what to say when people disregard her signals and push her boundaries. She’s probably fine, it’s probably standard one year-old behavior, and I don’t want to reinforce her discomfort by becoming tense and protesting myself. On the other hand she’s a pretty flexible kid, but I’d rather she not be forced to flex any more. I feel a strong urge to let her lead.

In adoption communities, there seem to be more than a few very finicky moms. They have particular words, questions, interactions they do not tolerate and (at least online) that will make them crawl right down everybody’s throat. Before we met our daughter, I thought maybe they were just difficult people, stubborn and coincidentally able to stick out the long and difficult adoption process. Now I realize it’s probably that they just don’t know what else to do when they encounter uncomfortable situations with their kids “from hard places”. They have a special knowledge of their child and her history, and they have the deep responsibility to help that child through all kinds of situations. They don’t often have many allies with similar experiences. With all our three weeks as an adoptive family, I already know that when I see others being ultra finicky and demanding online, I will be sympathetic.

We try to teach our kids to be sensitive, to weigh their actions and think about the impact they have. On the flipside of that, we work hard to help them give others the benefit of the doubt and let things roll off, taking into account all sorts of possible reasons when somebody is grumpy or offensive. We include the brokenness of humanity as a reason so many people can be unpleasant. I myself give them lots of opportunities to practice forgiving by being flawed right in front of their eyes daily. Ideally, it helps them empathize and show compassion (and the flawed part can't be helped, they're stuck!). We plan to teach Primrose to do the same, which means we need to model the same.

So I don’t say anything, but I turn my body away shielding her when she squirms. We smile and I touch the (usually) older ladies’ arms when they seem to miss her discomfort. How do you let a one year old know it’s okay to say no to more introductions? And yet by the next encounter, she is reaching out to touch fingers, ET style, with a kind and patient new friend. So then I think 'what do you know, anyway?' I am just making all this parenting stuff up as I go. Everybody is. 

Hopworks: the spicy minestrone got a big thumbs up!

She didn’t have any dramatic melt-downs, although for a while after running happily around she did want to lay on the floor at church and she would not go anywhere without being carried by me. J sat near her and they made up little peek-a-boo games that didn’t require her to stand. We had retreated to a back hallway where they pipe in the sermon for folks with babies, and it was a nice respite.

Today was low-key with my stupid Chinese cold and fatigue lingering, and tonight was outright weird. We sat on the porch watching bats fly overhead, and she shrieked excitedly at every one. Then she shrieked excitedly as Isaac practiced cello. Near the end of his session I remembered I had made some little videos for him to use for practice while we were in China, and put them on our TV so he could play along (here if you're really curious). Primrose was beyond excited shrieking about this. She started jumping in place, a mix between dancing and moshing without a pit. It was one of those toddler moments when they look happy and excited but you know they are skating on the edge of hysterical laughing and crying and careening into furniture.

Then Isaac’s TV practice video ended and “mama” disappeared from the screen. And she freaked right on out! She acted afraid, clawing to climb up on me and then wailed as though she had been physically hurt. Isaac and I were both so surprised we froze! For a fraction of a second I wondered if her tummy hurt or she had been afraid of the “me” on the screen after all but too scared to express it until I went away. Later, when she had calmed down and Jonathan was in the room, we played one of my videos again and she seemed perfectly happy all along. She took her bath and went to bed like a sane person.

See what a conundrum parenting a toddler can be? Was it the impermanence of somebody she needs that scared her? Or just the fact that it was late evening and the song she liked ended? Or something completely unrelated? Either way it was sad and I hope the calmer weeks will help us avoid creeping her out and upsetting her like that again.

Poor happy easy beautiful slightly freaked out kiddo!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Aw, honey, it's okay!

Our daughter is a master communicator. She loves people. Like Isaac, she will play with toys as long as they keep somebody playing with her. She picks up expressions and cues into moods. At one year old, she can already make fun of herself.

Check out this video and pay attention around 36 seconds in. She starts out explaining to me that she would like to spoon the soup her dang self, and moves into something else entirely. This kind of transition happens all the time with her. She savors every opportunity to laugh and to make us laugh, too.

Her ease of adjustment seems to be nothing short of miraculous. Today I wondered: what would she do if her foster mom walked in the room this very minute? Would she run to her and not want to come back to me? It’s not that I’m jealous or greedy for her to pick me! Pick me!, it’s that I wonder how the calibration of her heart has changed. What’s going on in there? I wish I could see this all from her view, and in that way not miss anything she needs.

This is FangFang's Etch-A-Sketch, but Isaac made a cool picture.
He does stuff like this in the morning because he likes to get up before everybody else.
I had to take a photo quick before she shook it up.
I made her cry the saddest cry the other day. As we were leaving a store and getting buckled back into the car, I was struggling to get her hands through her carseat straps. I had to take a toy from her hand for a minute, which of course she then twisted and reached for and started to protest. When I said, “Wait!” a bit too sharply, she took one surprised look at me leaning over her space and started to wail. When it didn’t stop right away, I saw both boys had started to tear up a bit, too. It bothered them that none of our voices were soothing her. That “mom” wasn’t enough in that moment.

It reminded me of that first day, holding her on the couch at the Children’s Welfare Institute while she sobbed and hiccupped on the back of her hand. I ended up pulling over almost as soon as I had taken off so I could find a way to comfort her and I was so relieved when rubbing her cheek worked. It just sounded like a deeper cry, a more sincere one than the average frustrated tired toddler. Remember how I said we keep reading more into everything she does? It felt justified this time.

She's fond of bling.

She wants to wear a tutu and have two hair clips?
It’s almost unfathomable, the amount of adjustment kids are asked to attempt. Even this tiny master communicator, even if she were more mature in terms of language and logic, she would not be able to tell us what this is like for her. What she needs when she's freaked out and cries extra long. We still would not be able to share the whole experience with her. It would feel good to say we’ll give her all the love to magically cover the places we don’t understand, but I’m not sure it’s adequate. I'm not looking for reassurance and I'm fine if when she's older she has no interest in making her adoption a central theme in her life; we're a great fit as a family. It's just that I want to know all the parts of her, even the places where she has had loss. In a lot of ways, I am grateful that she came to us so young that we will be the only family she remembers. That we have all these years set out ahead of us to snuggle her in, to "get" her.

She has my heart, and all of her dad’s and all of the boys’. We are so proud of her and stagger around in love in a soup of cheesy feelings thick as Velveeta. A big part of me cannot wait for her to know that in her bones.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

She shoots, she scores!

Tonight was my first night away for rehearsal and here you see a picture of the biggest problem. A very kind guy named Wayne in the Camas Union High auditorium parking lot changed this thing for me. I was even on time (by a hair) for the downbeat. It's a charmed life I lead.

Best news of the week: Primrose didn't cry a single tear with her dad leading her team of assistants tonight. He made me wait until I drove all the way home to give me this report, because he is spicy just like his daughter. It was so nice to be relieved of the stress of putting all the nighttime duties on J alone. As I was driving to the gig (but before my tire started going whoooosh whoooosh whoooosh), I realized that it was the first night for either of us to fly solo. Single parents of the world, you should know I think of you often. It's just so much harder to go it alone for a night or two, I can hardly fathom being a sole caretaker.

We were given a meal today (hot dang, that is a fantastic thing to do for somebody!) and I'll give you three guesses who ate every bite of hers. Primrose loves lots of complex flavors and as it turns out, kindhearted tortilla soup is definitely on her menu. I have my fingers crossed that her diet won't be limited when we go through all the medical checks and get the full picture of her digestive health. She sure seems to plow through just about everything. We're using her to push the boys' mild food pickiness a bit. Good thing they're too young to harbor resentment (much).

Tonight we played some of Bloch's Concerto Grosso No. 2 and it was a lovely re-entry to work. There are moments when it sounds so much like Vaughn Williams, and others where it's totally "Baroque-ish" as our conductor would say. Bloch lived in Oregon for a while and liked the viola, so I'm required by law to like his music, don't you think? It felt wonderful to sink into that kind of rich texture after such an unusually long (3 week!) hiatus.

Here's a video of a smaller group playing the piece in a space with the exact acoustic of my freshman dorm stairwell. I used to love to practice long slow passages there, because I was just that annoying.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Wuhan travel series: Packing

This post is my guide to packing for travel to China, part of a 4 part series.
Links to the other three posts are at the end of this one.
We traveled for adoption from August 14-28th, 2014

China Packing Tips
Adult Meds- 
Yes, amen, bring all the meds. Get a z-Pack or two, some Cipro, Immodium, cold meds, favorite painkillers (OTC and otherwise), allergy meds (including topical if you’re prone to that), the works. Meds do not take up much room and being uncomfortable in a traveling situation is miserable. Take meds out of boxes/bulky bottles but keep instructions with them in snack-sized Ziplocs. Then put all the meds for you (or each member of your family) in a bigger Ziploc. I had a plastic shoebox from the dollar store sitting around so I put the whole shebang along with make-up in there, which made unpacking easy. If you don’t end up needing them, you can get rid of them at the end of your trip and use the space for souvenirs. We donated a bunch to the adoption agency.

Bar Soap- 
A bar of soap can be nice since the hotels generally only offer gels. Obviously this is personal preference, but I hate those smelly gels and it was nice to have a good old bar of Dial (which you might be able to find in country- I didn’t try). 

For a two week trip, I would bring five or six days worth of clothing. You can wash things in the sink and let them dry a couple of days or use one of the cheap laundry services ubiquitous in China. There is also a third option for summer: come back to your room every few hours strip down and hang up your clothes so they can air out. If you're diligent and generous with deodorant, you can totally stretch the clothes to work for two weeks without washing. Bring some workout type clothes, but otherwise bring whatever you are most comfortable in. Also, bring enough skivvies for every day traveling plus three or four.

One additional clothing note: do not I repeat do NOT use a ziploc or similar non-breathing bag for dirty clothes in summer. We had a tee shirt grow MOLD in a matter of days. The heat and particular soup of dampness became a disgusting, staining collection of green spots. It was weird and sad and felt like we were being punished for trying to keep things clean. The horror. 

Comfortable is paramount. If it's summer, you can wear sandals all over so ignore people who were worried about dirty streets unless you are going way out in the boonies. Maybe bring one closed-toe option in case it ends up raining. One thing I wish I had brought was a thin pair of cheap flip-flops. It would have been nice in the hotel with icky carpet, and if the shower had been gross I would have worn them in there, in addition to the pool areas. The nicer hotel ironically gave out slippers. 

Adoption Specific China Packing Tips
Kid Meds- 
In addition to the adult meds above get a lice kit, scabies cream, pinkeye stuff, painkiller, benedryl, anti-fungal cream, nice thick hypoallergenic diaper cream, gentle baby wash/shampoo. Put anything that needs a prescription but isn’t pediatric dose-specific (scabies, pinkeye, etc) in your name if you can. Not only might you need it for yourself in the end (who knows?) but your insurance should cover it, which is not going to happen for your kid until they are in your custody. 

If you’re adopting a young one and are not going somewhere extraordinarily rural, bring only a few diapers from home. We brought a few (like 6- enough for an afternoon after meeting our 18 month old girl) and we paid anywhere from US $10 to US $25 for a big pack of Pampers Sensitive. I saw Huggies as well as Chinese brands. Wipes are also everywhere, and I found the sensitive ones in larger more Western style shops. Diapers are $25 at our Target, so I didn’t think they were that much more expensive at all, something I had been warned about in people’s blogs. Maybe they fluctuate, but to me they were too big a gamble in terms of sizing and luggage space to bother bringing from home.

Diaper Bag-
I was really glad we brought backpacks instead of diaper bags. The kind we brought had several huge pockets and an interior sleeve for laptops in addition to side pockets for bottles of water. Backpacks expand more than diaper bags, are easier to carry, can be hung on the back of a stroller more easily, and go through airport scanners and such without as much worry about the straps getting caught on stuff. They also look nicer and don't make your shoulders/neck hurt from a lopsided load. I would also recommend a safety pouch for your passport, cash & credit cards. I never hid it under my shirt, but it was nice to have in the outside pocket to keep everything tidy.  

If you regularly use an SLR or fancy camera, by all means bring it. Otherwise, clear off your camera and just use the heck out of that. iPhones and similar do a great job. The focus (hahaha- FOCUS!!) will be on helping that new little one. You will be both busier and more helpless than you've been, maybe ever. Take more pictures than you think you'll need. I'm really glad we did.

The rest of my Wuhan travel series:

From Hong Kong to Wuhan

The Wuhan Poly Hotel and Getting to Carrefour

Food and Shopping Near Hongshan Square

Wuhan travel series: Food and Shopping near Hongshan Square

This post is my guide to Food and Shopping near Hongshan Square, Wuhan, Hubei, China, part of a 4 part series.
Links to the other three posts are at the end of this one.
We traveled for adoption from August 14-28th, 2014

Shopping in the Hongshan Square Carrefour building
Carrefour is a slightly scruffy department store. People say it's a French Walmart, but this one is much smaller and dirtier than any Walmart I've seen. The Carrefour building has a KFC and a very nice Japanese noodle chain called AjiSen, in addition to a roasted duck shop that is a Wuhan specialty. There is also a local version of a fast food joint (burgers and fried junk) which wasn't at all appealing and who knows why a person would eat there. Be further warned we noticed a poster announcing a C- health rating. As you might guess, Jonathan ate there immediately. He did not die, but it may have been a fluke. So to speak.

The Ajisen restaurant is fine. I was just suuuuper tired.
The building also has a couple of cute kids’ clothes shops and various little vendors. Almost nobody here speaks fluent English, but they are willing to try to help you anyway, so be prepared to point and mime. A nice clear “How much?,” and remembering good manners both work wonders when you are at a linguistic disadvantage. It’s probably possible to bargain with the little vendors, but stuff is pretty cheap anyway and I’m never clear which shops allow it. Google can help you find out more about that if it’s your thing. 

The Carrefour itself starts on the second floor, and there is a sliding sloped walkway to carry you up. The second floor has clothing, strollers, and household stuff. In the back of the second floor, there is another sliding walkway to the third floor. The third floor has some personal care items and a grocery store. You’ll need to go up through there to pay and exit. You will need cash, our credit cards wouldn't work here. 

Food advice in Wuhan
Grocery Stores
When shopping for groceries in China, note that you’ll need to have any fruit weighed and tagged in the fruit department before going to the register. “Meiyo” means “out of” something (sounds like Mayonnaise “Mayo”). Nowhere will your Visa or Mastercards or any other card work, except at some ATMs. Even if a shop has the sticker for your kind of card, the ones they have seem to be part of a different network and must have a code to enter like a debit card. 

Some families use their in-room electric teapot to boil water for instant Ramen just like back in college. If you do this, my layman’s recommendation would be to either use some cheap bottled water or boil the water twice before using it. The problem with water in China is that it is often contaminated by insufficient infrastructure. In plain English, there is animal and human waste cross-contamination because the pipes are messed up on a massive level. This is a separate issue entirely from the infamous massive water pollution, which is another good reason to spend a few cents on the water you ingest in country. This is true even if you’re pouring it into some cheap freeze-dried noodles in a Styrofoam bowl. 

Remember to skip anything with ice (especially smoothies or shakes made with it) as that is often made with tap water and freezing it is not going to protect you. Several of the parents in our travel group (myself included) got drinks with ice, sipped them down quickly and escaped illness. I believe "No Ice" is something like "Bu yao bing". It would be worth learning or writing down before travel. The best option for a lot of the essential language stuff would be to print out the Mandarin. There is just about no good way to write out Mandarin pronunciation in Roman letters and the translation apps all seem to suck, so if I could go back and do it again I would bring a printed translated list with me. I'd probably still try to say the phrases, but it would be helpful to show people the written part, after they stopped laughing, wiped their eyes and recovered from whatever nonsense I just said.

Before we travelled, I read the blogs of some families who recommended bringing snacks from the US to China, which seems completely mad to me. The stores we saw were packed with snacks! Packaged nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, chips, cookies, cheese sticks, breads, Gatorade, sodas, ten flavors of Oreos (really!) and every kind of treat were everywhere. Even 7-Elevens on the street corner and inside the subway station have all that stuff. Our own new daughter loved these tiny oyster cracker balls (I call them chalk balls because that is totally what they taste like) packaged in single serving bags, which made them handy for stroller days. We even found some with characters from Madagascar on them, and have continued to seek them out in our local Asian Grocers. All this is to say I would say leave the snacks at home.

My essential grocery list for your first day in Province:
Water- a big multi pack of not-too-huge bottles (makes them simple to carry around)
Electrolyte drinks- Gatorade or similar, this is on my essentials list because I visited in the summer. They have super yummy versions here, with mandarin, blueberry, pineapple, etc. that have much less sugar than Gatorade. 
Fruit- Bananas come in their own germ-free wrappers, great even if your stomach feels lousy, only buy enough for a couple of days. Apples are pretty handy, too, and more portable but should be washed with your bottled water.
Tissue packets- Don’t bring more than one or two of these from home, they are way too bulky and readily available to bother. Get a cheap multi-pack or two when you arrive. You’ll need them at restaurants and after washing up in restrooms and in the restroom in general, if you know what I mean. I used them to dab the sweat and make-up off my face in a vain attempt to not feel gross and drippy all the time. Again, it was summer. But trust me, whatever time of year, you’ll want a lot of the tissues.

Other Grocery Items
Single serve milks for kids- There are shelf-stable adorable single serving (3 to 6 ounces) milks for kids available in both China and Japan. They are often slightly sweetened. Most of the kids in our group seemed to be used to them, and they’re handy to have on hand. Even the young kids did not seem into formula no matter what it said on their discharge sheets from foster care. Kids will be upset on those first couple of days and may not be interested in food but might take milk or drinking yogurt.

About getting snacks for soon-to-be-adopted kids; if you don’t want to buy stuff until later, don’t worry. Your kid is likely to come with a bag of junk food and drinks anyway. Our daughter had Pringles, Chips, Custard buns, chocolate wafers, rice crackers and tons of other crap. We threw most of it out because she didn’t seem interested and because to be honest it was all salty sugary terrible junk anyway. A scared, freaked out kid under age two was not going to be comforted by this and it truly did not seem familiar to her anyway. We did keep her “chalk ball” baby crackers and some of the Japanese-style crackers called “Sembei” that she liked. If she had seemed into them, maybe I would have kept more. I was glad she didn’t seem to mind we ditched 95% of it.

Restaurants in the Hongshan Square Area
The hotel staff can direct you to the nearby “Western” options (KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc). They’re all within about a quarter mile of the hotel. Our guide took us to an awesome local restaurant as well. You cross the first road and turn left, going down about a tenth of a mile. The restaurant is on the right and has a big cooler right inside offering fresh fish. The part we ate in was a big private room with a lazy susan table upstairs, but there were lots of long tables downstairs as well. I bet the hotel staff could give you recommendations for good authentic local places. 

I would like to plug the department store restaurant options in Wuhan. At the JieDaoKou station (three stops away on line 2 on the Metro) there is a great food court. Almost everything is set out either in pictures or pre-made dishes showing what’s available, which makes it very easy to point and say please. You have to put money on a card to buy the food, but whatever you don't use you can get back after you’re done. There is also a large Starbucks at this stop with excellent air conditioning and the usual sandwiches and Starbucks Wuhan cups. (Though there is a closer S’bucks to the Poly if you’d rather walk.)
The department store food court made our girl SO
happy on her second day with us!

In general, from my short time in China I can recommend looking for shopping areas and then following your instincts to find the always-nearby restaurants. Wuhan in particular is pretty friendly that way, as a huge urban city with a totally workable Metro.

The rest of my Wuhan travel series:

From Hong Kong to Wuhan

The Wuhan Poly Hotel and Getting to Carrefour

Food and Shopping Near Hongshan Square