Monday, November 29, 2010

Thoughts for Advent

The picture you will see below is my Advent wreath.  My mother once upon a time entwined the holly garland around what is otherwise a plain green candleholder.  In the aftermath of my parents’ divorce, I somehow wound up with this.  Judy wound up with the prayers that we read during each week of Advent, one per week.

I don’t remember the prayers, but I remember the topics.  There was one each for peace, hope, faith, and love.  With Leah getting older and with us having Penny in the house, someone from another culture and religion entirely, I wanted to make Advent and the wreath about something more than just lighting a candle in a wreath that sits in the middle of our table each night. 

However, we are not an overly religious family either.  So to say prayers together feels strange to me.  Instead, I have decided that each week I will share some passages about the given topic for the week.  We lit the wreath tonight instead of last night, as we were busy last night with getting people to airports, choir practice, Leah, Yahtzee, and PopPop.  Tonight, it was again just the four of us, and time for some quiet, serene reflection.  I chose two passages to read my sweet family, the longer one before, the short quotation afterwards.  I have put the picture in the middle to indicate when we lit our candle.  From here on out, each week, I will simply include a photo of the wreath with the next candle lit and our before and after passages.  I hope you find these as interesting, sweet, and thought provoking as I did.

Thoughts on Faith From Garrison Keillor:

What keeps our faith cheerful is the extreme persistence of gentleness and humor.  Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music, and books, raising kids—all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through.  Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.  Lacking any other purpose in life, it would be good enough to live for their sake.

P1090227 “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.”
--Elton Trueblood

Final Book for Twenty Ten

743636 As the month of November was winding down, I was getting increasingly desperate to find something to read that I could finish quickly and get done with the TwentyTen Challenge.  Finally, I went over to my shelf of TBR’s, the only category I had left, and decided to pick out the absolute shortest book I could find and read it.  That book happened to be a book called something like It’s Not What It Seems or something like that, a book about a brother and sister whose father moves out on their mother to go write the great American novel.  They spend their summer opening and running their own restaurant.  Anyway, it wasn’t that great a book—obviously if I can’t even remember the title—and I wound up tossing the book in my recycle bin.  I went back to the drawing board because I really wouldn’t have much to blog about that book and found Lois Lowry’s Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye.  I had a sneaking suspicion I’d have a lot to say about this book, and I think I was right.

(WARNING:  This review is downright chock-full of spoilers!)

First, I will offer up the summary from the back of the book:

Natalie has everything—beauty, a loving family, a terrific boyfriend, and an entrance to the college of her choice.  But she is haunted by a missing link in her life—who is the mother who gave her up when she was only a few days old?

The summer she is seventeen, Natalie decides to find out who were her natural parents and what has happened to them.  Old newspapers and a high school yearbook yield clues that start to unravel the mystery of her past.  From a small town in Maine to New York City, Natalie’s search leads to anger, hope, even love—and finally a confrontation with her real mother.

Ok.  So of course as an adoptive mother myself, I take issue with the wording that Natalie is off to find her real mother.  But seeing as the book was written in 1978, I’m willing to give it a bit of a pass.  Although people still ask me if I’ve heard from Leah’s real mother even now, so I guess I’m just the artificial substitute.

Anyway, the book was fairly compelling reading, and I’ve ready many of Lowry’s books in my youth and greatly enjoyed them.  I guess this one touched on some of my own fears as an adoptive mother.  If you happen to be new to my blog, here’s a picture of me and my precious daughter, Leah:

P1040054She’s African-American, and I’m Caucasian.  There’s no denying the fact, even if I wanted to, that she’s adopted.  (For the record, I wouldn’t want to, I’m proud of the fact that we were chosen to adopt her from all the parents who could have been hers. )

To give credit where credit is due, Lowry’s fictional adoptive parents also make no secret of the fact that their daughter was adopted.  When Natalie approaches them to ask if they will give her information to go on her search, they take months to come to terms with the idea that Natalie wants to go in search of her “real mother”.  I hope and pray that if Leah comes to me, she doesn’t use that terminology.  My husband and I have chosen to have an open relationship with Leah’s birthmother (a phrase which even now, only a year after our adoption has been finalized, is I do believe going out of fashion in favor), and we love her very much, but it would break my heart to hear Leah refer to someone else as her “real mother”.  It’s bad enough when other people ask me that question!

Natalie’s parents finally relent, despite the hurt they feel, and provide Natalie with all the documents they have regarding her adoption—basically a letter from an attorney.  From that point, Natalie is able to go to the town where she was born and piece together her past. 

It does not hurt that Natalie is a spitting image of her birthmother.  It does not hurt that this was taking place in the 70’s and Natalie was able to phone people and say, “I’m an old friend of Julie’s!  Can you tell me where to get in touch with her?” and she was given tons of information and phone numbers.

What really got me is that Julie, Natalie’s birthmother, is a fashion model who lives in a fabulous home on New York City’s Upper East Side with her husband and two sons.  I genuinely would have preferred a book that touched on a more realistic scenario and not one that somehow indicates perhaps that giving up an infant when you are a child yourself will somehow allow you to catapult into a world of wealth and fame.  (Props to Lowry for making Julie a pregnant teen—in today’s world of MTV’s Teen Moms, it would be refreshing to see more teens selflessly giving their children a life that ultimately they have little hope of being able to provide during their own adolescence.)

Julie reluctantly agrees to meet Natalie at the Russian Tea Room and attempts to get Natalie to join the world of high fashion modeling.  Then abruptly, she stands up and strolls out of their lunch, only to call Natalie the next day and have her over to the house to meet her half brothers.

For all that she wanted to find and all that she did find, Natalie is ultimately glad that her family is her family, but that she did uncover the secrets of her past.

What Leah will discover when she asks us about her own background is very different from Natalie’s discoveries.  I hope that like Natalie, Leah will remain true to herself and follow her own dreams, whether they be to know her family of origin or not to, whether they be to have some sort of relationship with her birthmother or not.  She will always have me there for her, no matter what she chooses and how it turns out.

Here are a few of my “rules” for people inquiring about our adoption.  I hope they come in handy if someone in your life is adopting or has been adopted.

1.  Please don’t ask about an adoptee’s “real parents”.  As I’ve said before, this is insulting to us.  We have bandaged her scrapes, we have gotten up with her every night, we have fed her and clothed her, we’ve tickled her and tucked her in, we’ve hugged and kissed away the tears and aches and pains, and celebrated every milestone in her 19 months with her.  To indicate that we are somehow not her “real” parents does us a disservice.  In having to defend ourselves about being her “real” parents, we feel we must then do a disservice to the beautiful and brave young woman who made what I can assure you was a heart-breaking choice to ask us to parent her child for her in a way she could not. 

2.  Please do not ask an adoptee or their family why his/her mother “did not want her.”  I can assure you that wanting her never was a factor in the equation.  Leah was wanted by her birthmother very much.  The reasons she chose to give Leah up for adoption and the reasons she chose us to parent her are intensely personal for her and for us.  I can tell you that she loves Leah with every fiber of her being.  She did what she felt was best at the time, and it was never an issue of “wanting”.  I feel confident that for 99.99999999999999% of birthparents out there, it is the same.

3.  Please do not inquire about an adoptee’s family of origin’s background, but if you do, do not expect to get all the minute details.  On our part, our families and close friends know as much as we care to share.  There are some things I wish I hadn’t shared, I can say honestly.  We know as much of the story as Leah’s birthmother chose to share with her, and we shared as much of that with our loved ones as we felt comfortable.  It would be unfair to share everything. It is not our story to tell.

4.  If you do have information that a family has disclosed to you or that you may have gleaned from other sources somehow, please do not give that information to the adoptee unless asked.  Again, using our family as an example, we will let  Leah make her own choices about what and how much she wants to know, and she will do it in her own time.  She may choose to know everything, she may choose not to know one single thing.  It is only right and fair that she should hear it from us and from her birthmother, and from no one else.  Even a slip of the tongue could cause unintentional pain if Leah were to overhear words that were unkind, untrue, or she didn’t want to know certain information.

5.  Finally, be loud and proud of the adoption, the adoptee, and the adoptive family!  Don’t treat the adoptee any differently.  Truly no better and no worse.  When I look at Leah, I see my daughter.  I do believe that when my parents and my husband’s parents look at her, they see their granddaughter.    I don’t think she gets any preferential treatment to my nephews or my niece, and I don’t think she is treated less well than they are.  This is all I could hope for—her true acceptance into our family.  Help make that a reality in your home too!  Don’t whisper, “he’s adopted” when you think you’re out of earshot of the adoptive family—it sounds like something you’re ashamed of or something that should be kept quiet or secretive.  When you hear others expressing doubt over adoption, share your family’s positive experiences, whether you are an adoptee, you have adopted, or a member of your family has adopted a child.

Ok, stepping off my soapbox now.  So I am DONE DONE DONE with the TwentyTen Book Challenge.  For the record, here are the books I read and each of the categories they fit into:

Young Adult:
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnston
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry

New in 2010:
Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich
Miss Julia Renews Her Vows by Ann B. Ross

Shiny and New:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine

Bad Bloggers
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
Found II by Davy Rothbart

When Katie Wakes by Connie May Fowler
Leftovers by Laura Weiss

Older Than You:
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susanne
Galahad at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse

Win! Win!
Secrets from the Vinyl Café by Stuart McLean
Never Change by Elizabeth Berg

“Who Are You Again?”
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Riegler
The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

Up to You!
Crackhouse by Terry Williams
Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Found II

In my continuing quest to finish these book challenges, I have had a slight problem with the “Bad Blogger” part, as I only read one book blog regular, my BFF Lesley’s.  (Well, ok, now I read Melissa's as well.)

QTQ5EVNU6SP9KAS8QX7N_L Anyway, I had some listed that I thought I’d get around to that I’d read from Lesley’s blog, but on a recent trip to the bookstore-that-shall-not-be-named because I had to get a gift card for a friend, I found a copy of the book Found II in the $1 bin.  I have been a fan of Found and it’s attendant website ( for several years now, so for $1, I swallowed my pride and bought the book.

I’m glad I only spent a dollar, honestly.  I think Found might work better as a “blog” type thing.  By about halfway through, I was tired of reading people’s dropped lists, letters, notes, emails, papers, etc.  I put it aside for a few days and completed it a bit later on and that helped me to get through it.

I love the voyeuristic nature of Found, and the letters, pictures, and whatnot in this particular book were no exception.  Recently I was walking with Leah down the street and we found a letter that I thought immediately of sending into Found, only Leah got her hands on it and ate it.  Pity!  It would have been perfect.

Nonetheless, I do and will continue to read the Found site/blog occasionally and catch up on new finds.  But I don’t see myself reading it in book form any more!  PostSecrets keeps my attention a bit more easily, maybe because it’s shorter.  Some of the stuff in Found II went on a bit long!  I’ll give it 3 stars on Goodreads.

And thus am I finished with one more book for the TwentyTen Challenge, leaving only the TBR category and one more book left to read, before I’ll have completed 3 of the challenges I signed up for.  I am sure I’ll get it done before the end of December and am super-proud of myself for getting it done!  WOO HOO! :-D

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Home Stretch

n64130 I am in the home stretch, polishing off the final book challenge I signed up for this year.  This week I finished several books, but only one of them can I count.  Darn it!  This week’s selection is Galahad at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse.  I read it as part of the TwentyTen Challenge, and am submitting it for the “Older Than You” category, as it was published for the first time in 1965, a full 10 years before I was published.

I first was introduced to Wodehouse by an online acquaintance who sent me a copy of Luck of the Bodkins and later by my father, who loves to read the Jeeves series.  I have never gotten into those books, but having remembered the name and thought well enough of Luck, I was browsing at the Acton Library when we lived there (in 2003!) and found Galahad at Blandings as an audio book.  I checked it out and read it and enjoyed it very much.  The reader was fabulous.

Several years ago, I picked up a print copy and fully intended to read it again, but it has languished on my TBR shelf ever since.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity to launch into it, as it is a fairly short book, which is my current criteria for getting these challenges read!

The story revolves around the setting of Blandings Castle, home of Lord Emsworth, a peaceful, pig-raising man earl whose home is overrun by his meddling sister Hermione, a new secretary named Sandy who is cleaning up his mess so he cannot find anything, and his brother Galahad, quite the man about town.  “Gally” is a man never without words, he can literally talk his way into or out of anything and can convince others to do whatever he cares to.

Galahad at Blandings is the 9th book in the Castle Blandings series that Wodehouse wrote.  I have only read one other book in the series, but enjoyed reading about The Empress, Lord Emsworth’s prize pig, who has a minor role in this story.

This particular book centers around young love—many engagements are broken due to various and sundry misunderstandings, the Empress is found drunk in her sty, a young lover is hiding out under an assumed name at the castle having popped a policeman in the eye and stolen his bike, Hermione is attempting to get Lord Emsworth married off to Dame Daphne Winkworth.  Through it all, Gally is running around spouting stories of his wayward youth and attempting to reconcile all the young lovers while helping his brother rid himself of Hermione’s meddlesome guest and restore order to the Empress’s sheltered life.

I have to say that I didn’t enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed listening to the story on audio.  The story was vastly entertaining, but I think there is something in the acting-out by a gentleman with a properly clipped accent that lends itself well to “reading” Wodehouse. The twists and turns that the story takes are uproarious, to be sure, and I highly recommend reading this book or other Wodehouse works to anyone who wants a good laugh.  A slice of England, a good dose of humor, and an unbelievable plot that even in its complexity is easy to follow.  I give this one a solid 3 out of 5 on

All I have left for the TwentyTen Challenge are TBR and Bad Blogger.  And I’m almost done with Bad Blogger. :-D  Hooray!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Being a Mom

I haven’t exactly made a big secret out of the fact that I love my little girl more than anything in the universe.  Today, for some reason, I am feeling compelled to sit and sing her praises, and to sing the praises of our newest family member and of being a mom in general.

I had no idea 2 years ago that I would be handed my sweet little baby and my life would be changed so dramatically.  When I sit and think about what life was like pre-Leah and what life is like now, it’s no contest which way I’d rather have it.  I haven’t posted to her blog in forever, and her milestones are slipping past me without my really recording them.  Sometimes I feel like my mommy card should be revoked.  I haven’t kept up with her baby book, I lost the lock of hair from her first haircut, I have no idea when she started really talking.

But every day, she and I engage more and more.  Her mind is opening up and figuring things out and I am way too busy enjoying every second of this process to worry about the particular details.  To listen to her speak actual words and tell me what she wants (whether she gets it or not is another matter) is truly awesome.  Of course, her favorite word is “More!”, one word we could surely do without and there’s lots of guessing as to “more what?”, but just the idea that she can communicate with us is awesome.  She says “bot bot” when she’s thirsty, “mama” when she wants me, “’Enny” when she wants her big sister, “dada” on the increasingly-more-frequent times she wants her father, and a host of other words.  Unfortunately, she has developed a taste for soda, which I deny vigorously and which pisses her off royally.  She loves lollipops from the doctor, could literally eat nothing for a meal except raw onions and broccoli (weird child!), prefers milk to juice, adores oranges and grapes, loves chicken and hamburger, and her favorite food word is “dog dog” which means hot dog.

She is learning other words too, especially “bubbles!” and “woof!” and “moo!” and “ball!” and “No!”  When we ask her if she wants something and she doesn’t, she will vigorously shake her head and say “no no no no no no no!”  She hasn’t come to terms with “yes!”, but we are working on it.  If you ask her what a chicken says, she will tell you “bop bop bop” which is so stinkin’ cute as to be unreal.  If you say “Go!” she will start running in circles until she falls over, dizzy and breathless, taking only a short break to regain her balance before doing it again.  She is furious at my refusal to let her run into the street.  She loves to color with crayons, pencils, pens, markers, or whatever she can get her hands on.  She loves putting stickers everywhere.  She loves building with blocks, popping bubbles, riding in toy cars, taking walks in her now decrepit stroller (sorry, Mike and Lesley, we put a lot of miles on this sucker and it’s time for a replacement!!!  it was surely LOVED!!!!!!!!!), giving other kids at Toddlin’ Time the death glare if they get too close to her toys, going to storytime, reading books, playing children’s games, and exploring.  She keeps us so, so busy.  I literally fall into bed at night exhausted, but thrilled.

I do not parent Leah the way any of my friends parent their children.  None of my friends parent their children the way anyone else I know parents their children.  We all have our own unique styles, and every last one of us is raising amazing kids.  I so admire my friends who continue to work while they have small children—even though I am excited at the prospect of returning to school, I am also terrified about trying to juggle studies with child-rearing.  I am in awe of my friends who have more than one child under age 5.  I always thought I would love to have a huge family, but I know now that there is no way I can manage another young child at this point.  When I think about adopting again, it is equal parts of “Oh, I want to so badly” and “No way in heck!”  Unless the scales tip in favor of “I want to so badly” then I think we’re a one baby family.  But you never know, right?

Raising Leah and knowing what is best is like being in a pitch dark room the size of a football stadium and trying to find the light switch with only a birthday candle to guide me.  She needs to know some discipline, but I don’t want to crush her essential Leah-ness.  She has such a marvelous spirit about her, and to mold and shape her into  a straight-and-narrow path would be to deny her who she is.  This is part of the reason I allow her to be messy.  I hate cleaning up the mess, and if I’m being honest, I sometimes ask, “Why do I have this messy child!?”  But she never does anything I can’t undo, she doesn’t do anything outright destructive (other than coloring the white ottoman with crayons—haven’t figured that one out, but she did get in trouble for that one!), and it takes so little to “punish” her (taking away the crayons resulted in a hurling-herself-on-the-floor tempter tantrum) that she quickly learns not to do some things again.

Overall, though, she is a little superstar and I am proud to brag about her.  The other day we were at the store.  She now prefers to be strapped into carts that are forward facing so she can see her loyal subjects.  As we cruised the aisles, she did her little Windsor wave to everyone whose path crossed ours.  Young, old, fat, skinny, black, white, happy, sad, didn’t matter to her.  She offered each person a toothy grin and a wave and giggle and people were just captivated.  My sister-in-law suggested that because Leah knows how much she is loved by her mother and father, she can go out into the world and be totally confident to be who she is, even at this age, and give back some love to the world.  I love that idea.  And I love that P thinks we are doing a great job and loving our girl.

This past summer, adding Penny to the mix, I was concerned that maybe we’d mess up the good thing we had going.  Michael and I have long discussed adding an older child to the family dynamic one of these days, either through fostering, adoption, or as we are doing now, through foreign exchange.  We were both worried that we would not be able to relate to a teenager, and we both wanted something of a trial run at it before we actually parented a teen.  We accepted Penny into our home, with all her previous 18 years of experience, background, how she was raised by her parents, none of which we knew.  We did not understand her culture, nor did she understand ours. 

Our time with her has not been without its challenges.  We have had two major disagreements in the past 3 months since she’s been here.  Nothing has been un-resolve-able, but it has been more difficult to sit down with a fully functioning nearly-adult human being and tell them they have to do x, y, or z and have them inform you that they do not share in your opinions and will do whatever the heck they feel like doing.  And then to have to dole out “punishment” or restrictions to get them back into line. 

When Leah was about 6 months old, I went through a difficult period where I was exhausted, going through a lot of issues with my family, and just wanted time to myself.  The task of parenting was nearly overwhelming and someone told me that if I couldn’t handle it, I should just “give her back”.  During the past week when we had some trying times with Penny, several people asked if we couldn’t just send her packing.

As a mom, there is no turning back.  Whether taking in someone else’s infant to raise and love and care for or someone else’s teenager who needs a safe and happy place to call home for 10 months, I have made a commitment to both of my girls that will extend for the rest of my life as long as either of them wants me.    Leah has helped me get in touch with my inner child, has given me confidence that I can be the person who matters like no other and in whom she can totally trust and depend and I can return that love on a level I never knew possible.  Penny and I have a very close relationship in which we are able to share each other’s stories, play games, bake, and hang around together.  She has helped me remember my essential me-ness:  that is I am not just what everyone else “needs” me to be, I am a person with my own interests and opinions and experiences who has something to offer the world if I choose to do it.  I can relate to a teenager and I can be there for her as she needs or doesn’t need me to be.  Having Penny has helped me draw closer to my own parents (I called my mom early on in the school year and apologized for any time I’d ever been a pain in the ass; last week I called my dad and he happy reminded me of all the similar battles we went through when I was in high school to give me some perspective), has made me realize I’m not that old, taught me about the world and my own country, and brought me a new “daughter” who I adore.

Being a mom has been the most challenging and rewarding job ever, and I would not have traded these last 18 months for anything.  Every night I whisper to Leah “you’re my favorite part of every day” before heading downstairs to bond with Penny some more.  My life is an embarrassment of riches, and I am truly grateful.