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.