Sunday, December 13, 2015

Love and Affection

 Frannie's arms feel good around my neck.

It hardly sounds like something worthy of a blog post, but when you have waited nearly an entire year to experience that feeling, it is.

I have always wanted this blog to be an honest place to talk.  I try to tell about the times that are hard and the times that are amazing.  I hope that someone in a hotel room in China with an inconsolable child does some googling and comes up with my blog entries about how hard China was with Emmie.  I hope that a mom just starting to give her picky 2 year old Exjade comes across my post about putting it in yogurt.  And I also hope that someone who has been home for 9 months with a child who accepts little affection finds this post and finds comfort.

Frannie has been the toughest nut to crack when it comes to giving and receiving affection.  For months she's been happy, fun, comfortable and settled in.  But something was seriously lacking in the affection department.  When I picked her up and held her, she didn't hold me back.  She'd just flop over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes.  Strapping her into her carseat I'd lean over to kiss her chubby cheek, and she'd turn her face as quickly as possible.  If I asked to kiss her, she'd lean over and give me the top of her head--at best.  Night after night we'd tuck her in and go to kiss or hug her and she'd turn away.  Patrick would say, "That baby doesn't care one bit if we kiss or hug her."  And it was true.

I've read on lots of blogs where adoptive moms said that they felt more like a babysitter than mother to their newly adopted and unaffectionate kids.  I wouldn't go that far...the babysitter wouldn't lay and bed and dream of the day that the baby would feel affection towards them.  A babysitter wouldn't love a baby so much that it hurt.  But I did.  My heart would hurt when I thought about how badly I wanted her to demonstrate affection towards me.  But I'm an adoptive parent.  I'm patient, compassionate, understanding of my childrens' journey, and I know it's not about me.  Right?  No, absolutely wrong.  I'm imperfect, and as the months wore on, it really started to bother me.  I remember talking to another mom about how hard the days can sometimes be with toddlers, and she said, "But at the end of the day when they curl up on your lap and hug you and kiss you it all melts away."  I felt heartbroken, because I didn't have that.  Frannie never kissed me or hugged me or ran into my arms.

Do not get me wrong.  She acted happy as could be.  Happier and happier as the months went by.  Smiling, relaxed, and you could tell she felt safe.  Eating, giggling, and playing with all of us.  So that was wonderful and indicated to us that she was becoming more attached.  So we waited.  But I felt bad for her...she was missing out on all of those wonderful warm feelings that rush through your body when someone you love kisses you or hugs you.  All of those feelings we share with our other daughters.  And I wanted her to share that, too.

Other people didn't help the situation.  Despite my best efforts to educate people for the third time about how things should go while we worked on our attachment, people would disregard me...picking her up, hugging her, kissing her.  And, shockingly enough, she'd kiss them back!  The baby who would turn her head away from her mother and father would kiss a stranger.  I had read about this and now I was living it and I didn't like it one bit.  To make it worse, people would say, "Well, look at that!  You said she's not affectionate!  Look at her kissing me!  La-di-da!"  I'd just look at them, wondering if that was a tone of triumph in their voice, and not know if I should be furious or cry.  At some point, I lost my fight.  I didn't even try anymore to ask people to hold back on their affection towards her until she could accept mine.  I let them bask in the glory of her indiscriminate affection, and tried to focus my efforts on how to be the best, most patient mother I could be.

Night after night I'd kiss her turned cheek and then lay awake wondering if it was adoption related.  I try very hard not to make everything into an "adoption issue", but I couldn't help but wonder if she was in some way holding a grudge (so to speak) against us.  Did she not feel affectionate towards us because she knew we took her away from everything she knew?  Or did she shy away from me because I was a poor replacement for her favorite caretakers in China, who were all male?  After months she must have been used to my eyes, the way I smell, my hair, my voice and my touch, right?  So how was it that we could play together and be happy together but she wouldn't hug me back?  Or why did she call for me to protect her and hold her at the hospital, but she wouldn't let me kiss her goodnight?

When I stopped stressing about it being an adoption issue, I came up with a few other ideas why her affection came so slowly.  One is that it's just the way she is.  She's just not a kissy or huggy person--there are plenty of people like that.  I haven't personally seen it a lot in toddlers, but I know it happens.  Another is that there was a huge buffer between her and I:  her sisters.  When we adopted Emmie and Rosie, I had lots and lots of alone time with each of them.  But with Frannie, since the day she came home there has always been at least one sister here.  And, I was guilty of not carving out any designated "Frannie/Mama" time to work on strenghtening our bond.  In our super busy household it's hard to carve out designated time for anything, but this was a mistake.

In September, Emmie went to kindergarten and Rosie started preschool.  I remember remarking to my mother that Frannie was going to absolutely hate being stuck with just me all day.  My mother said, "No.  She's going to LOVE it.  You'll see."  I shook my head in disbelief, but as September turned into October, not only were the leaves changing, but so was Frannie.  She was smiling and laughing even more.  She wanted to hang around me as much as possible.  If I was at the computer she would come over and lay her little head on my lap and cuddle me.  I remember standing at the sink one night and for a minute I thought we got a puppy...but it was little Frannie curling herself around my legs and hugging them.

As the days went on, everything I had dreamed about started to happen.  If I kissed her head out of habit, she'd say, "No, wips!"  [lips]  I'd give her a big hug and she'd say, "I wuv you" without being prompted.  If I tucked her in and got distracted and forgot to kiss her, she'd yell, "Mama!  KSSSS!"  And then shortly before Thanksgiving I remember taking her out of the car and carrying her across the Stop and Shop parking lot and that was the first time I remember her holding me back when I held her.  She put her chubby, warm, little arms tightly around my neck. She was no longer that sack of potatoes.  She was more like a little koala bear, holding on to me and smiling while she nuzzled my neck.  I was shocked.  And it felt so good.

So whatever it was, it's better.  So much better.  It took the better part of a year, though, and it wasn't easy.  Maybe she just needed more time.  Maybe she needed to be with me one-on-one to get more comfortable.  Maybe it was absolutely nothing and I was just stressing over it because I was worried it was an adoption related attachment thing.  And maybe--no, definitely--I was too impatient because it didn't take nearly as long with Emmie and Rosie and I was [wrongly] comparing the 3 different situations.

If you find yourself in the same situation, try to take a deep breath and remember that attachment and love and affection take time and that every child is different.  And as we come up on our one-year anniversary with Frannie, I wish I had been more patient, but you can't really blame me for wanting to love on this sweet little baby who I adore so much.

So in love with her.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful x3

When I look at my life, I know that I have so much to be thankful for.  Yes, of course I am thankful for all of that stuff that everyone is thankful, a warm house, food to eat, and all of that.

But what I am most thankful for is sitting right here with me.  Warm, soft, cuddly as can be.  My three girls.  They have made my life into what it is today.  I am thankful for every kiss, every tear, every giggle and every tantrum.  Because, without them, there would be a giant hole in my heart (and my life!) that nothing else could ever fill.

For me, Thanksgiving isn't really any different than any other day.  Because each and every day I quietly say thank you a thousand times for these girls who have brought so much meaning to my life. I am simply thankful for being their Mama.

Love my pile of little girls watching Santa's arrival at the Macy's parade.

Some of my favorite moments are cooking
with my daughters.

Putting a little muscle in it.

Our annual Pinterest moment.

As thankful as I am, I could never be thankful
enough for the joy that these girls have brought to
our lives.

Frannie's first Thanksgiving!

It's a good thing Nana found a three-legged turkey!

Frannie looks like she's leading some sort of revolt.  Maybe she
was worried her turkey leg wasn't big enough?

Our third daughter finally gets to wear this bib!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bye, Mama!

So, we made it.  Or, I made it.  I knew she was going to be fine.  After what seemed like the most hectic morning of my life, I dropped Emmie off for her first day of kindergarten.

Even though she had a very tough time falling asleep last night, Emmie still bounched out of bed excited for her first day.  I couldn't sleep either, so I this morning I felt like I had one too many glasses of wine last night.  Which, in retrospect, might have been a better idea than staying up 'till all hours and cutting vegetables into flowers.

Drop off was buzzing with excited parents and kids.  We were handed a poem, but warned that if we read it we would cry.  The school secretary was strolling through the crowd with a box of Kleenex. It was all sort of surreal.  Emmie had her little entourage of Rosie and Frannie there to see her off.  And, then of course, me.  I was trying to stay calm watching Emmie while keeping the younger two from beating each other up in front of their future principal.  At the same time I was unsuccessfully trying to snap pictures in this huge throng of people.  As the final lineup began to walk into K2, I decided it might be better to record some video.

The kids started to move in line and walk into school for the first time ever.  In a moment that couldn't have been more perfect to a parents' heart if it had been scripted, Emmie turned around, smiled a huge smile, waved, and said, "Bye, Mama!"  I was looking at her, and not noticing all the chaos and waving and tears and parents calling names around me.  I also didn't notice that in my hand-trembling nervousness, I had not actually hit the record button on my phone.

Her little owl backpack went through the doorway and out of sight.  It was then that I looked down at my phone and realized that I hadn't recorded anything at all.  I stood tapping the screen wildly, trying to conjure something that wasn't there.  That's when I needed the secretary with the roving box of tissues.

How incompetent could I be?  How would I relive that perfect moment without having it on my phone stored with so many less important ones?  The one with Rosie's "raising the roof" dance in the back seat of my car.  The one with Frannie chewing on her fingers until she chokes. The one where Emmie is snorkeling and all you can see is the back of her.  But then I did.  I relived it over and over again.  As we sat through the parent welcome coffee, the principal's voice faded in and out while I kept picturing it.  Emmie is so independent and confident that I thought I might not even get a glance from her as she left me.  But she did.  Smiling and happy and waving and saying goodbye to me.  It was like she knew I needed that.

In some way, I wonder if it's better.  Better that this moment between her and me will always be just that.  A moment between her and I.  Like a zillion other moments that just happen between a parent and their child.  Not documented, not shared on Facebook, not on YouTube or a blog.  Just something special that I will never forget.  And after a pep talk from my own mother, I got an email from Patrick saying one of the most useful things he's ever said: "The important thing is that you were there for her, at her big moment. She won't remember the details, but I'm sure that you will, forever."  And he's absolutely right.

Emmie had a wonderful, exciting, perfect first day of school.  She loved every minute of it.  And it ended just as I dreamed it would.  And this time, I hit the right button.

Monday, September 14, 2015

School Days

It's midnight and I'm standing here over a pile of little flower-shaped cucumbers and it's hitting me.  My first baby is really starting school tomorrow.  Real school.  A school with a cafeteria and a gym and big kids.  Sure, she went to pre-K last year, but she was basically in one little space and the pre-K students WERE the big kids.  This feels so different.

It's hard to believe that this little girl who I traveled to the other side of the world for, who I dreamed about forever, is going to school.  I'm going to drop her off, and trust her with people who are nearly strangers.  And, it doesn't even really matter how our kids come to us...through adoption or biology or anything in between.  From years of planning and contemplation or one quick moment of indiscretion.  From as far away as China or as close as our own womb.  No matter what, they are the most important things in our lives and it is so hard and scary and sometimes a little sad to watch them grow up.

But it's also easy and uplifting and happy.  Easy because they grow up anyways!  No matter what you do or how much you want them to stay little, they WILL GROW UP.  And, truthfully, I've always said that I'm not one to wish that my kids would stay little forever.  Sure, I'll miss all of the moments of their baby and toddler and pre-school days, but I want to embrace every new stage that we enter.  This is a new stage that is so full of opportunities and growth and excitement, and I don't want tears in my eyes to make me miss a single moment.

Emmie's excitement about school is contagious.  For weeks she's told everyone from the cashier at Market Basket to every neighbor walking by our house that she would be going to kindergarten soon. When I tucked her in tonight, she was absolutely beaming at the thought that her first day of school was finally arriving.  An hour later she got out of bed and came down to the kitchen and said, "When is it going to be morning?!"  She's never done that before.  She's more excited than Christmas Eve.

As our first daughter, Emmie's the one who started us on this chapter of our lives.  Down the path of parenthood.  And as we watch her we watch all of our kids really reminds us of what is important in life.  I said to Patrick the other day as we were talking about school starting, "You know, it's like that stupid, sappy song that I hate says...'the children are our future'.  But seriously, they are!"  It's like it's dawning on me even more now.  We are shaping these little people through our family and our community to be the future.  And that is big.  Bigger than anything else I've ever done, anyways.  And as I sit with nervous new kindergarten parents in orientation, or wander around Target with 100 other families with their school supply lists, or crowd into the shoe department looking for new sneakers for school, I feel like I am really a part of something important and special.  Probably not something I thought more than a minute about before we were blessed with our three girls.  But now I know it's the greatest thing I've ever done with my life.

Last week all ready for kindergarten orientation day!

So, on this eve of the first day of kindergarten, I'm feeling a little wistful.  But, like Emmie, I can't wait for the morning to be here so I can braid her beautiful hair, put her in her new dress, and send her off with her little flower-shaped cucumbers and a hand-written heart-shaped note tucked into her lunch box telling her how proud I am of her and how much I love her. Then, rather than spending the day feeling sad that my little girl is growing up, I'll rejoice and be thankful that I am the lucky mom who gets to be a part of it, and who's arms she'll run into when the day is done.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A First Second

Happy Birthday to our dear little Frannie!

Francesca is our third child, but this is the first Second Birthday we have celebrated with any of our children.  Sure, we celebrated when Emmie and Rosie turned two, but they were still in China.  We were half a world away, brokenhearted, and wishing we could blow out their candles with them.  I remember singing happy birthday through tears.  But this is the first 2nd birthday we have been able to celebrate as a family.  In person.  Not missing the person being celebrated.  It actually feels a little weird.  Adoption is funny like that.

To say that we are loving having Frannie in our family is such an understatement.  As much as we loved adopting Emmie and Rosie at the age of two, it has been really fun for us to have a baby.  We have all watched in wide-eyed wonderment at the sometimes adorable, sometimes gross things babies do.  Before Frannie, I thought all kids started at the age of two.  It's been so fun to experience her babyish-ness.  Wobbly walking, teething, babbling, and all of that baby stuff that we missed with our first two daughters...Frannie has shared all of that with us.

Not sure what Curious George did to get handcuffed here.
"Maybe they don't see me sneaking this pepperoni
that I'm supposed to be putting on the pizza."

Frannie is bright and continues to imitate everything her sisters do...good or bad!  She is gaining lots of words and phrases, and understands nearly everything we say to her.  Her eating hasn't slowed down a bit.  She loves to eat and her chubby little thighs show it.  (She's shorter than Rosie, but she weighs more!)  She likes to play dress-up and "restaurant".  At the start of the summer she was afraid of the sprinkler but now she giggles the loudest when we go to the spray park.  She loves the beach but is still a little nervous of the big ocean.  She enjoys many rides at the amusement's funny how she likes spinning fast in the teacups, but is skittish when it comes to the carousel.

Picking blueberries, or eating blueberries?

While she seems happy and comfortable with her family, she is still pretty...stingy, shall we say, with the affection.  She comes to us if she is hurt, she comes to us for help, she comes to us for food, she comes to us to play, but she is still very reserved with her affection, and with her ability to accept affection.  Sometimes my caress is met with her hand pushing mine away.  Sometimes when we lean in to kiss her, she just turns her head.  "So, that thing I said about Frannie feeling affectionate towards us by Labor Day?  Let's go with New Year's.  Day, not Eve.  New Year's Day.  Give it until then," Patrick said after he was rejected yet again when it was time for the goodnight kiss.  Maybe she needs more time, maybe she's just not an affectionate kid.  I'd be lying if I didn't say that it's hard when you have a little bundle of cuddly joy that you want to be smothering with love constantly, but we're being patient and showing her love in every way we can.

Affectionate or not, Frannie is such a fun little member of our family.  She is beyond adorable, funny,  playful, and smart.  She looks up to her big sisters, and of course they are wonderful role models for her.  (OK, most of the time they are.)  We are so lucky to be her family, and we feel extra blessed to be able to spend her second birthday with her.

So, Happy Birthday, to our sweet little Frannie.  It has been so wonderful sharing these past 8 months together, and we can't wait to grow even closer as a family with you!  We know this is all still so new to you, and we thank you a million times for opening up your heart to us and letting us have the honor of loving you and being your parents.  We love you a million times!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Little Flower for your Face

All three girls get transfused on the same day.  It makes for an utterly insane day, but then it's over and we go back to being just regular for 3 weeks before we do it all over again.

So many IV poles!

Getting a transfusion is sort of like taking any medicine.  The "dose" you get is based on certain criteria.  For packed red cells, the "dose" is based on your weight and current hemoglobin level. As a result, the girls all get different amounts of blood every time we go.  Add to that the fact that Emmie does her transfusion as a "turnaround" (meaning that she has her type/screen done the same day as her transfusion) and the other two girls have their labs drawn a day or two before, it means that everyone starts and finishes at a different time.  Emmie is almost always the longest.

Some arts and crafts in our room to pass the time.

Just hanging out.

Yesterday, Rosie finished her transfusion first.  Her hemoglobin was the highest, she weighs the least, and her line was in first, all resulting in a first place ribbon at the finish line.  At each transfusion, our dear Child Life specialist steps in for a few minutes so I can take a walk to pee and get some coffee, something every hospital mama will tell you is a luxury.  Since Rosie was done with her blood, she asked to come with me.  She wrapped her warm and pinked-up body around mine and we headed for some caffeine.

On the way back from the coffee shop, I remembered that The Hole in the Wall Gang was holding a little in-hospital camp in the entertainment center.  I wasn't sure if it was right or wrong to stop by there.  One kid was done getting her new blood, but the other two were upstairs still tethered to IV poles for at least another hour.  Should I refuse Rosie some light-hearted fun because of the other two, or let her enjoy the fact that she was free from the Infusion Unit?  As Patrick said this weekend, there is no handbook on parenting, and if there was, it would likely suck.  So we stopped in.

It was set up like a real little camp.  Activities and smiles were everywhere, in a place where there are not always so many smiles.  Since we were on borrowed time while the Child Life Specialist sat with Emmie and Frannie upstairs, I steered Rosie to a quick activity--face painting.  The minute I did it, I felt a pit in my stomach, knowing that this was one of Emmie's absolute favorite things to do at fairs and the like.  Rosie beamed from ear to ear as a camp counselor painted a pretty pink butterfly on her little pink cheek.  A happy look in the mirror at the finished product and we were on our way back up to Emmie and Frannie.

The minute we walked into our treatment room, I knew I had made a mistake.  Or did I?  Yes, I did.  I think.  Oh, I didn't know, but I knew for sure that I felt miserable.  "I thought you were just going to get coffee like usual," Emmie said with big, jealous tears in her eyes as she looked at the pink butterfly on Rosie's cheek.  I failed.  Again.  I failed.  It was as if I took a crappy day for Emmie and made it crappier.  But I also took a crappy day for Rosie and made it better, didn't I?  But at what cost?  Sometimes, as mom, you just never feel like you can make a good decision.  At least little Frannie is still too young to care much, so I wasn't ruining her day, too.  I could take some peace in that, right?

Quickly I set down the coffee I wished I had never gone to get, and the Child Life Specialist slipped out of the room.  I got out the nail polish I brought with me and started right in on pedicures for the girls...Emmie first, and she would get a manicure, too, since she did not have a butterfly on her cheek.  Even with the special princess treatment, I could tell how sad she was.  "When is that camp going to end?" she asked.  I watched the blood drip, drip, drip slower than ever and told her that the camp would be over before her new blood was all done.  The tears brimming in her eyes confirmed that I had screwed up again.

Her transfusion seemed to drag on endlessly.  Every time a nurse or clinic assistant came in the room to check on us, Rosie proudly and innocently told them about the camp and to look at her butterfly cheek.  Emmie stared at the bag of blood hanging on her pole.  She never seemed to hate that bag of blood as much as she did right then.

The minute her pump beeped signaling the end of her transfusion, she asked about the face painting and the camp.  It was well past the end time of the camp, but the nurse could see the hurt in both of our eyes so she took out Emmie's IV out as fast as she could and said, "Run, Mama.  You never know.  Hold the gauze on her arm tight and run."

So we did.  Through the after-hours halls of the hospital.  Taking every back way I remembered from my days of working there.  Carrying my big girl, holding that gauze tight over her IV site, and praying that the camp went a little long.  But it didn't.  When we arrived, counselors were packing up the last of the boxes.  The room that was so lively earlier was just a bare space full of folding tables and chairs.  Before I could finish the phrase, "I'm sorry, honey" Emmie started to cry.  How pathetic we were, in the hallway of the hospital, me holding a bloody gauze, and Emmie crying.

And then, a girl in a green camp shirt came over asking what was the matter.  "Did you not have a chance to race your car?" she asked since they had been racing cars earlier.  I quietly explained the situation with the transfusion and the ill-fated face-painting stop I made earlier with Rosie.  "Well, guess what!?  I was one of the face painters today!  Why don't you sit right down and I'll get out all of the face paint and you can have your very own camp!"

So there we sat, in the middle of the empty room surrounded by packed up boxes of camp stuff.  The counselor took out every single paint color and glitter and brush you could imagine and took painstaking care to paint the perfect flower on Emmie's perfect cheek.  When Emmie looked in the mirror at the finished product, her smile made me know that I had made the right decision.  Now, there were tears in my eyes.  Like many of my decisions as a mother, it was clumsy and a little ugly, but in the end it was all OK.  The counselor gave us a handful of glittery stickers for everyone, and Emmie and I skipped hand in hand back to the Infusion Unit.  "Mama, I love that you know all of the back ways here.  When I grow up, I want to be just like you.  But with a superhero cape."

We arrived back just in time for Frannie's transfusion to end.  Frannie cheerfully stuck some glittery stickers all over her body, and she felt just like one of the gang.  We left the hospital feeling good.  Full of blood, and full of smiles.

So, to the young woman from the Hole in the Wall Gang camp who stayed long after the day was over to do a private camp session for Emmie, thank you.  Those flowers may have only lasted until bath time, but the memory you gave us will last much longer than that.

A little flower means a whole lot.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Two Years of Rosie

May 7th marked two years since our spunky little Rosie came into our lives.  The perfect dimple under her eye when she smiles still melts my heart. She's a big sister and a little sister and proud of it. She's a tiny girl who loves very big.

Rosie was once a poster child for Love Without Boundaries.  Tiny, sad, and spending a lot of time in her crib in her orphanage.  We were told by the nannies that she became a favorite at Foshan Shunde CWI because, "she was the prettiest one."  

Pretty, she sure is.  But her fun and loving personality totally outshines her outer beauty.  She is extremely strong-willed, and tests every single rule put in front of her.  Let's be blunt...she gets the most "time outs" in our house.  But she also gives the biggest hugs, the most frequent kisses, and makes the loudest proclamations of her love for us.  She is smart, funny, and cuddly.  She is scrappy, sporty, and brave.  She'd climb up anything...she'd try to climb a wall like Spiderman if she could, but she wouldn't touch a ladybug if her life depended on it.  She coined the family phrase, "Let's do a no-peep" when it comes time to getting stuck with a needle for her transfusion.  At that moment, she sits still and holds out her arm and doesn't even flinch.  Yet at any other time, I've never seen her sit still for more than 10 seconds.  Even she says, "I think I have the ants in my pants."

Rosie wanted to celebrate her day by riding bikes in the driveway and eating the whipped cream off the top of a Frappuccino.  Happy that neither activity required wearing a dress.

When I look at those sad eyes in the pictures of her time before us my heart both breaks and jumps for joy.  Breaks because we couldn't love her sooner.  Jumps for joy because she's now ours.  And I wonder again and again what I ever did to be blessed with such love.