Saturday, February 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Phoebe!

Birthday tricycle. . .
The official Phoebe at Two portrait on the red chair.
Yum, birthday ice cream!

Phoebe is now two years old, which she will tell you with a very curt and definitive "tu" with her fingers held up. Miranda is quite pleased with the idea that they are both two now, and told me "I don't want to be three."

I think every parent of an adopted child knows about the extra layer of emotions that underlies their child's birthday. We sing and blow candles and Skype with grandparents and open gifts and celebrate. But at night, after our child is down, now one year older, we think about the day she was born. Oh, Phoebe. I so wish I had information to give her. We have books called "The Night You Were Born" and "The Day You Were Born"-- written independently, by completely different authors-- both which depict nature singing in celebration for the birth of a child. We read these, and I do think the great world sang when Phoebe was born. But clearly there was pain and sadness there, whatever her story was. I thank her birth parents for giving her life, and her birth mother for carrying her and birthing her. While I am so thankful to have Phoebe as my daughter, I can't help but to sting a bit at the injustice of the world that her birth mother can't experience the joy of this child. I don't know what happened-- maybe she didn't want to parent, who knows. But if it was poverty and politics that forced her to leave her child to be found-- in a country where putting a child up for adoption is illegal, so leaving identifying information for "open adoption" is never an option-- my heart breaks for her.

But on the celebrating front-- Phoebe's doing beautifully well. I was away all last weekend in Pennsylania celebrating my niece Claire's last dose of chemotherapy, and Phoebe did fine with my absence and return. She needed some extra snuggling the next day, but nothing more, and Miranda needed it, too. We did a third try at babysitting at the gym this week. The first time, Phoebe willingly stayed with no tears after I spent 30 minutes or so with her in transition. The second time, she cried when I left with a beeper and strict instructions to call me for more than 2 minutes of tears-- I never got paged, she did fine. This time, after much verbal preparation, Phoebe joined her sister in an excited dance at the gate to Kid's Club, saying "Bye-bye Mama" before I could kiss her goodbye. I spied a bit when I returned, and found Miranda and Phoebe in the company of a six year old who was leading them in Ring-a-Round-the-Rosy and Follow the Leader, crawling in a line on the floor. I watched Phoebe join both hands with her new friend and jump up and down laughing. When I called their names, my Two Girls came tumbling into my arms, happy to see me and ready to go. I nearly cried.

There are moments like that when I think, we've done it! Attached! Secure! And then. . .just two nights later, while Mark was working late, my cell phone rang during bathtime. There was massive obstetric disaster at the hospital, with one doc operating alone and the on-call back-up 35 minutes away. I live 6 minutes away. I whipped the kids out of the bathtub, threw on diapers and pajamas, tossed them in the car, and sped away. Miranda got it, saying from her carseat as we pull into the ambulance bay, "Mama, a baby needs your help right now? You have to help someone?" But poor Phoebe. I tried telling her all the things that worked at Kid's Club, "Mama is going to kiss you goodbye and then I'll come back in a little while. Your mama always comes back." But when we ran in to the hospital and I plunked her in the lap of the secretary at the nurse's station and kissed her goodbye, her scared little face melted in panic. Now, I knew there was someone potentially dying in the OR, and the nurses were pleading with me, "Don't worry, we'll take care of her, GO!" I paused, kissed her, looked her in the face, and told her I loved her. We've been so careful never to do this to her, never to leave when she isn't ready for it. I think it was the most painful moment I've had with Phoebe since I became her mother. Leaving Phoebe is not like leaving Miranda.

I left her. She cried, and then hunkered down in a stranger's lap with her fingers in her mouth while Miranda had great adventures with stickers, temporary tatoos, and snacks. The patient survived-- a miracle, given the situation. I came to find Phoebe an hour later, just before Mark showed up. She came into my arms, but in that quiet, finger-sucking, tear-streaked, withdrawn way. As we buckled the kids into their carseats, Miranda boasted "Mama, I did not cry!" and Phoebe perked up to her usual self. But the whole thing was a reminder, again, that Phoebe-- who has fewer issues than I ever dreamed a kid adopted as a 15 month old toddler could-- is broken. Our work is not done.

But on her birthday, I celebrate her! Her progress is amazing. I love to hear the conversations. After a sneeze: "Bless you, Miranda." "Thank you, Phoebe." "Welcome, Miranda." Phoebe is in big girl panties all day now, and falls to sleep happily in her own bed after I tuck her in. She sings the ABCs (with some mumbling around LMNOP), and counts to 9. She moved up to the big girl classroom (parents leave rather than stay) at Early Intervention school this week, where she is officially "a community kid" since she placed out of services. She can do one good Hokey Pokey dance. She's strong and healthy and bright. How on earth did we get so lucky?

Happy 2nd Birthday, Phoebe!

Friday, February 12, 2010


I learned this week that "Stay-cation" is actually a word, and I suppose that's what we are doing. Since we came home from China eight months ago, we've been working, and at some point we decided it might be a good idea to give our nanny a break and take a week off. So, what have we done? Well, Mark and I both visited the dentist. I closed out a bank account and ordered the missing screws for our broken high chair. Bought new jeans. Finished a novel. Worked out several times. Sent Mark off to yoga class. Visited a few schools for the girls, and decided on Montessori. Took the girls to a local museum filled with model railroads and dollhouses. Bounced in a moon bounce and learned for the first time in my life how to keep a hoola-hoop up. But for the exciting stuff--

Number one, Mark and I went on a date. Actually, TWO dates! Shocking! The babysitter was a nanny of our neighbors, and the girls have always loved her. We instructed Dook on the bedtime routine, but told her that we fully expected that the girls would be awake when we got home at 8:15, especially Phoebe. But when we walked in the door, the house was silent. Both girls had gone down without so much as a sniffle. "Phoebe's fine," Dook told us. "She's normal. I think you can go out more often." In the morning, the girls woke up with no trouble at all and told us what a great time they had with Dook. Meanwhile, Mark and I had drinks at the historic hotel a few blocks from home that we had never been inside, followed the dinner at our favorite restaurant in Salem-- that we hadn't been to since, oh, the month we moved into Salem. Then later in the week the two of us drove in to Boston for a slow afternoon stroll through the Museum of Fine Arts. It was like old times. So nice!

Number two-- this is big news!-- we started potty training. Phoebe had a headstart in all of this, because I'm pretty sure she was potty trained in China. Every picture I have of her in foster care she was sitting on a beaten up old wicker chair with a pot underneath it. On our first morning together in the hotel in Nanchang, Phoebe woke up with a dry diaper. We put her on the potty and did the "shushsush" we had heard about, and sure enough, she peed-- but screamed while she did it with a panic that I didn't understand. Enough of that-- we put the diaper back on her and kept her off the potty after that.

We've had potties in the bathrooms for more than a year, frequently give stickers just for sitting on the potty, and occasionally check out the Prudence video from the library, but there had been very little potty action. So this week, I was changing Phoebe's diaper in the playroom while telling Miranda, "You, too, one day will tinkle on the potty," when suddenly Phoebe shouts "Potty!" She springs up and darts to the bathroom, sits down on the potty, concentrates, and poops! Oh, Miranda cheered and cheered. Since then, for four days in a row, Phoebe had pooped on the potty. She gets a great look of concentration, then whispers to me "coming" followed by "did it." Well, Miranda has been trying and trying, now that her little sister is doing it. We did a day of training pants, but she only wet them. We sat on the potty, and read lots of books. Nothing. She was very game to try, but after long patient attempts with a bladder that I knew was full, she couldn't figure out the coordination. She finally asked for a diaper, and it was wet in a minute.

Tonight, Phoebe's call for the potty came during bath time. That is a big improvement over the days when we had to evacuate Miranda from the tub on a regular basis after Phoebe's mid-bath accidents. Phoebe got out soaking wet, and did her usual productive thing. Suddenly Miranda yelled, "I have to tinkle!" and sure enough-- she did it, in the potty, with a great look of surprise and pride on her face. Lucky for us, just before dinner Miranda had discovered how to independently use the spigot on the water jug in the kitchen, so she drank about three glasses of water with her meal. So she proceeded to pee a total of four times before bath time was over. She got it! In between Miranda's moments Phoebe actually stuck back onto the potty for a repeat performance when we weren't looking. That was one busy potty! I couldn't stop cheering and hugging and handing out stickers to my big girls. Plan for tomorrow: training pants, lots of salty snacks, and a whole day at home learning that there is an alternative to diapers. Some people take a February vacation in the Caribbean. But for us, well, here's to Stay-cation.

(Oh, Miranda and Phoebe, I'm sorry to go public here. I'm writing this whole blog for you, you know, to chronicle our early years together. I can't help it here-- you can't imagine how wonderful it is to watch you two learn how your bodies work, and to watch you so quickly change from babies to little girls. You'll understand how exciting potty training is only if you have kids of your own one day. Until then, my apologies.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010


This week, Mark and I are on vacation. This is a stay-at-home vacation, with no plans to go far. To be honest, there are lots of plans. I'm letting Mark stay unaware of the schedule, and each evening I let him know what is on the itinerary the next day, so as not to feel over-programmed and overwhelmed. In between the date nights, yoga classes, dentist appointments, Children's Museum, preschool visitations, etc, there is a lot of time to just be together.

The girls are really getting to be a lot of fun to be with. Every night after dinner we have a jam session of favorite songs, and they won't let us stay sitting down. Hokey-Pokey is the current favorite, but the Alligator Song is a close favorite (it involves some snapping and a progress decrease in the number of monkies sitting on the tree). Phoebe loves Wheels on the Bus, and sings an impressive number of letters in the alphabet song. Ring-a-Round-the-Rosy is also high entertainment around here.

Phoebe is now up to four word sentences, like "I drop it, please" (= Please pick it up for me), "I like it, please" (= Can I have some please?), and "Opa, where are you?" (when Opa drifts out of view on the Skype video call).
Miranda's conversations are quite interesting now. Today Phoebe put on new shoes that came with a squeak in the sole and Miranda said, "Oh, they squeak! That make me smile and laugh." Yesterday when a song she liked came on she said, "This was my faaaavorite song when I was a little kid." When I told her the reason I had not hung a Chinese string of beads in the car was that I didn't have a hanger she told me, "That's okay. Maybe the hanger truck will come and bring some." I remember someone telling me when Miranda was nine months old that it only gets to be more and more fun as they get older. Now two and a half years into parenting, I completely agree.
The girls are becoming closer and closer in their developmental age as Phoebe catches up to her big sister, nine months ahead. They both suddenly got interested in Playdough enough to keep themselves busy for 20 minutes or so with a rolling pin and cookie cutters. They can wash their hands themselves, and brush their teeth. We now read books together at night, and while Miranda absorbs the storyline and asks questions, at least now Phoebe is content to sit attentively through the whole reading of Madeline or Horton Hatches the Egg. In some things, Phoebe is now passing Miranda. Phoebe learned to spit while brushing her teeth, while Miranda just can't get past the idea of not swallowing the swig of water. And today after I gave Miranda the pep talk of "Maybe someday you'll sit on the potty and tinkle just like I do," Phoebe suddenly said "Potty!" She ran to the bathroom where I helped undo her diaper, and sure enough, she sat on the pot and produced. Miranda cheered and cheered for her-- with no hint of being upstaged by her little sister.
The other day Two Girls were running in and out of the living room, each time with an announcement to me of "We'll be RIGHT-- BACK!" After several rounds of this, I darted into the play tent after they made their exit. On return, they trotted in and then stopped dead when they found the empty room. "Where's Mama?" Miranda asked. And then she answered her own question with a whisper into Phoebe's ear: "She's hiding. Let's find her!" After a whole round of false leads by Mark ("Do you think she's under the blanket? Nope, not there!"), I sneezed for them. When Phoebe opened the tent door and found me inside, you can't imagine the jumping and laughing and howling that followed from my two girls.
On the sleep front, I am amazed. It took Phoebe a total of eight days of "Sleep Training" before she would just let us lay her down on her pillow and sit on the far side of the room in a rocker while she fell asleep quickly and quietly. There were just two days of crying when I sat at the foot of her bed and told her over and over again that it's okay, I'm here. Last night, as soon as I turned out the lights, she said, "Nite-nite, please," and didn't even let me hold her in the rocker for Thank You Prayers. I lay her down and she snuggles into her pillow, looking as happy as can be. I tell her she looks snug as a bug in her big girl bed, kiss her, and walk away. I am so proud of Phoebe. Sleep is a major issue for kids who are adopted, and I worried a lot about if she was ready to be out of our bed and our arms, sleeping on her own. I'm quite sure now that she was ready, and I think she's really proud of her accomplishments. She talked to all three of her grandparents this weekend, and the first thing she said to each of them--unprompted-- was "Big Girl Bed!" Truth be told, she still wakes up once or twice every night, and sometimes I end up falling asleep at the foot of her bed, but I'm trusting that with time those awakenings will disappear.
A major change, too, is that after double-teaming for getting into pajamas and brushing teeth, now Mark and I take turns reading books and tucking in, while the other cleans up from dinner. With this new divide-and-conquer method, we have the evening to ourselves as early as 8:00 pm. Oh, what a change! I have my professional life organized, my desk cleared, suppers cooked ahead of time, and groceries in the fridge. I'm 200 pages into a novel-- the first book I've read since China. Mark and I have time to lounge around the living room while he plays the guitar and I read. We are about one week into this new life, and it feels absolutely decadent. We are returning to balance around here.