Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to School

Ah, back to school, back to issues.  
Not big issues, just the usual ones with separation & change, and the forever pondering what effect early transition and the trauma of separation has had on Phoebe.  Miranda this morning-- barely said goodbye to me, she was so excited to be back in her classroom.  Phoebe?  Well, yesterday was a one hour gentle introduction to her new classroom & her teachers, with no other students there.  I was supposed to give a cheery goodbye and then get some coffee in the lobby, but Phoebe started on her "I'm scared" routine, with arms wrapped around my legs.  The teacher is from Taiwan, and we requested that Phoebe be in her class where they will learn songs & traditions from China (not too mention how lovely it will be to have a positive Asian role model in her life).  But when I introduced Sandra to Phoebe, Phoebe looked right at her, paused, then gave her the Phoebe scowl.  Trouble with the Chinese face & accent?  Or just with the threat of a teacher who will displace her mother?

So, instead, I was invited to explore the classroom with Phoebe yesterday.  She did get out of my arms and explore a bit, but certainly didn't smile or relax, and didn't let me slip out "to the bathroom for a minute or two," no.  Then today, half of her classmates were coming, ages 3 to 5.  Phoebe started the morning at home by curling up in a chair and saying, "I don't want to go to the school."  She refused her rainboots, and when I told her, "Phoebe, you can make your own decisions, but you cannot make your sister late for her first day of school," Phoebe said, "You hurt my feelings!"  I carried her into school (a big Montessori no-no) with bare feet & her boots in my hand.  After dropping Miranda at her classroom (easy), we ended up sitting outside Phoebe's classroom on the bench while all the other kids arrived.  One kindergartner asked Phoebe, "Why are you out here?"  Phoebe said, "I'm scared."  As if she was paid to do it, the girl said, "It's fun!  I used to be scared too, but not anymore!"  

The teacher gave us a full 30 minutes on the bench, with kind invitations every few minutes.  Phoebe buried her head in my chest.  Finally, at the teacher's request, after promises that I would return right after storytime, I started in on the ritual goodbye kiss that Phoebe dreamed up & practiced at home:  nose kiss, one cheek, other cheek-- then with great effort, she raised her hand in a reluctant but brave high-five.  Sandra took her in her arms and entered the classroom.  I stood in the hallway out of sight and listened to her slow, mournful, sad cry.  Then had a good cry myself.

This is always the trouble, isn't it?  Phoebe, who finally has stability in her life, would like it if nothing ever changed.  If she could do the same thing every single day for the rest of her life, and wear the same clothes and the same shoe size, she would really be happy about that.  But her feet keep growing, it seems.  And I know it will be just days before she is loving Children's House and her new friends.  It's just the forcing her into the new beginning that hurts this mama's heart.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hello, Summer! (And Magic!)

Ah, Memorial Day weekend as it should be. It was a miserable spring, with nothing but chilly grey days, until this weekend. Suddenly, it was hot. Toes breathed in sandals, white legs poked out of shorts, the window breathed open all night long, and dinner moved to the back porch under the umbrella. We've been on the beach every day for the last three days, where the girls now dig and collect and build with little parental interference. It's going to be the summer of fairy houses and beach combing, I believe. This Pennsylvania girl still can't believe the beach is a few short blocks away, and it makes me very, very happy.

May was a big month for us. Miranda turned four, with a little yoga birthday party this year, complete with a zebra doing tree pose (her idea) on the cake. On Mother's Day, all of us donned beaks and marched in the Make Way for Ducklings Parade. We celebrated Family Day with our annual ice cream outing, marking the two year anniversary of Phoebe's life merging with ours. And yesterday, with a fabulous date that started with--what else?-- a long walk on a white sand beach without the kids, Mark and I celebrated our 7th anniversary. In between all the celebrations, we had visits from Mark's mom, my parents, and our au pair's parents from Germany. Busy, busy!

There has been a little magic in the this house lately. About three weeks ago-- sometime in the middle of Mark's mother's visit-- I suddenly thought, when did my two angels turn into whining, arguing, negotiating, entitled little brats? It wasn't good. I was spending all day giving lectures about kindness and respect, and even the classic "give 2 choices" approach was resulting in 5 minutes of questions and indecision and protests. One night when I was on-call, Mark reported that bedtime took over an hour due to prolonged requests and elaborate procrastination techniques. Our happy home didn't seem so happy.

So-- thanks to a Facebook cry for help, I ended up reading "1, 2, 3 Magic." First, I'll say that my father should have written this book, because he "counted us" all the way back then, before the book was published. Oddly, I can't remember what happened when he hit three, but I think that's because I never really got that far; the threat was enough. I had a little meeting with Miranda and Phoebe, and explained the new rules. We role-played an argument and the warnings-- "That's one. . .that's two. . .that's three, take five"-- and the time-out. They got it. A few minutes later, Miranda shoved her feet into Librarian Phoebe's book, and Phoebe shrieked. Calmly, I said, "That's one." Miranda whipped her feet back to herself and silence decended onto the room. Later that day, Phoebe earned herself the first time-out. Without anger or emotion, I carried her to her room, set the timer to 3 minutes, and walked out. She cried for a minute or so, then played quietly, and when the timer went off, she got a hug and a kiss, and a resumption of the usual activities. After that, we had a fabulous day.

I'm telling you, peace decended onto our house like you can't imagine. My kids, thank goodness, were "early adapters." On the second day, I said with mild sterness, "Phoebe, sit in your carseat," and she did, asking, "Mama, is that One?" Miranda always pushes it to Two, and sometimes complies with a resigned pout of "You aren't being fair," but she stops the action, and more and more now is just letting it go. There are several effects-- one, when conflict arises, I win the argument quickly and restore the peace, elimating the long negotiations and arguments that used to be the norm. But more interesting is that suddenly there are very few arguments to begin with. We only have to "count the kids" about three or four times per day. We've been doing this for 10 days now, and I have gone back to completely enjoying my pleasant kids.

There's another part of the book that talks about "start behaviors"-- getting kids to do things you want them to (as opposed to "stop behaviors", for which we count). So we have instituted a 20 minute timer for bedtime. They have 20 minutes to get it all done-- put on pajamas, brush teeth, wash faces, do all the things they use as procastination tecniques AND read books before the timer goes off. The quicker they do it, the more books they get to read. The first night the timer went off and Miranda immediately said, "But we forgot to feed the fish!" and Phoebe said, "Where's my teddy?" I assured them that I was quite sure they would remember those things tomorrow before the timer went off, and turned out the light. This has worked like a charm. No matter how early or late we are for bedtime, once we get out of the tub or get up the stairs, the timer starts, and I know the lights will be out in 20 minutes. Tonight with 8 minutes left on the timer, Phoebe said she was hungry, so downstairs she went-- and missed story time that Miranda got, but made her own decision and took the consequences gracefully.

Why do I go on and on? Because a few weeks ago, I was so frustrated with the kids, and right now (could it be the weather, not the book??) I am blissfully in love with these two. We are at a great stage, where there are constant learning moments, hillarious observations, and charming expressions of love. May this be the beginning of a whole new phase in our lives!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Closing Out Winter

That was fun, after a few months, to glance back at the last post, when I dreamed that sleep trouble was over. Not so. Enthusiasm over toddler camp-out waned after a few days, and Phoebe is famous for saying things like "I don't want a sticker, I want you to stay in my room." After a few weeks of resolutely avoiding parents in Phoebe's bed or Phoebe in ours, we were completely blurry-eyed, like parents of a newborn. We caved. Bedtimes now almost always have tears, with some nights worse than others. Miranda usually gets excused from her bed and allowed to climb into the quiet of the master bedroom while Phoebe cries herself to sleep with parent sitting quietly nearby in the dark. When all is quiet, we carry Miranda back to her own bed. Then when Phoebe wakes up for the first time, we carry her into our bed. It's a big game of Musical Beds. And back to co-sleeping. Somehow it seems that this current plan-- in place for about two months now-- maximizes the family sleep and minimizes the pain. We figure that before she goes to the senior prom, she'll come around. In the meantime, we'll do what works.

Phoebe was quite proud to turn three years old. While I thought the girls would be thrilled to be the same age for a few months, Miranda quickly moved into saying she is "three and a half" while Phoebe announces that she is "just three" when she is asked her age. We tried instituting some rules about being three-- for example, that three year olds don't sit on their parents' laps at mealtime, but Phoebe was so upset by this that we let it slide. In the last few months, I've started to see Phoebe as more needy than I thought she was. In the mornings, she wakes up grouchy, except for the rare days when she says with a smile, "I woke up happy today!" Often she asks for the Ergo while I putter around the kitchen and make coffee in my bathrobe. She often whines and cries, and requires constant instruction to ask again in with kindness, respect, and good manners." Was she always like this? Is it me who has become more sensitive to the negative things? Or it this just a phase, age 3.1? Maybe some of it is that for many months, I considered Phoebe's mood swings part of the normal adoption adjustment that she would grow out of once she was securely attached. Now I know that Phoebe is securely attached. It's just personality. She's moody. She pouts and whines, and then, in an instant, she decides that she's happy again (and charming!) and carries on like nothing happened. I just hope that as she gets older she notices that the world enjoys the happy Phoebe, but does not respond so well to the grouchy Phoebe. (In the meantime, I welcome advice and suggestions, friends!)

When I griped recently to Mark about "When can we just be normal?" he reminded me, wisely, that "We signed up for this. And really, we signed up for a lot worse than this." He's right. Phoebe, in her delightful moments, really is delightful. She has only recently started to look into my eyes when she is in feeling playful and cuddly to say spontaneously, "I love you soooo much." We recently went ot the doctor for her three year old check-up, and she charmed the whole place. The nurse called her name and Phoebe pranced right through the door independently and confidently, announced "I don't want any shots" instead of saying hello, and blew right by her. She peppered the doctor with questions and observations. "I don't have that kind of computer at home. Why do you have a small computer?" My favorite moment was when the doctor washed his hands and Phoebe warned him, "Be careful-- don't get your sleeves wet." Then when he took 3 paper towels she said, "Why did you take 3? I only take one." I was glad she didn't add her usual, "It's not good for the Earth!" He reasoned, good naturedly, "My hands are bigger than yours," to which Phoebe replied with a smile and a wrinkled nose, "Oh, yeah." She really got a kick out of knee reflexes (pardon the pun), and talked for days about how he made her knee jump with a hammer.

Phoebe now lags half an inch behind Miranda in height and half a pound in weight, and their shoe size is exactly the same. My "artificial twins." Still, the age difference has not yet dissolved. Miranda plays all sorts of word games with us that Phoebe can't keep up with at all. (Say, "Doghouse." "Doghouse!" "Now say it again without the house." "Dog!") At playdates, Phoebe plays if the little friend is from Toddler House in school, but if it is a big four year old from Children's House, she still hides in my arms. Miranda is working on maps of Africa, sounding out words, and planning for being the snack girl "next Thursday, the day after tomorrow." Miranda plays the Mystery Game with us at home, putting an object under a blanket and giving us clues to help us guess. Phoebe hides the object and, with a twinkle in her eye, gives us a clue like "It's a purple notebook!" The nine month different is really delightful, in one way, because it is a constant reminder of how quickly children grow up, and how much they learn. At the same time, I feel a bit sad for Phoebe, since part of me always wants her to catch up to her sister instead of staying little.

Miranda continues to be incredibly generous. One day Miranda asked me, "Where does Phoebe sleep?" I braced myself, sure that Miranda would want into our bed too once she realized that's where Phoebe gets to sleep. I explained that Phoebe gets scared in the middle of the night, so we let her sleep with us. Miranda's response? "Maybe when we get a little bit older so we don't bonk heads we can push our beds together, and then when Phoebe wakes up scared in the middle of the night I can just reach out my hand and touch her and say 'Sh, sh, sh.'" Sometimes we have to be very firm with Miranda to tell her, "You absolutely do not have to give that up. It's yours and you are playing with it right now. Phoebe can have it when you are done." And too often Miranda, with complete sincerity, says "That's okay. I'm done with it now." Should be interesting to see how this plays out when the girls are older.

After a long winter of snow, bring on the spring!

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Overnight, I feel like Phoebe has become a "big girl." Yesterday I brought her for her first haircut, to trim off the loose baby ends that have been with her since China. She now has a clean straight line of black hair, big girl. To celebrate, I brought her to the coffee shop for a cup of hot chocolate, served up in an expresso cup with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Then last night was our first experiment with "toddler camp-out" in the master bedroom. Our sleep issues with Phoebe have waxed and waned over the last year and a half, but have never disappeared. After the nightmares of last October and November disappeared, we reinitiated "sleep training," and have finally returned to being able to say goodnight and walk out of the room, at least on most nights. But somewhere along the line Phoebe learned that when she awakens in the middle of the night she needs to shout out for us and cry a little. On a bad night, it is four or five times, and she'll cry hard if we leave the room before she is back asleep. While we've sworn off climbing in bed with her, I often end up curled up at the foot of her bed, or Mark on the floor next to her. This last week has been exhausting, and I'm thankful that Mark and I take turns so at least ever other night is something close to restful.

At the international adoption clinic back in the fall, they suggested this idea of a "camp-out"-- a mattress on the floor in the master bedroom where Phoebe can come to be close to us and feel safe, while still giving us our space. I borrowed a toddler mattress from a friend and set up a cozy space with blankets and a pillow. I walked Phoebe through a role-play of waking up and feeling like she needed to be close, then walking into our room and cuddling up in "toddler camp-out." She snuggled in a declared, "I like it."

Around 3:00 a.m., I heard pitter-patter of feet in our room. It was Miranda, who tested out the mattress for about a minute before deciding that her own bed was a warmer better place. Perfect. Around 5:00 a.m. (a remarkably late first awakening), I heard Phoebe's cry. I went to her room, and she readily accepted my suggestion to climb out of bed herself and get settled in toddler camp-out. No fuss, no crying. She snuggled in, and the whole family of four slept in this Saturday morning until a remarkable 7:00. Could this be the beginning of a whole new well-slept phase of life? Dare to dream!

And then yet another milestone today. . .Phoebe's ballet teacher invited her to step-up to the three year old class that Miranda is in. Up until now, Phoebe has taken the bring-your-adult class, and occasionally has a bad day when she does nothing more than scowl with her fingers in her mouth in her adult's arms. But after some discussion, Phoebe agreed to join the big girl class. She got into line and walked in on her tip-toes, then followed every instruction with joy. In a class of ten children, Miranda and Phoebe sat next to each other every time they formed a circle. When the other children danced across the room one at a time in line, Two Girls took their turn side-by-side; the teacher told us later that Miranda had asked if they could do so. Mark and I stood outside the glass window and marveled at what seemed like a graduation of sorts. There was Phoebe, secure and independent, without us. And those two sisters-- such good friends they are to each other. I hope they stay that way in the years to come!