Thursday, March 6, 2014


We just got back from gymnastics.  We have to attend at six o'clock so that all three children have their classes at the same time, since despite how close they are in age, they are each in a separate mixed-age class.

Emerson has gone to gymnastics since he was 14 months old, and I figured since he was climbing everything in sight, I might as well put some climbing equipment under his little feet.  He is full of enthusiasm to be back again.

Buttercup is having her first experience with a real teacher and a real class of her own peers.  Her enthusiasm translates into trying really hard to follow all the directions, and very little physical capability of doing just that.  This could not be more opposite of the last time I parenting through the toddler class!  When she gets to the frog area, she is precise in remembering that she should ribbit, but it is only sheer statistical probability that some of her many, many jumps actually propel her in a forward direction.  The balance beams are accomplished mostly because she's holding my hand, and as soon as she has that anchor she starts looking around the gymnasium to see what her brother and sister are doing!  Today she was supposed to "drive a car" (hold a circle like a steering wheel) which occupied both her hands while she balanced.  She moved exactly one inch with each step, and then she very very carefully matched her color of steering wheel with the color of cone at the end of the balance beam, which it took her several moments to gather her feet together and step off of.  Buttercup is the child who is the bane of every toddler boy, having fun doing all the obstacles at top speed and energy!

Hibiscus has energy.  She has energy, and she has a great deal of strength in her long legs and wiry frame.  She also has flexibility, that makes it look like all her limbs can go in their own directions.  What she lacks, is any kind of planning or mental control.  So basically, she is like a giant rag doll, sprung out from a huge slingshot, and aimed at the trampolines or parallel bars.

Then this was the conversation that ensued on the way home.

I don't remember how the conversation in the back seat got to this point, but Hibiscus laughed that she was going to throw wraps at me when I died.  Emerson replied that that wasn't very funny.  And that when I died, he was going to make a bed with glass sides, so he could go and look at me every day.  And he was going to keep the bed in his house so he could look at me every day because he would miss me so much.  Hibiscus said she would cry if I was dead and she looked at me.  Emerson said he would not ever, ever cut me open and take out my heart and things, and Hibiscus agreed that she wouldn't cut me open either.  Emerson was going to look at me every day.  They agreed that in order to get a skeleton, you have to cut the dead body up and take the bones out, and they weren't going to do that.

Emerson said, in a loving and secretive manner, that if Hibiscus didn't get married, she could come in his house and look at me in the glass box every day too.  Hibiscus said she would cry and cry if she looked at me because she never wanted me to die.  Emerson said he would look in the glass box and see how beautiful I was and how much he loved me.

Hibiscus suggested that possibily she did want to get married.  Emerson said if she married someone else, some other person, someone else, then she couldn't come in his house every day.  Hibiscus started to get annoyed, and replied that when she birthed a baby, she wasn't going to let Emerson come see either.  Emerson said if she married someone else, she could come to his house to see me in the glass box maybe one time.

I suggested that I hoped that when they were grown up, they would still be a loving brother and sister and be welcome in each other's houses.  Just like we went to Gramcy's house sometimes.

Emerson immediately offered that Hibiscus could come and look at me in the glass box every Sunday after church, which coincidentally exactly the same schedule on which we visit Gramcy's house.  Hibiscus said he could see the baby she birthed, too.

And that was our evening at gymnastics!

Monday, March 3, 2014

News Flash: Buttercup is Actually Black

On Saturday, I took Buttercup with me to catch up on all the errands I hadn't been able to get done with Daddy out of town -- or at least some of them!  We went to six or eight different places around town, which I guess is good practice for Being A Trans-racial Family In America.

We were looking for something specific in Toys R Us, so I went up to the main desk to ask if they had it.  She said they did, and could describe the general area but not right where it was, so she said she would call someone to help me within the Imaginarium area.  I didn't hear her on the radio, but when we were in that section someone came up to us, and hesitantly asked if I was looking for what I had mentioned, obviously somewhat confused about whom to help.  I said I was, and she helped us, and that was fine.

When we were done with our shopping, we happened to go back to the same register where I had asked for help.  The clerk cheerily asked if I had found the item, talked about what I was buying, and then started talking about our request for help.

"When you went back to Imaginarium area, I didn't know how to describe you so the associate could find you," she chatted.  "The only thing I could think of, was to say 'look for the lady with a REALLY BEAUTIFUL baby,' but then I realized that could describe just about anyone in the store!  Haha!"  And then she went on in the same vein.

I was absolutely stunned.  Point A: you have GOT to be kidding me; that doesn't even make any sense.  Point B: why on earth are you even telling me this?

Regarding Point A, we had to be the absolutely most distinctive pair in the store.  I had been wandering around for a while; I knew this.  Buttercup was the only Black person in the entire place, and I am one of the few White women with a Black baby in the entire state.  Race is something we humans instinctively recognize, so there is not the slightest chance that describing this characteristic would be misunderstood by any listener.

But even if one felt too squeamish about talking about race to use these words, we are still pretty easy.  One could just say "look for the woman carrying her toddler on her back," and you would have ruled out every single other person in Toys R Us, and probably everyone else to come into Toys R Us that week.  Everyone else had their toddler in the cart, from which they leaned out and grabbed things, or running around, which gave the toddler the opportunity to grab things and the parent the opportunity to say "no, leave that alone! come on!" seven million times in a row.  (I love toddler-wearing!)

Frankly, I think this second characteristic would have occurred immediately to anyone, unless their brain was completely spazzing from trying so hard to ignore what colors we were.

Or, you know, one could say something like "look for the mom in a blue shirt," which would not be as distinctive, but would have clearly been more information than the associate actually received.

Regarding Point B, if for some reason you have a brain freeze and couldn't think of how to perform your basic job of communicating to your co-workers, why would you explain that in great detail to your customer?

One possibility is that she was one of those people who does not have an "edit" function for her mouth, and just talked about whatever came to her mind.  Working with us had made her slightly uncomfortable, so it was on her mind, so she nattered on and on about it.

Another possibility was that she thought she was giving us a compliment, and didn't have the sense to remove the complimentary part from the rest of the nonsense she was saying.

But it was also likely that she was trying to prove how un-racist she was, by going out of her way to bring up an incident to prove that she didn't even SEE race, so she couldn't care less if I didn't match my baby.  As long as the baby is beautiful, I guess.

My friends, I have a public service announcement.  Black people know that they are Black.

Even Black 2-year-olds know that they are Black, and they know that other people are not Black.  And in this case, they know that their mother is not Black.  Toddlers may still be in the developmental stage when they think that if you put lots of white lotion on, your skin color will change color, but they do understand the current situation perfectly well.

Furthermore, mothers know when their children are Black.  I am 100% Northern European in descent, with blond hair and sunburns to prove it.  There are only two ways for me to end up with a Black child.  I could have adopted her, which is an involved enough process that I probably noticed that it happened.  Or her biological father could be very Black, and the child ended up a kind of middling color, favoring that side of her family.  In which case, I would have had sex with the fellow, and I would have noticed THAT at some point too.

What is more, everyone else notices what color everyone else is, too.  (There are a few people who are mixed enough in race, or have unusual characteristics, that it might actually be confusing, but in this case we are all pretty distinct.)  Science has proven that race is one of the things that we notice within milliseconds of seeing someone, and in milliseconds more we have made assumptions about the person as we insert them into a category.  Just like gender, or generation.

And friends, this is NOT a bad thing!  If we had to figure out everything about every person every time we met them, we would be paralyzed with trying to decipher why everyone was acting the way they were, and how to treat them.  One of the reasons that humans are able to have such complex societies is that we are really good at figuring out basic information about other people really quickly, before our conscious brain even starts working.  This gives us the ability to relate to people appropriately: we might use simpler language with a young child; wait to go through a doorway when we see an older person or some struggling to move pass through; speak respectfully to someone in an official uniform; or use business language to someone in a business setting and more informal language to a laughing barista in a coffee shop.  It means that I, as a mother of young children, might make a wry smile to another mother and comment on what a difficult time one of us is having, and we'd both share a laugh; that would come off as inappropriate if I were speaking to an older man in a suit, or be completely insulting to her if *I* were an older man in a suit.  It means that when we are in a familiar environment, we can recognize someone who doesn't "fit" into that environment and offer them extra welcome.  It means that most of us, by adulthood, can move seamlessly from one kind of human interaction to another: with friends, with people of different social status, in a business setting, ordering food, with children, solving a problem, being at work or being at the swimming pool.  This is the exact same part of the brain that tells us whether what race someone is -- except that the "race" identification happens even earlier in our mental process.

So when a human sees another human, they identify their basic characteristics -- including gender, race, and age -- and then the brain puts that information in a box, and spits out the analysis of how to treat the new human in front of oneself.  And THAT is where the danger can come in; not in identifying the race by itself.  The assumptions we make can help us relate to new people appropriately, or they can get in the way of appropriate interaction.

For instance, if a cashier sees that her customer is a child, she might automatically switch into simpler language or praise the child for saving her money.  But if she sees that her customer is a Black person and switches to the same kind of phrasing, that is not going to help their relationship.

In our own personal case, here is an example of an inappropriate mental thought process:
1. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ---> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> maybe she couldn't have her own babies ----> I wonder what fertility treatments she went through ----> she probably feels really bad that she ended up with a baby who doesn't look anything like her ---> I'll say how pretty the baby is, to make her feel better.

Here is an example of an appropriate mental thought process:
2. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ----> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> people who go through all the trouble of adopting usually really enjoy children ---> I'll ask her something about what the child enjoys doing, because she probably likes to talk about her kid.

Or here's an alternate appropriate example:
3. This lady has a Black child, but she's not Black ----> I wonder if the child is adopted ----> I don't really know anything about their situation, so I'm going to make a conscious effort to treat them just like every other customer, even though I'm kind of curious.

Here is an example of an imaginary mental thought process that is actually impossible:
4. I cannot tell any difference between the mother and child in front of me, compared to other mother-child pairs.

The first example results in an action that is nice on the surface, but other human beings -- equally adept at making instant judgements on very little information -- can sense that there's something "off" or condescending about the comment.  The second example results in an action that would be appropriate for almost everyone.  The last example is going to result in something awkward.

The third example really cannot go wrong.  That is the really great part about being human -- instead of, say, dogs, who often also can gain a lot of information about someone new almost instantly.  We have the mental capability to OVER-RIDE our instinctual information.  We can decide whether the information we have received is actually germane to the situation.  In our case, what was germane to the situation was that I had money to pay for my purchase, and I was acting appropriately for the context.  Usually, in modern America, especially within a business context, what race the person is should have nothing to do with the way we treat them.

Some of us may have so many positive or neutral impressions of a particular race (or people with tattoos, or in wheelchairs, or Down's syndrome, or wearing cowboy hats, or whatever jumps out at us), that their natural thought process will lead them to acting calmly and appropriately.  For instance, after living in a fully Black society as a young child, Emerson will probably have a more neutral impression of Black people than most of us can manage.

But when we do not have enough neutral impressions to create a neutral space for interaction, we each need to find the "over-ride" button until we are able to gather more information.  Denial does not work, and it doesn't fool anyone.

Trying to cut off the information our brain already has given us results in:
5. This lady has a Black child, but she is not Black ---> AGH!! EMERGENCY!!  I just thought about race ---> I must unthink this thought ---> black child! black child!! ---> but the harder I try to unthink it, that now becomes all I can see! ---> maybe I'll do something COMPLETELY RANDOM to fool everyone into thinking I'm not thinking what I'm thinking about ----> black black black black black!!!

There are a lot of possibilities for action after that thought process, but there really is no graceful way out!

I will see what I think after I have had more chance to gather information as a Surprising Person, and I would be interested to hear from other minorities as well.  However, my impression so far, is that if you can't manage the ideal #3 (over-ride), that #4 (ignorance) is impossible and we all know it, it is best to veer in another direction than aim for #5 (pretend I'm not thinking what I'm thinking).  For instance, it will be more graceful to acknowledge the internal debate and say, "oh, is she adopted?" than suddenly start chattering about how we look exactly the same, or stare at a corner of the ceiling and mention how beautiful she is.  Make sure you can manage to stop talking before you come out with something like "how much did she cost?", but a simple acknowledgement of the situation that everyone knows exists is unlikely to offend.

Unless you really aren't sure, and think she might be my biological child with a Black father.

In which case, "is that cash or credit?" and "would you like a bag today?" is a really appropriate conversation for the check-out lane.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Poison Control

Today I got to call poison control.  Luckily, the number was right on the toothpaste tube.

Buttercup is in this awful phase where she gets really really tired and grumpy, but half the time she can't (won't?) nap.  She has been so unpleasant for the last day and a half (since she hit nap time yesterday, and didn't take one) that as soon as she started laying on the table ("more snack please now!") and rubbing her eyes, I put her up on my back.  I really thought she would fall asleep.  She didn't.  I kept her there for an hour and a half anyways, hoping that at least getting some rest for her body would help her find some mental equilibrium.

I finally put her down after everyone was home from school, and they were playing in the bedroom.  I poked my head in a couple of times, and it seemed like a normal, happy game of "we're on an airplane."

Then the older two came out, and we were working on something.  I cannot even remember what it was, but it was something that they needed.  And at first I was thinking "good thing Buttercup isn't in the middle of this, because she would want to do it but just get in the way, and I'm glad that I can explain it at bigger-kid level."  Then I started noticing in the back of my head that it had been quiet on the Buttercup-front for a little bit too long.

I found her in the bathroom, standing on the stool with the water running in the sink.  So far, no surprise; I've caught her making a big, happy mess with pouring water in and around the bathroom sink before.  But what has she got in her hand?  A toothbrush.  In fact, to be specific, her brother's toothbrush.  And what is she doing with it?  Rubbing it on the bar of soap.  Yum!

As I took that away from her, I noticed the tube of toothpaste lying next to the sink.  It's Tom's of Maine kid toothpaste, and it has a flip-up top, but the whole top was kind of loosely screwed on in a suspicious manner.

Buttercup told me, "I go-ed sou-sou.  By MY seff.  And I washed. MY hands!  See, I washing dem." (That emphasis and stop at "my" is her usual phrasing.)
"And you brushed your teeth?" I suggested.
"Yes, an I buss.  MY teef!"

This was obviously a fairly incomplete description of the situation.

I tried to get her to describe if she ate the toothpaste straight out of the tube or put it on her toothbrush (or Emerson's toothbrush, as the case may be) over and over.  She just said yes to both, which might have mean she did both, or she might have just felt agreeable.  She was in a pretty good mood, as she was not only having fun but feeling virtuous for completing all these chores without assistance. When I used gestures, she made it perfectly clear that she thought sucking straight from the tube was a great idea, and yes she would have some more now!

Meanwhile, I was testing the tube to see how much was left.  It was still more than half full, I guessed, but it had been a new tube very recently.  The directions on the back said "call poison control if more than the usual amount used for brushing is swallowed," along with a description of the tiny amount that is supposed to be used for brushing.  Pea-sized, I think; I actually use more like a lentil.  I figured that somewhere around half a tube was more than pea-sized.  I didn't really think she was in grave danger, but I figured that I ought to call the number.  If, of course, I could manage to fight off all the children running around my legs and demanding my immediate attention.  And crying, because someone needed a nap, and instead, had had her beautiful soap-scrubber and water attraction removed.

Did you know Tom's of Maine has it's own, personal, poison control number?  Apparently it does, and that is who I reached.  There were a few preliminary questions about names and ages and so forth.

And that is when Hibiscus got the idea that I was "calling the police on Buttercup!"  At first she was frightened, but I told her I wasn't and to go away, and she kind of believed me but by then thought it was a really exciting idea, so she got all whispery and told her younger siblings about her new theory.

By the time I got off the phone, they were all waiting on tenterhooks for the police car to show up and take Buttercup away.  I explained -- perhaps without a good deal of patience left -- that I didn't call the police, and police don't arrest 3-year-olds anyways, but if you eat toothpaste it can make you very, very sick, so don't anyone do that again.

The poison control woman said that it wasn't that much, and at most Buttercup would have an upset stomach.  But I'm sure that if Hibiscus got the idea in her head to eat toothpaste, she would be much more efficient at it, and probably go through about four tubes in the time it usually takes her to pee.  So I wanted to make it very clear that this was a very bad idea, because generally they are all passionate about trying out each other's bad ideas.  As though, "if it was enough fun to make it worth trying for so-and-so, then I better try it too..."  So I sensed a toothpaste-eating explosion on my hands if not dealt with sternly!

Hibiscus quickly made the switch from police to "am-BOO-lance," and started looking out the window for one of those.  Buttercup started to cry.  Hibiscus danced in circles around her, saying "you're going to get SHOTS, you're going to have to get so many SHO-OTS!!" which quickly turned the crying into downright hysteria.

I picked up Buttercup and said that no one is getting any shots, and an ambulance isn't coming, and Buttercup isn't very sick right now, but no one was EVER to eat ANY toothpaste again.  I don't know about Hibiscus, who was probably enjoying creating drama more than actually believing it all herself, but I think the juxtaposition of "eating toothpaste" and "lots of shots" scared the younger two off of playing with the toothpaste for life!

I said that there were no doctors and no shots today, but Buttercup was supposed to drink a glass of milk.

Buttercup drank that milk with a dedication and singularity of purpose that was admirable to see.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Melatonin and Other Thoughts

I usually give small doses of melatonin to my kids at bedtime.  Yeah, yeah, I know there might be all kinds of mysterious side-effects, and it might not be safe to give every night, or even every week.  But anyone who wants to criticize or worry about this decision is welcome to come along and put my kids to bed, and is especially invited to show up on one of the nights that Hibiscus kneels on the floor and screams at the top of her lungs for ten minutes straight.... or thirty, or forty, and then throws up.  (Which, thank you God, has not happened in several months.)  I can practically guarantee that you will feel much more dismissive about the negative possibilities of melatonin, when faced with the daily realities of my kids at bedtime.

Besides, in the article about how dangerous it is for to use melatonin daily, always ends with some parent saying something about "I know I should have a routine and put the kids to bed at the same time every night, but it's just too hard for me, and that's just not our parenting strength, so we just give them melatonin instead."  Which makes it easy to feel superior to those weak parents who depend on chemical sleep aids.  But I have a routine that is as crystallized as knowing in which order we brush teeth, and who hangs up the towels, and it happens within fifteen minutes of the exact same time every day.  You can't get more precise than that when you have three chaotic children.  And I still start it off with melatonin.

But these poor kids have not yet been farther than a few weeks from changing families, changing houses, changing countries, changing schools, or changing available family members.  Life is rough.  It helps to be able to wake up in the morning well-rested, because you didn't spend two hours traipsing back out to the living room to ask mama if there are any monsters coming in the windows.  And I know that because I've forgotten once or twice.  No more.

Both of the older two children have serious regulatory and sensory issues, and I think that it is very likely that they would be the kind of children for whom doctors would actually prescribe melatonin -- in fact, my son's doctor actually did just that last year.  So I don't have much guilt about giving them a small dose every night, but Buttercup has a fairly balanced system, and I would like to get her out of the habit of needing it.

Today she didn't nap, and she did play outside a lot, so she was plenty tired, so I decided to give it a try.  Although Daddy left for Europe a week ago, so maybe "not in the middle of transitions" doesn't actually apply!

We got ready for bed on time.  We did our routine the usual way.  I turned off the light and started on blessings.  Buttercup was wiggly waiting for her turn, so after her blessing I reminded her to tell her hands to go to sleep, and no more banging and no more talking now.  Then I moved on.

While I was doing Hibiscus's blessing, despite reminders, I heard increasingly more thumping of pillows, chitter-chatter, and eventually the bed started shaking with some sort of gymnastics.  Maybe singing and wiggling oneself to sleep would be acceptable in some households, but all three of my children sleep in the same room, and Buttercup sleeps in the same bed with Emerson, who was already starting to fall asleep.  One singing child is going to set the whole place on fire with energy very quickly.

I tried to not interrupt Hibiscus's prayer time, but as soon as I was done, I snatched up the little firebrand and put her in the guest bedroom.  I plopped her on the bed and told her calmly and firmly it was time to go to sleep.  And I shut the door and left.

A few months ago, she was having sleep trouble, and she would wait quietly, and come out of the bedroom sadly after a while, and I would wrap her to sleep.  But that was when she was going through her "infant regression" sleep phase -- as I thought of it myself; it was also coupled with waking up four to six times a night and needing to be soothed back to sleep.  I didn't want to get into that habit again, as I felt like she was not doing any particular newborn regressing at this moment, she just wanted to stay up and play.  Besides, she will only nap when she is wrapped, which is okay, but she does need to fall asleep sometimes when she is not being worn.

Tonight I was surprised to hear nothing further after shutting the door.  But all parents know that silence can mean "trouble" as easily as it can mean "sleep," and I wanted to kiss her goodnight anyways.  So after five minutes or so I peeked in.

"Look, I do-ed it!" she greeted me cheerfully.  I think she meant getting the entire comforter off the bed, which seemed to be the change.  It's kind of a boring room.  I laid her back down and told her it was time to go to sleep.

"Now do bessings," she chirped.  I said goodnight.  "Now do bessings for me-eee!" she insisted.
"I've already done blessings for you," I reminded her.
"Is okay, do more bessings!' she suggested.
I declined, and continued to leave the room.
"Bad mama!" she yelled at my back, which is her go-to criticism lately.

As I left, she was starting to scream in the familiar toddler-not-getting-her-way sulky tone.  I shut the door.  There is no useful response to "bad mama!"

I did a few more things around the house, but the crying continued.  I was hoping that she would get tired of fussing, which happens sometimes, and either go to sleep, or I would go back in again at that point.  Then I figured that maybe we were trying cry-it-out, toddler version.  I would never, ever use cry-it-out with a baby, but I figure maybe the situation changes when the opening gambit is "bad mama!"

It wasn't more than a minute or two after the screams changed into real, upset cries, and no more than three of four minutes of crying total.  I had taken note before I left, and the room was boring but there was light coming in from outside, so it wasn't dark.  I didn't hear any bumps or sudden increases in volume that would indicate an accident, and no banging on the door.  It was basically long enough for me to gather what I needed to do, sigh, and gird myself for returning to the bedtime fray.

Adopted children can often have abandonment issues, and experts warn that forced isolation isn't the best parenting method for them, because it can awaken their deepest fears -- which does not help improve one's manners.  Just like any, ordinary, special child can have all kinds of fears or thoughts or lonelinesses, and I personally don't think that forced isolation is a good parenting method for any children, who can't explain themselves either.  So we didn't make it long enough to even kind of be a cry-it-out.

I went to check on her.  I could hear the door handle rattling, and I opened it up and found my little girl, totally hysterical.  I picked her up and she clung to my neck.

Then she threw up.  Then there was a giant explosion in her diaper region.  Then she had an asthma attack.

She was doing that sad and adorable little thing where she was trying to hold her vomit in her cupped hands; also while gasping for breath, and burping more vomit up.  I set her on the bathroom counter and cleaned her up and gave her her inhalers, and then I picked her up again.  More toots came cascading out.  I held her and rocked her and patted her back for a while, and she finally said something to me in her tiny little squeaky voice.

"What's that?" I asked.  "What do you want?"
"Me want to go sleepy... your back," she offered, and patted my shoulder suggestively.

After all that, I couldn't resist.  She went "my back," which means getting wrapped up.  She spent a long time snuggling and looking sadly over my shoulder, but finally I peeked up and the big eyes were closed.

So "left alone" is not an option.  I have ruled out "playing enthusiastically on sibling's bed.".  "Crying by self" is definitely a really, really bad choice.

Melatonin is looking better all the time.

Annie's Way in 10 Minutes

I got Annie's Shells and White Cheddar, which is mac and cheese in a box, to help me through the busy nights.  We got back today at only ten minutes until dinner time, which is kind of a disaster for the circadian rhythm of my household.  But luckily, the box promises "Annie's Way in 10 Minutes."  I assume these products are marketed in large part to parents and families, so it is a little confusing that apparently no one at the company has ever actually made mac and cheese and timed the real process.

The ten minutes is the time it takes the pasta to cook, and then make the cheese sauce.  Of course, they don't include the time it takes for the water to boil.  You can try to get around that by putting a pan on to boil while you are still getting children and gear into the house from the car.

The pot starts boiling at some point, and maybe that is the countdown they intended to indicate.  The 10 minutes apparently doesn't include reminding your children to put all their outdoor stuff back in their cubbies, or when they have to get their things from the car but are afraid to go alone, but all the children actually have to go, which should mean mom can be cooking, but somehow the little one is crying about being left behind and mom is helping her put boots on instead of salting the pasta water.  Then they come back, and the water is still boiling, and the 10 minutes do not include the part about the big ones complaining about wet feet, or explaining which chore one child must do, which involves mom being on the other side of the house, and then when you were going to go and actually put the pasta in the water, the little one is crying and getting underfoot, so you might as well wrap her on your back, because you're going to need to do it sooner or later anyways.

Putting the pasta in the water starts the 10 minutes, I believe.  One can add frozen peas and bits of cooked chicken from another night, which makes a more interesting and nutritious meal without actually adding to the 10 minutes, because you can do it while the pasta is cooking.  And with one child on mom's back, one child peacefully putting laundry away in his room (or something, but he was quiet and the laundry vanished), and the other child keeping up a running monologue as she folds paper bags, the pasta can cook in peace.  It is supposed to cook for 8-10 minutes.

By then, the children have finished their chores and are supposed to set the table.  If your pasta took 8 minutes, now you can spend two more minutes melting butter and milk and adding the cheese powder.  It does not include telling your daughter to stop playing with a yoyo and put out the plates, or your son to stop flapping his arms like a bird.  The table didn't need wiping, but the daughter insists on wiping it because she usually does, which means she needs to yell at her brother for trying to put something on the table, because now he's decided to stop flapping his wings and set the table.  The cheese sauce doesn't take very long, but by now the pasta is getting cold, so you put it all in the pan on low heat.  The 10 minutes apparently doesn't include telling the mid-table-wipe child four more times to stop playing with the yoyo.  Or unwrapping the small child to take her to the potty, which you can't do quickly because she yells "I'm not done!  I'm POOO-oooping!"  So you have to go back out, tell the children to put the yoyo down, stop playing, and possibly some of these instructions are delivered in a louder-than-average voice.  And stir the pasta which is sitting on the stove.  The argument about who is supposed to put the plates on the table does not actually take any of the cook's time, although possibly her energy.  The time it takes to wipe a poopy bottom is not included in the 10 minutes, except by now one of the children has become dedicated to the task at hand and has followed you into the bathroom saying "but what do I dooo-ooo! how do I set the taaaa-ble! what do I doo-ooo!" and you keep telling him to do what he does every night.  And when you go to pull up the little one's pants, it turns out she wasn't really standing up, and the sudden change in waistband elevation pulls her flat over onto her nose, and she starts screaming.

The 10 minutes does not include checking for bloody noses, while trying to answer "what do I dooo-ooo!" and tell someone else to put the yoyo down.  The yoyo-ing child's usual jobs are all things that are waiting on the yoyo-er, while the dedicated-to-working-or-yelling child has to wait for something else to happen (like: setting out cups; serving everyone water), so the cook has to spend her time telling the yoyo-er that she is forfeiting the chance to do her job if she doesn't actually do it, which she doesn't, so her brother eagerly dives at the plates with great earnestness, and the smugness that comes from being the one who is being better behaved at that moment.  The cook needs to stir the pasta again, but she can't serve it because she's still comforting the non-bloody nose, and hoping that being buckled in her booster seat will get the cryer thinking about something besides her nose.  The 10 minutes do not include the amount of time for a post-yoyo-ing child to throw a giant fit because she did not get to put the plates out, and the warming pasta needs stirring again.

The 10 minutes do not include the time necessary to locate everyone cups and lids, which invariably fall under everything else.  And the middle-of-the-table-setter is now really busy doing all his sister's jobs as fast as possible while she sulks, so it takes a while to get a coaster for the pasta pot, which is pretty hot by now.

I am not sure whether the 10 minutes are supposed to include the time while the cook slowly serves out pasta, and tries to keep it away from the littlest one, while the two older ones elbow each other out of the way to do the remaining chores as fast as possible, which includes delays like one child opening the silverware drawer, running off to something else, and the other child banging it shut again.  And debates whether it is meant to be a personal insult to be given the less attractive fork.

And in this secular country, they probably did not include the singing of grace as part of the 10 minutes, although it keeps food out of the children's bellies for a little while longer.

Come to think of it, maybe boxed mac and cheese is supposed to be marketed to college students.

Monday, February 17, 2014

In Non-Tropical Weather, I am a Very Mean Mama

The kids were playing crazily inside all morning, so after lunch I sent them outside instead of straight to quiet time.  By the time Buttercup got her outdoor gear on, the other two were ready to come in.  I told them that sorry, it was still outside time.  I put the visual timer in the window so they could see the rest of their half hour.

With ten minutes left, Hibiscus came in the door.  She had been well dressed for the cold, mostly because she got a new snow suit for her birthday, so she was wearing it.

"It's raining," she complained.
"Then put your hood up," I replied.
She came in the door and started to take her coat off, which is kind of the opposite of preparing for the rain.
"Hibiscus, your outside time is not over yet," I warned her.
"I know, but it's raining!" she exclaimed.
"I heard you the first time.  And did I answer, 'go ahead and come in,' or did I say 'then put your hood up'?"

She has experimented approximately every day about coming inside because she has taken off appropriate outdoor clothes, and discovered that I don't actually let her in.  Yesterday I found her sitting in the patio doorway, which was open around her.  We discussed outdoor time being over, which it wasn't, so I told her to go back outside so I could close the door.  She didn't.  She wanted to comb her doll's hair.  I told her to do it outside.  She still waited.  I told her I needed to shut the door.
"So say that thing that you say, and I'll do it," she said.
"Please sit outside to comb your doll's hair," I repeated.
"No, when you say, go in or go out, so I can shut the door," she suggested.  "Then I'll do that."

Yeah, nice try, kiddo, but that's one more choice than I'm prepared to offer!

So today she guessed that more arguing about coming inside might not get her very far, and she slinked outside again.  Immediately afterword, Emerson came up to the door, not dressed very properly for the weather.  I tell them to put on the right clothes, and I insist that they take the clothes with them, but I don't choose to make a fight about whether they actually put them on their bodies.  They can choose to be cold if they really want to.
"It's still outdoor time, so please go back outside," I warned him as he came in.
"It's raining," he announced sulkily.
"So put your hood up, and you'll be fine," I advised.
"But I'm too cold!" he wailed.
"Then put your coat on," I suggested.  Not exactly for the first time.
"It's too cold even WITH the coat!" he yelled.
Which is a little difficult to ascertain, given that he had not tried that method yet.
"I KNOW I'm going to be cold if I put my coat on," he sulked.  Which is possibly true, since he hadn't been wearing a coat for the last half hour or so already.
"Well, you're going to be less cold with your coat on than with your coat off," I reasoned.
"But I'm coming IN!!!" he yelled.  As he kicked off his boots and snowpants.
"No, you're not," I announced.  And I put him and his boots and his snowpants outside.  And his coat.

Last I saw, he was wearing them all.  And do you know what?  All the kids were having fun, too.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, to Hibiscus

Happy seventh birthday to my wonderful, beautiful daughter.

The sun is fading.  My birthday girl and her busy brother and outside, and the littlest one is in the most snug and cozy nap on my back (in Pavo Hearts, for those who are curious!).  It has been a full and wonderful day.  Hibiscus has the last of the kids' birthdays-in-a-row, and we only made it to America in time for this one.  It's the first birthday in her little life that she's actually gotten to celebrate, or that anyone has cared about at all.  Maybe she's an unusual child who will get to remember her first birthday party!

I hope it was a special day for her.  She and I went out to breakfast this morning, which was actually her very first chance at alone time with mama.  In Uganda, Buttercup had time with me while the big kids were in school, and Emerson got some occasional alone time when the girls had to be somewhere, but there was no logistical way to have Hibiscus with me when the other children were somewhere else.  Today, we selected a cake together, had waffles, and went to the grocery store to get ice cream and juice for the party.  We played Jenga while we waited for our food, and she quickly figured out how to test the blocks to see if they were loose, and control her extra movements to not knock the tower over, as well as waiting for her turn patiently, and discerning the pattern to which blocks could be safely moved.  After two rounds, she said "let's try something else" as she started to make shapes with the blocks.  She said she was making a fence for a horse, and I built a horse out of Jenga blocks inside her fence, which impressed her.  Then we built other kinds of towers.

We ate our waffles and ended up talking about school.  She described how one of the staff at her Ugandan school had pinched her and called her a "villager" because she was eating her eggs in the car, and we talked about how that made her feel.  Well, I talked about that, because she still doesn't really have feelings words yet.  Then I asked what happens at Waldorf school in America, and she described -- her tone is still reverent and shocked -- how when she can't do something at Waldorf school, the teachers HELP her figure it out.  I asked her which way works better, being made fun of or being helped, and she said it works much better when the teachers help her out.  I told her that it made me feel really good that I could send her to school at a place where I knew she was safe from being made fun of, and the teachers help her out, and I'm sorry that that happened to her before, but that was the best that anyone was able to do.

And that pretty much sums up my feelings about Hibiscus's birthday.  I am so intensely joyful for her presence in our family and in my life, and so intensely sorrowful about what I haven't been able to shield her from.  About the things that meant she was on the road to become part of our family.

Last night I went into a Hallmark store to pick out a card for her.  I wanted something sappy and sweet and beautiful, and I thought about the things I wanted to write inside.  I thought about some words that I would say to her, to give her some little message to hold onto about how precious she is to me.  So much of our relationship, so much of our lives, is full of frustration and trying to guide her into place, into control.  Self-control, hopefully; eventually.  I know this time is hard on her, but I have deep faith that eventually she will settle into something much stronger and more positive than if I just let her be crazy and do whatever she wanted to.  But these months have been so hard on me, too, and I have sometimes lost my own self-control.  If I can't model patience and fortitude, at least I try to model handling my anger in a non-destructive manner, and owning my mistakes and apologizing.  But I'm not a very demonstrative person, so I fear that the occasional outburst of anger overpowers my gentle demonstrations of love.  In her birthday card, I didn't want to bring up the difficult parts, but I wanted to tell her about how much I love her despite them.

I stood in front of the rack of "daughter" cards and actually started to cry, although it probably wasn't visible to an outside observer.  (I mentioned that I'm not demonstrative!)  I was so proud and happy to have a daughter, and have a daughter whom I could give a card to and was old enough to understand and care.  It was one of those moments when you can stop and think about your life, and I remembered that it wasn't very long ago that I didn't have any daughter at all, and now I have this amazing and lively girl who is turning seven, and that I'm the one who can teach her about love, and safety, and faith, and beauty, and being a woman.  That whole display of sweet pictures couldn't sum up how proud and happy I am to be a mother of a daughter, of my own daughter, my very special girl.

Then I opened up cards and started to read them, to pick one out.  First of all, it seemed like most of them were written to be given to an adult daughter, so some of them I had to put down because they described "now you've grown into," as though growing into being yourself is a process that is ever finished.  I kept skimming and reading.

They were all filled with phrases like "through the years," and "on the day of your birth," and "your birth made me a mother," and "I remember all your birthdays," and "every year since your birth," and so on and so forth.

And I still felt teary, but now they were suddenly angry tears, and I left the store without buying anything, and I didn't manage to give Hibiscus any kind of card at all.  Writing about love is probably more my way of showing affection than her way of receiving it anyways.

I wasn't there when she was born.  I didn't know I was a mother then, and in fact, I wasn't, because it wasn't my job to protect her and teach her about love, and safety, and everything else.  But then no one else did it either, and I wasn't there to step in and protect her, and make her world better.  I was far away and I didn't know anything about her, while she was learning about loneliness, and hunger, and that when the getting gets tough, no one is going to help you out.  And I haven't been with her through the years, and I haven't seen her change and grow through her birthdays.  A few days ago she was telling us about some scary things that happened in her old life, and then contemplating how she never had "a happy birthday" before, and she wonders why I didn't stop the bad stuff and help the happy stuff along.  And I say "I wish I could have been there, and I would have made the bad boys stop teasing you," and "I wish I could have been there, and I would have baked you a cake."  Solving the problems in fantasy helps her a little bit, and her sad face turns into a little smile, as she imagines me chasing those bad boys away.

My own heart pains with the desperation of that wish.  I know that it makes no logical sense, but how deeply and passionately I wish that I had been able to be there from the beginning.  That I could have put myself between her little baby self and the cruel world that assaulted her without cease.  That I could have picked her up every time she cried so she learned that trust is real.  That I could have fed her, and made silly faces with her, and taught her feelings words when she was a toddler.  I have some misty vision of myself, perhaps time-travelling, in her parents' shack when she was a newborn.  I would say something like, "she's going to be my daughter anyways, so why don't we just start right now," as I picked her up, and they already knew things were bad and had been in the middle of an argument about how they were going to take care of an extra person, a helpless girl, so they would have been just as relieved as they were almost seven years later in real life.  And it wouldn't have saved her all the pain of losing the family you are born to, but it would have saved her six and half years of pain.

But I can't give her that.  I can't give her all those cakes that she missed, getting to take the first bite, the chance to be the most important person of the day six more times.

So we did what we could for number seven.  She picked out a chocolate cake in the shape of a heart from the bakery, which also makes me a little sad, because I always make birthday cakes but I wasn't able to manage it in time for the party.  She did not get a balloon or a box of chocolate or a carton of orange juice in the store, because of course she suddenly wanted everything, but I was determined to keep the excitement of this day within the realm of what she could handle.  But she had some time when a mother paid attention just to her, and acted like she was valuable and reasonable.  And she had a party filled with people who love her, which was ourselves and two other families.  When we sang our blessing and I added a prayer of thanks, for her seventh year, and being finally back in America so we could celebrate it all together, the whole table resonated with agreement and thanks for being together.

And new clothes.  And a dollhouse.  I could give her all those things.

Some times all that seems so joyful.  And other times, it seems so paltry.

So today, very happy birthday to my daughter, my special daughter, the daughter who fills my house with laughter and with energy, my very own daughter.  This year, I will try and teach you about love, about safety, about faith, about beauty, about being a woman.  I will try and do the best I can, and I'm sorry that it's not enough; that I'm six years too late.  We will start with this day, and do what we can with tomorrow.  I love you so much.