La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for July 2011

Got this from my friend K-Tay, a valued member of my personalpentavirate. It’s all about a new wave of attempts to “ban” kids from various venues. NoKidsMovement

I have a few points to make, as a devoted mother who values our nation’s precious youngsters at every magical age:

1. Most of this article is kind of right. Nothing makes me more bitter than spending $15 an hour on a babysitter, only to find myself spending a nice evening in a nice restaurant with a couple who did NOT hire a babysitter. You need to keep your young children at home–where they can go to bed at a decent hour–or you need to buy me a couple of drinks for my troubles.

2. “But how will the children ever learn to eat in a nice restaurant if you never take them?!” Yes, my two year-old is SOOOOO soaking up the finer points of etiquette as espoused by Emily Post at 8pm over a white tablecloth. Please. She just learned to not crap in her pants or bite other humans. I’m thinking we have some time before we need to take her to L’Espalier for her own social edification. The kid is what we call “our drunk uncle” by 6pm every night, especially since giving up her nap. She is in no way developmentally or behaviorally able to do anything but be a goddamn pain in the ass in the hours before her bedtime. Not because she’s ill-behaved by nature but because she is TWO. Which is why when people say, “Should we get together with the kids for dinner?” The BBDD and I always look at each other and say, “Noooooooooooo, we should NOT! We’ll see you at 8:30am for a nice breakfast and then you’ll think we’re awesome parents with above-average children.” Any other time, meal, attempt at refreshments is only going to demonstrate the bedlam that defines our household when children are tired, hungry or tired and hungry…or, like I said, TWO.

3. On the other hand, if you go to a restaurant that has children’s menus on the placemats and a swath of booster seats near the entrance, then you need to either eat later or go to a better restaurant. Don’t get all uppity about the sanctity of your Bennigan’s, asshole. It’s 5:30 on a Thursday. You saw the mac and cheese/chicken nuggets plates coming out with crayons. You knew what you were buying. I remember living in DC where some residents of Georgetown would complain constantly about boorish student behavior in the streets. Um, let me get this straight. You bought your million dollar townhouse TWO BLOCKS from a university that has been there for hundreds of years–and you’re surprised that you have 19 year-olds barfing on your front stoop? Cry me a river, idiot. Much the same way, you cannot tell me the shrimp scampi is so awesome at the Macaroni Grill that you just have to keep returning to enjoy it in spite of the rotten kids present. Go somewhere else. Or come later. Either way, get over yourself. Kids gotta eat too, which means parents have to eat that stupid food as well. Nothing makes me feel less of a woman than ordering a “rooty tooty fresh and fruity” meal. It’s like they name the dishes to taunt you. So believe that I am suffering too.

4. I think kid-free shopping at Whole Foods is the most hilarious thing I have ever read. Do people with kids actually shop at Whole Foods? I guess they do, if their kids don’t need shoes or clothes or a mortgage payment made on their behalf! My neighbors and I shop at three different markets to get the best prices–and please believe me when I say that none of them include Whole Paycheck. I once did a test-shop there, buying everything I buy at the Stop & Shop except for paper products. So, food only. We spent $185 more that week than any other week ever. The BBDD got all pale when I shared my receipts and he said abruptly: “Experiment over!” We may still be paying off that half-pound of peaches… “Oh, but the quality is so much better!” I don’t doubt it, and you go ahead and enjoy it. Until my kids are out of college, we’ll go with the totally acceptable quality of Stop & Shop, thank you. My kids will do what I did as a kid, which is eat fruits and vegetables IN SEASON and enjoy the anticipation for the rest of the time. Yes, very “green” of Whole Foods to use all that fossil fuel to fly in those strawberries year-round and charge you $7 a pound for their efforts…

5. Moving on, I’ve saved the best for last: the “no kids allowed to play outside of the condos” effort. Well, I think this is up there with trying to make people not smoke in their houses or cars. Wouldn’t a more productive solution be to band together and create an outside area for everyone? There’s that. Or, you know, the dinosaurs could just get comfortable with the fact that CHILDREN EXIST and that, unfortunately for their nightly games of canasta and reruns of Matlock, children must play. I mean, they are seriously advocating fines for “violations” of policy, which by their reading, would mean a kid riding a bike. How shitty and grumpy can one community be? Or, how about we don’t let them play outside but rather have them inside playing violent video games that glorify the vandalism of senior citizen homes? Everyone here needs to get a grip. The absent parents AND the idiots trying to legislate kids playing. Good grief.

In short, as always, this article highlights the nonsense that occurs when people don’t do their jobs. Parents: control your children. Teach them that, although they are valuable and wonderful creatures designed by God Himself, that they are not in fucking charge; YOU are. And that means that a tear or two must fall. A parent must find herself publicly embarrassed by a tantrum that will not be acceded to. A child must internalize that s/he does not control the movement of the planets, none of which equates to how much they are loved. By the same token, non-child people (including those whose kids have grown up) need to remember that acting like an asshole is never the best way to teach a kid to stop acting like an asshole.

Which means that you must never barf on THEIR doorstep, no matter how badly you want to.

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July 20, 2011
We went to Bambina’s Finding Spot today. Much more specifically I will not say, since it is not my story to tell. The BabyDaddy and I have never told people where Bambina was placed (Bambina likes the term “placed” instead of “found”), mostly because we believe–for any child–that an adult’s choice of location says absolutely nothing about the child. We’ve always tried to make it a value-free location, simply because–again–what if a child were placed out of necessity somewhere people might gasp at? What would it say about the baby who had been found? Less Than Zero. So we never wanted to say, “Oh, the place is pretty, so your birthmom must have loved you!” Because what if someone she knows has a not-so-pretty spot? It invites the comparison, and an invalid one at that. Who knows what the birthparents were up against? Who knows what their options were? Who are we to attach some ex-post-facto value to any decisions birthparents make? Trying to create meaning out of something like a finding spot speaks volumes about the person creating the meaning but still says nothing about the child. More importantly, being all giddy about a spot puts the adult’s feelings about the place front and center for the child, who will experience that spot in a very different way than you will.

So when we got there I was sure I’d be a weepy mess, but as in all things adoption, I take my cues from the Bambina who was not seeming like she needed me to get all worked up in the moment. I asked her how she was feeling about “all this” and she didn’t reply. I offered that it is okay to have no idea how to feel about it, to decide later, and to change her mind several times even after that. I knew I’d nailed it because she immediately wanted to play one of those endless 2nd grade girl hand-clapping games “tic tac toe, gimme an x gimme an o, gimme three in a row…” Bambina always wants to move onto the next, unrelated thing once she has garnered all the information she needs to think something over. Which I’m sure she will, over the next weeks and months and years.

The key, I think, for adoptive parents (and really all parents in matters of family emotional events) is recognizing that your journey is different and separate from your child’s. I see her placing spot and I think with three minds:

Her mama: So this is where your journey to me began. I could kiss this ground.

Her mama feeling for her birthmother (whom Bambina calls her Chinese Mother): I can’t put myself in your shoes. I don’t know how you found the strength to say goodbye to her, but I thank you. Today your daughter has returned to you here, full circle. I wish you peace, mother friend.

Her mama watching her: I now know why you prefer “placed” instead of “found.” Because this little piece of ground is as far back as we can go in your life history, and that life history begins with your Chinese mother who placed you–not with the person who found you. All you have about your origins starts here. Just you and your mother. An ending and a beginning.

There is a book Bambina likes called, “The Three Names of Me.” It’s about a Chinese-born adoptee who likes soccer and playing with her family, etc etc. She tells us all about herself, including the fact that she has three names: Her Chinese name, given by her orphanage. Her family name, given by her American parents. And her First name, the one her birthmother whispered in her ear before saying goodbye. She doesn’t know the name but it is part of her forever. Bambina loves to believe that she too has a name whispered to her by her Chinese mother.

I decide, standing in this placing spot, gazing upon flowers and plants and the amazing human who is my daughter, that I believe it too.

July 19, 2011
We drove four hours to Bambina’s hometown to the West. The drive was breathtakingly scenic; I only recall oohing and aahhing this much in Hawaii. Lush green mountains partially obscured by subtropical clouds. Palm trees. Lotus farms. Rice farms. Trees on top of more lush, verdant trees.

Bambina’s town is the now-textbook Chinese mix of agrarian poverty and palatial, high-end luxury living. This is recent, of course. Back when Bambina was a bambina, it was almost entirely agrarian. The architecture reminded me of the West side of Los Angeles; those red-roofed hacienda-style homes that say, “I’m near the beach but not AT the beach.” Nestled side by side with these gorgeous developments (which you should buy now at rock-bottom prices), are the old box-style buildings, kind of shabby, all painted some variation of Miami Beach pink or blue, but without the jaunty gay insouciance. It’s clear that many people here live in poverty. It’s clear that many people here live in spectacular wealth. Our hotel, for example, had the freakin’ Sistine Chapel paintings inside. Unbelievable opulence, and all for the price of a night at a Newark Best Western.

We were the only lao-wais (foreigners) in town. Our guide said that the only Westerners who come here are visiting the orphanage, so we are few and far between. Which explains why I was not the second coming of Madonna as I first thought, but rather the weirdest effing human these nice people had ever seen in the flesh. We went to the supermarket to buy diapers and formula for the orphanage, and we pretty much brought business to a halt. Random people came up and asked to have their photo taken with me. At first I was like, “how nice! I rule! Makin’ friends!” but after the 7th person I realized that I was a space alien, a circus freak and I started to feel weird. Everyone was lovely and friendly and practicing their English with us, but I definitely understood (as certain Westerners don’t [I’m talking to you, asshole American frat boy in the Beijing airport talking loud on your cell phone about how everyone is staring at you because your hair is light and awesome]) that people are not staring because they think you are beautiful and awesome and want to be like you. They are staring because they genuinely are trying to figure out how you go around looking like that. In a nice way, of course. {As an aside, I recall furtively staring at the intensely black African man who pulled my coffee at the DC Starbucks, feeling just awestruck at his amazing skin, because (I know I sound like a rube) I had never seen skin so very very black before in my life. I was transfixed on him.} So I get it. It’s not ill-intentioned, and they might actually like your hair or skin or whatever. But they can’t stop staring… and that weirds Westerners out. Like me.

Anyhoo. More importantly, one person NOT feeling like a freak was Bambina. My sweet Bambina, who has always wondered aloud why her skin is brown when even her Chinese-American friends’ skin is ‘kind of white.” Who sort of humored us but never really bought into the idea that somewhere on this Earth there live millions of people who look just like her. Well folks, today was the day and I could have cried. An entire city jammed with brown-skinned Chinese people, all mostly under the 5’8″, 120 pound mark. I could see it in her face, her eyes, her demeanor: Mecca. Here in YangJiang, China, Bambina is not “so little! So petite! So cute!” Nope. She was just another girl in the big city. As evidenced by the fact that no one wanted a photo of her at all. She could finally just blend in, go under the radar, and not be harangued about her small stature. She was home. Where she would go completely unnoticed, if not for the presence of her big nosed, fluorescent, sideshow parents.

Very few people ever get to see me cry. If you’ve missed out on this spectacle, you should have been at the Beijing airport as they told me that I actually had no ticket to get to Guangzhou. You know, the place where my husband and daughter are meeting me. The place I have to be tonight without fail. The place where we depart in 12 hours for Bambina’s hometown. The place where the last flight arriving tonight is THIS ONE. The one you say I’m not on, even though every shred of paper I own says I am. Yes, you are about to see a crazy foreign lady lose her shit right here at this window.

It’s a long, convoluted (and I found out later, common) story of how my ticket was changed by the United person when she checked my luggage from Boston to Beijing to Guangzhou, even though my flight to Guangzhou was on their codeshare Air China. Blah blah. Internal systems errors and whatnot. The upshot is, I am very seriously ready to cry because the layover is not very long and I need to be gettin’ on if I’m getting on. So I thought things were pretty bad. And then my phone died. Then I remember, with a grim combination of acid stomach and acute despondency, that even if I should find a public computer, every single email or trip contact number is in my gmail account. Gmail by Google. Google which is banned and inaccessible in China. I am stranded, and oh yes, I am FUCKED. I don’t need to elucidate all the ways in which this was a scary and unpleasant turn of events for a control freak like me, even someone who feels at home in China.

With one hour to go it became apparent to me that my only option is to purchase another ticket to Guangzhou and fight with United later. Did I mention economy was full? (Please believe you do not want to fly stand-by in China, a country of 1.3 billion people. Those are odds you don’t want to bet against). So out came the bank card (after the credit card was denied, of course, because I’m spending major ducats IN CHINA. That’s not suspicious at all.), and well, let me just say that at least I won’t be home when the mortgage check-bounce notice arrives…

So I get on the plane to Guangzhou. I hear you exhaling in relief. Not so fast, Sunshine. Because my plane is delayed for 90 minutes on the tarmac (Beijing Airport is the Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare of China). I arrive super late, and see (mistakenly) that the BabyDaddy and Bambina’s flight arrived two hours ago. I miss the guide waiting for me, and after wandering around looking clueless for 30 minutes (and, to be honest, having had my fill of airport strandings for one day), I follow the tour company’s emergency directive to get a cab to my hotel and call from there.

Fantastic!, you say. Except I STILL don’t have the tour company number, nor the BBDD’s pandaphone number, nor any way to charge my phone to send an email that I hope he might check. So after being heismanned by the dude behind the desk at the hotel, I follow the BBDD’s advice about receiving news you don’t like from a corporate employee: “Just ask someone else.” So I go to the concierge, who not only lets me use her desk computer, she volunteers that the hotel can loan me a charger with a Western voltage adapter. Five minutes later, I’m texting my mom and sister to look up the tour company in Minneapolis, to call my guide in China, to tell her I’m at the hotel, twenty miles from her. Come to find out, the arrivals information was incorrect on the screen and everyone had been searching for me for two hours at the airport, fearing that I’d collapsed in a bathroom stall or something. Nice! Like I’d die an Elvis-style death on this, my child’s special trip!

So when can you exhale? At 2:12am, when finally we were all together, just where we needed to be.

One of the key qualities I want my girls to have is that combination of abilities we refer to as “social skills.” We grew up rather poor, as did my mom, but she always felt that appropriate social skills would take us far in life regardless of our origins. That you may not have on the best clothing, but if you can chat with anyone—up or down the socioeconomic scale from you—then you would do just fine. If you could find something worthwhile about every person you meet, regardless of his or her background, you would project a likeability that would carry you from success to success. She was right, of course. But this discipline required us to be polite to people we despised (“Politeness does not imply that the other person deserves it, but it does imply a lot about YOU”). It required us to pretend to like gifts we hated from a very young age (“If you’re going to be rude about this gift, why don’t I just take back all the other gifts too?”). It required us to think of something nice to say about someone—or to keep our cakeholes shut (“If you can’t say something nice…”). It required us to refrain from discussing another’s appearance, weight, religion or apparent illness without that person first bringing it up. (“Mummy, why does that lady have such fat ankles?” smack! to the head—with prejudice—and then an interminable lecture about the definition of “incredibly rude”).

All great lessons, all of which I endeavor to teach my girls; some of which I still remember to practice. What makes these lessons difficult, of course, is the terrible behavior of grown ups around my kids.

“Oh my god, she is so little!”
“Oh, the young one is much bigger. She’s going to be giant.”
“I love her hair! So much nicer than it used to be.”

Okay, adults. Here’s a refresher course for you, straight outta Grandma Jones’ Book of I-Will-Kick-Your-Rude-Ass-If-You-Embarrass-Me Discipline

A polite person does not refer to a person’s appearance in any way, beyond offering a compliment. Please note that a compliment involves a single sentence stating that the person “looks great” or “has a beautiful smile” or whatnot. Please understand that the moment you add any additional commentary referring to any improvement you perceive, your feelings about the improvement, your thoughts on why the improvement/complimented quality is important/different/ better—you have just crossed the line into delivering an ASSESSMENT. Everyone loves compliments. NO ONE loves assessments—or the people who deliver them. Don’t assess my kids, and I’ll make sure they don’t assess you–or your fat ankles.

In addition, whatever the practice may have been in 1930 or 1940 or even 1977, in today’s world we do not talk to young girls about their size. I mean, you can if you want to. But you’d better save up your money because please believe I will be sending you the therapy and hospital bills when I have an anorexic or bulimic on my hands. I’m really very serious, my friends. If you want to fuck a girl up, you just go ahead and discuss her body size as if you’re discussing the weather. The overt and covert messages being delivered to young girls today about what is a worthy size to be is beyond what you can even begin to imagine. In our house we do not discuss body size or shape at all, except to say that we are all the precise body type that God created us to be. If Mama were any taller I’d look silly because I was born to be petite. If a tall person were to be shorter, they would look funny because they were born to be tall. We all look exactly the way we are supposed to look. End of story. Our skin color, our hair, our feet, our arms, our faces, our legs—all are exactly as God designed them for us through our birth parents. If anyone tries to tell you that you should look different than you do, they are “dumb” because you can’t and shouldn’t change who you are.

And yet the “compliments” continue. Oh, she’s so cute and petite! Thanks. And her little sister—who is bigger but NOT DEAF—just heard you fawn over her older sister for being what you consider to be an “okay” size. You think you delivered a compliment. But what you did was deliver your ASSESSMENT of my child’s build—with a side of body dysmorphia. And I am displaying excellent manners by not punching you in your fat stupid face.

Likewise, the older “petite” sister gets irritated when people just have to stop and say “how big and tall she is! She’s going to catch up to her older sister in NO TIME!” And now you have offered your ASSESSMENT of my younger daughter’s size. She may be clueless to it now, but it won’t be long until she hears the word “fat” where you said “big and tall.” She will begin to compare herself to her older sister, in the tradition of impolite adults around her, and I fear she will internalize some sense of obesity even though she is and has never been remotely overweight.

I could go on about the stuff said to me regarding my hair, my weight, my face, whatever. But I’ll just put it like this: Good manners are pretty damn simple, folks. Say something nice: “You look fabulous!” And then STOP TALKING. Thank you!

Inspired by Beth at bethsits.blogspot.com, inspired by Whimsy.

I am from hot porridge with cold milk, Vicks Vapo Rub under my stuffed up nose, and birthday cakes with 5 pence pieces hidden inside.

I am from the “transitional” neighborhood, the smell of Portuguese and Puerto Rican dinners wafting out the triple decker windows at 5, the mercado on the corner near the Liberty Bell roast beef.

I am from the thistle, the poppy fields, the River Avon teeming with tadpoles, from poison ivy, maple syrup and Forest Lake, the town pond where I saw catfish, learned to swim and got to drink can after can of Waist Watchers Lemon Lime soda.

I am from First Footers on New Year’s Eve and relentless “jokes” about your teenage screw-ups, I am from the Scotty who was really John who finally mellowed into JP, and the McSorley who never met me–or apparently a pub he did not like–but would have been chuffed to know me I’m sure, from She Who Must Be Obeyed, and from Z, the Russian Jews who now number me and my children among their own.

I am from the mock what you do not understand and never let them see you cry. From you have such a pretty face. From E will lose the weight when she is ready. From “the greatest of these is Charity.”

From you are made of sterner stuff and don’t let the bastards grind you down. From never be dependent on a man, and always know how to change your oil and your tire. From “that sounds like a rich people problem.”

I am from Calvin, Synods, Presbyteries. Which is to say: Thank God We’re Not Methodist. I’m bat Avraham v’ Sarah. In my heart if not in my attendance. I am from “Israel” because I Wrestle With God every day in our break up/make up endless cycle. I am from doubt and confusion and a total lack of faith. I’m from–yeah I said it–I don’t really care.

I’m from Lanark, but only the hospital. My real town is much smaller and poorer and sweeter of memory, even though by American standards we Scots were the kind of poor that merits the word “po’.” I am from haggis and neeps. Spaghetti Bolognese. Steak-Umm sandwiches. Kam Sing fried rice. What the hell is “hummus?”

From the dad who brought old colleagues like toothless Kilty McPhee to life (“here’s the puckin’ ebident!”), from the mum who despised the dad from minute one, finding him rude and annoying–until he wore her down with sheer will, from the grandmother who told me I was her “second best” grandchild.

I am from the giant black leather bible, the first locks of mine and my siblings’ hair as babies preserved as if in amber, my brother’s as white as snow, my sister’s red as a strawberry, and mine just blonde. I am from my Great Uncle Charlie’s RAF WWII flight book, with the last page abruptly inscribed “Missing. Presumed Dead.” The letter from the King expressing his sorrow on Gavin and Peg’s loss. The photo of him from which I wishful-imagined him living happily and incognito somewhere near Dresden. From Eccentric Eddie and Church Lady Chrissie and Mary Mary Why Ya Buggin. From Guangdong Province and Jiangsu Province. From the unknown but not unloved birth mothers who gave me my daughters and my life as I know it. From the vast enormity of Chinese history and from the everyday lives of the unknowable families with whom I share an unbreakable and sacred bond.

I’m from there and then to be sure, and from all of the theres and thens in between. But I’m mostly from right here, from All I Need Is Now.