Friday, February 27, 2009

B's got the cat flu

We woke up at 2:00 this morning to a panicked "Mommy! I bawfed!" followed immediately by the unmistakable sound of more barfing. Poor little dude was sick as a dog. Errr, a cat, I mean. M helped him to the bathroom while I cleaned up the mess. As I was headed down the stairs in the dark with an armful of barfy bedclothes, I very narrowly missed stepping in not one but two huge piles of cat barf on the steps. Why must they barf on the steps?! And always on carpet? Good grief, only three rooms in our entire house have carpet, yet the dumb cats NEVER barf on the hardwood floors where it's easy to clean up. Then I found another half dozen cat barf sites this morning in the light of day. Gross.

At one point, we very nearly took B to the emergency room last night. He was screaming his head off, writhing in pain. It went on & on & on, and we were starting to think he had a burst appendix. But I finally got him calmed down enough to explain that when your tummy's upset, the best way to help it feel better is to lie still and be quiet. He tried that out, and the screaming/writhing went away.

B seemed better at first this morning, until he walked into Z's room where I was getting her dressed. When he opened his mouth to say something to me, he projectile-vomited all over the floor instead. The floor covered with an unwashable throw rug whose colors run when they get wet; lucky for him I'm much more forgiving toward kid barf than cat barf. Plus I'm the one who was stupid enough to put an unwashable rug on the floor of a kid's room, so really it's all my fault, not his.

Now it's late afternoon and he really does seem better. He's running a fever but has managed to keep his stomach contents in his stomach since the morning projectile vomiting episode. The cat is better too.

I hope I don't get it next. I've already had the stomach flu at least three times that I can think of in the past year and I really don't need it again. But he did insist on sleeping all snuggled up with me for the rest of the night, so my odds of dodging it aren't very good. I have been engaging in an OCD-level of handwashing though. And not eating much, just in case it decides to come back up later on.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The dress

Per Hayley's request, here is a picture of the dress I made for Z last weekend:

It's mostly made of scraps from a quilt my mom is making her, except for the big turquoise floral. That was a scrap left over from some ruffly, retro-y aprons I made a couple years ago.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Alien pizza

My aunt Catfish is legendary for her gift-giving skills. This year for Christmas, she sent B two cooking kits: one for alien pizza and one for magic wizard cookies. BTW, Z got a hokey-pokey skirt -- it's a super-twirly dance skirt that plays the hokey-pokey. She adores it.

So B and I finally got around to making the alien pizza on Sunday. Here he is, ready to go:

And here is the kit before we got started:

Notice how when we started to combine the water and the dough mix, it began to look a little green around the edges:

And still greener:

Here it is after it came out of the bread machine:

Here it is ready to go into the oven:

Note how the sauce on the pizza on the left looks a little purplish. That's the sauce that came in the alien pizza kit. I was a little dubious about the purple sauce, so I made the second pizza with boring old red sauce, just in case the purple stuff was nasty. That was a good move, as it turned out.

We discovered that green pizza crust is quite tasty, but purple sauce is NASS-T. Even B & Z wouldn't eat it. It didn't help that it turned black when we cooked it. Yuck-o! But the other pizza was yummy. Maybe next weekend we'll try the magic cookie kit. I think they come out sparkly. I love anything sparkly, so I bet they'll be delicious!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Our parenting struggles and our guides

Parenting has always been a challenge for us. Neither of our kids is "easy." These are things that I don't post about often. I wrestle with the clash between my desire to protect my kids' privacy, and the urge to talk publicly about their struggles both to help other families who are in similar situations and to help myself sort out my thoughts through writing. But I've made a huge realization over the past few months, and I've been feeling more and more driven to share it.

M and I are trying to make some dramatic and fundamental changes in the way we parent our kids. It's made me do some serious navel-gazing about why I've been parenting the way I have, why my kids push my buttons and make me angry, and what I need to do to change. It's a hard road for me, because I think I'm something of a control freak (I can hear M laughing already) and this parenting style demands that I let go in a big way. It's forcing me to face some not-so-pleasant things about myself, and making me want to be a better parent and a better person. I see this as a long journey that I've just begun, but its results look promising for me and my family.

A New Feature on My Blog
This will turn into a long post, so before I get started I want to introduce a new feature on my blog: I've created a list of links on the right to a handful of parenting books that have struck a chord for M and me. There's more about them further down in the post, but I wanted to make the list a permanent feature on my blog. These are books that will help any parent with "difficult" kids, but they are not discipline books. They focus instead on the relationship between a parent and a child, and how strengthening that relationship can more-or-less take the place of discipline. They are helping us to build stronger bonds between us and our kids, and we hope that they will ultimately make our kids happy and secure, and make our home a peaceful and joyful place most of the time (nobody can expect perfection, right?).

So on to a discussion of our parenting challenges. I'll talk today about why B and Z are sometimes tough kids to parent, and what we've found that's helping. A big piece that will be missing today is my own set of challenges. I don't want you to think I'm ignoring my own issues and blaming all our struggles on the kids: I'm just leaving that piece for another day.

Z's Challenges
Z's issues are easy to understand: abandonment, orphanage care, and adoption are all traumatic events that leave deep psychological and emotional wounds. That's generally accepted these days, I think. But for the most part, Z is easier to parent these days than B. I don't think that will always be true. I think part of the reason she's easier is because she's still so young. It's hard to separate two year-old behavior from trauma-induced behavior. Then there's also the attachment piece. A year has gone by, but we're still working on that. I think Z will begin to challenge us more when she's four or five. She'll be more complex then, or at least her complexity will be easier to recognize. And I hope our attachment will be closer to complete (I believe it's an ongoing process between parents and children throughout childhood, and hesitate to ever call it "complete"), allowing her to show us her pain more than she can today.

B's Challenges
B is our challenge these days. He has never been easy, not even as a newborn. He was fussy back then, and didn't learn to sleep until he was about eight or ten months old. He has always been very active and impulsive, and was definitely a "terrible" two year-old. Actually, his tantrums started when he was about 1.5, and haven't gone away yet at age five. We read every parenting book out there, I think, looking for a parenting strategy that would be effective with B. Supernanny. Dr. Sears. Happiest Baby & Toddler on the Block. Parenting with Love and Logic (we even took a six-week class). We tried nearly every discipline technique they described. Time-outs. Naughty step. Consequences. Rewards. Charts. I even spanked him once or twice. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, helped. He just got angrier, and we felt more and more miserable. It didn't feel good to send B to his room when he was screaming and crying. We felt mean taking away something he loved or wanted as a "consequence." It wasn't helping anyone.

Adjusting to our new family has been very hard for B, and has brought to the surface some old emotional wounds we really never knew he had. He's a very sensitive and intense little boy, and has an overdeveloped sense of justice. He is also still very impulsive. And his entry into this world was very traumatic. The lasting impact of this last fact is something we've only begun to realize in the last few months. Adding an adopted toddler to a family where this complex kid had always been an only child has turned out to be a volatile combination. B is so deeply loved, but is still a sad and scared little boy in many ways. He is threatened by Z and our love for her, and feels out of control of his own life. This is all a lot of stress for any kid to handle, but a kid who bears emotional scars from a traumatic birth has a much, much harder time dealing with it all. It's given us a new perspective on who B is, and how we need to respond to him.

What We've Found that Helps
Over the past five years, and especially in the last year, we have found a small set of parenting books that we love, and that have begun to help us to be better parents, and B to be a happier child. In the long term, they will help us to be better parents to Z too. They all share some common characteristics: they emphasize the importance of unconditional love, and define rewards, punishment, and parent-imposed (as opposed to natural) consequences as conditional love, and a withdrawal of love, at least from the child's perspective. They place high value on communication between parent and child. And they demand that parents respond to the child's feelings, rather than the child's behavior. These books are listed on the right.

Why It's So Hard
None of this is as easy as it sounds. For most of us, everything we experienced as children, and everything we've learned and read about parenting, tells us we should not accept a child's misbehavior. Hitting, lying, tantrums, etc. demand that we somehow punish the child. We must teach the child that these are not acceptable behaviors, and the child must learn the appropriate ways to behave. Some methods have us use time-out, others recommend taking away something the child values, or sending the child away from the table without dinner. Others claim to be more empathetic, and counsel us to explain gently to the child why we're doing this, and reassure them with words and a hug that we love them as we're sending them off to their room. What all this advice has in common is that it tells us to address the child's behavior as the primary problem.

These books we've found recommend something that feels unnatural: don't punish the behavior, but seek instead to heal the fear that is behind it. Almost all of a child's "misbehavior" is driven by fear. Punishing the behavior only increases the fear. Soothing the fear may not always make the problem behavior go away in the immediate present, but in the long-term, it will make things better. The child will be happier and more secure, and the home will be more peaceful.

But it is SO hard to implement. When B punches me in the nose, I don't WANT to say "B, I love you, and it's going to be OK," and I don't WANT to follow it up with a hug to the tasmanian devil that is B in that moment. What I WANT to do is yell, "OUCH!! Don't you dare punch me!" Or if I were totally honest, what I REALLY want to do, deep down inside, is punch that little brat back (not that I would ever act on that childish impulse, let's be clear about that). What the allegedly empathy and attachment-focused books tell me to do is calmly say, "B, that hurt. Punching is not OK. You need to go have some quiet time in your room until you've calmed yourself down."

But you know what? There's a reason B punched me. It wasn't because he's a spoiled brat. It was because he felt threatened for some reason, and hasn't learned to control that impulse to hit. If I can figure out why he feels threatened, and reassure him that he is safe, secure and loved, eventually that stressed-out feeling of threat will go away, and at the same time he'll become more emotionally mature and learn to control that impulse to hit. He's only five, so he can't figure it out himself. He probably isn't even aware that he's scared or feels threatened; he's just got a big bad feeling inside, and the impulse to punch me. Sending him to his room is going to scare him more, and isn't going to help him sort his feelings out. He needs me to help him do that.

The Big Picture
It's a long-term view of parenting. It's focused on the person we want him to grow into, and how our behavior and responses can nurture that. It demands that we tolerate a lot of "misbehavior" in the present, and resist the urge to respond in the manner in which we've been conditioned to respond. It also demands that we become rather introspective, and examine why we feel those impulses to respond with punishment and anger.

It's hard. But it's beginning to work. A couple weeks ago, B was having a total melt-down: screaming, crying, thrashing, hitting, kicking. I laid him on his bed, sat down next to him, put my hand on his back, and said, "B, I know you're having a hard time, and I am so sorry. But it's my job to help you, and I love you so much. I want you to know that it will be OK. It will be OK." Know what happened? He stopped screaming, hitting, kicking and thrashing. He kept sobbing, but the anger went away. I was able to just sit there and hold him until he felt better, then we went on with our day. It was miraculous! I'd never seen him so easily soothed. It didn't work so well the next ten times I tried it, but I will keep trying. I feel much more loving toward B when I respond this way, and I think I am modeling the kind of parent I hope he'll grow up to be someday.

This is definitely not a parenting style that everyone will love. It's very non-traditional, and a lot of people will probably label it as too permissive. But it's working for us.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One year!

Holy moly, how can a whole year have gone by?! It seems like just a few months ago that we were flying off to Hong Kong to meet our little mystery girl. We had fewer than a dozen photos, some very basic info on her height, weight and medical condition, and some rather generic-sounding descriptions of her daily activities and developmental status. We really had no idea what to expect. Yet at the same time, she was already our daughter. We'd been studying and analyzing that meager set of data and handful of photos for over two months, and we already felt like we knew her. We felt her presence in our lives, her place in our family. It's an odd place to be, "knowing" your daughter based on so little, without having met her. The excitement we felt as we headed to China was absolutely overwhelming.

A year ago yesterday, we met a baby girl who couldn't walk or crawl, who could barely sit up without pillows to prop her. She didn't speak a word of Mandarin, and had never heard a word of English. She was almost exclusively bottle-fed. She had a horrible cold, chapped and red skin, and barely any hair. But even in that state, she was absolutely lovely. She was also ready to smile, laughed easily, and quickly took to being constantly held and carried.

In just one year, she has gone from that baby to a vibrant, beautiful, delightful little girl. She sings almost constantly and dances almost daily. She demands hugs, kisses, and "ups" constantly, and offers hugs and kisses often too. She adores her daddy, is beginning to adore her mommy, and worships her big brother. She loves preschool, and is absolutely loved by her teachers there. She can count to 11, sing the ABCs (more or less), and can identify all her relatives by name. She has an astonishing appetite and eats almost anything, as long as it's not a vegetable. She jabbers constantly to herself, and when necessary, speaks sentences consisting of 3-4 actual words. She is sweet, affectionate, and unbelievably stubborn. I cannot imagine our lives without her, and yesterday, B told me that he in fact cannot remember his life before her.

She's our sparkly girl, our snuggle bunny, our jelly belly. We love you, Z!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The hair chronicles

Since fall, I've been trying to grow out the pixie cut I was sporting last summer. It's a painful and ugly process. And I do mean ugly. I wake up looking like Courtney Love:

After a little fooling around and "fixing" I look more or less like Rod Stewart all day:

That's right. I rock my greatest hits, all day every day. This is not something I'm proud of, looking like Rod Stewart. Believe it or not though, B is actually jealous of my hair. He's said several times in the past couple weeks that he wishes he could have my exact hair. To him, I look just like his greatest hero:

Anakin Skywalker. Suck it, Rod! I am a JEDI!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

M is a hottie

He'll probably yell at me for putting this picture up and calling him a hottie, but I love this picture! It's my favorite husband picture. It's really old -- taken back before we were married. I think the reason I like it so much is because it shows his personality really well. You can tell from looking at him that he's just a good guy, and slightly goofy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Seriously, like tears-in-your-eyes funny. I laughed so hard I snorted, and the girl across the hall from me at work came over to see if everything was OK.

Baby baby

Not me. Good lord, NO! Are you people nuts?! We are done. D.O.N.E. We are financially, emotionally, and logistically maxed out. No more babies in this house, unless they're just visiting.

No, it's my sister who's pregnant, and she's having TWINS! Her due date is September 11, which also happens to be their daddy's birthday.

So let's take bets on a few things here:
1. Are they fraternal or identical?
2. If you think they're identical, are they boys or girls? If you think they're fraternal, what are their genders?
3. When will they actually be born?
4. How much will they weigh?

Last but not least: let's name them. Ooooh, how about this idea? Offer up names to go with the genders you're guessing, and she'll use the names suggested by whoever comes closest to answering all four of the questions right! Don't be afraid to get creative. (E, you don't have a problem with that, do you? I can't imagine why you would...)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Signs of spring

In January/February. Crazy. We shouldn't be seeing this for at least another month, probably more. Let the annual J vs. deer battle begin!


Day lilies