Welcome to The Nine States

This day is steeped in tradition.

In some parts of the country, it is known as Devil’s Night. Here it is called Angel’s Night.

Today is our Family Day. Three years ago today we opened our arms to Girl from the East, closed them around her slight frame and haven’t let go.

When we met her for the first time, we saw many things. Mostly, we noticed she was sick. We were jet lagged and soon after we were sick as well. Every year thereafter (except for our first anniversary in 2007), one or more of us has been sick. Last year I had pneumonia on our Family Day.

Today, the entire family is possessed by a respiratory virus. I am particularly disappointed because we had a costume party to attend this evening. I’ve spent quite a bit of time pulling it together, practicing the makeup and even painting my fingernails black. (I hate fingernail polish and haven’t painted them since the 1980s.)

In light of my lack of energy, I am reposting what I wrote last year with a few updates:

familyday

Three years ago today we awakened very early in China and rode a bus to the provincial civil affairs office in Nanchang. We were a bundle of nerves. During the bumpy ride, I clutched a stuffed bear in my hands to keep me from wringing them excessively. Two years of preparing and waiting and wondering were about to end.

Soon we would meet our Girl from the East, who’d been a plan, a hope and a dream for so long. Her referral picture was posted everywhere in our house. We looked at it constantly, held it up to the light, tilted it and stared at it in search of answers:  Who are you? What does your laugh sound like? Will you be happy with us? Will we know you when we meet you?

Then, it all happened so fast.

Our normally chatty group silently disembarked the tour bus. Our guide led us down a crowded alleyway, through glass doors into the marbled lobby of a high-rise, loaded us onto several elevator cars that ascended to a crowded, smoke-filled room. The din of voices in Chinese and English, the squalling of babies, the mixture of laughter and tears of newly formed families all blended to become a high-pitched babble. The sounds, the haze of cigarette smoke, the heat, all were almost too much to bear. I feared I’d cry on this day. Instead, I retreated to a bench and sat with my head tucked between my knees, praying I wouldn’t pass out. Girl from the West sat next to me and rubbed my back, assuring me that all would be OK.

Then, I heard our guide call out our family name. I sat up to see a cluster of orphanage workers rushing toward us with the tiniest living doll I’ve ever seen. And then she was in my arms. Smaller and lighter than I’d imagined. Her eyes wide, brows raised as if to ask: What’s all this about? Suddenly all the commotion retreated from the room and we were alone, living the moment in slow motion.  She let me hold her, but did not meet my gaze for more than a second. She wiggled and twisted around to face outward, content to look at the world around her.

Today, that tiny doll who was smaller than any 10-1/2 month-old I’d ever seen is now a robust, soccer-playing girlie-girl who knows she was born in China and waited for her family to come and take her home to “The Nine States.”

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Gratitude vs. attitude at 6 a.m.

onoff

Photo by Misserion via Creative Commons

I think I’ve mentioned before that I am not a morning person.

Whether or not I embrace the darkness before dawn, I have no choice most days.  My Girl from the West starts school at 7 a.m. School is more than 25 miles away. We need to leave the house at 6 a.m. This means I get up at 5 a.m. in order to shower, prep things for Girl from the East to get to preschool on time, and most importantly,  to chug massive amounts of coffee.

Today we needed to stop at the corner gas station/convenience store to make up for some lunch shortcomings. As I entered the brightly lit world of piped-in pop music, polished tile, humming refrigerator cases and shelves bursting with packaged foods, I noticed the attendant on duty. He was well-groomed, middle-aged and whistling contentedly as he wiped the coffee /doughnut counter.

“You must put in some serious overnight hours, huh?” I asked, figuring the guy was lonely.

“Oh, it’s not so bad. I start at 10 and end at 6,” said the attendant as he walked briskly to the cash register. I noticed he had really nice teeth. The register sang a little electronic ditty as his fingers danced on the keypad. “I am so grateful to have a job. Very thankful.”

I grabbed my change, the plastic bag containing bottled water and Doritos, and looked up at the lean, tidy man with the dazzling smile. He was at the end of his shift and looked as if he’d just showered and shaved an hour ago. I wondered if he had a wife and children and if they missed him at night, when he wasn’t there to read bedtime stories or administer good-night kisses. Or, was a dark and empty apartment  awaiting, with only the mewing of a hungry cat to signify anyone’s absence.

It wasn’t until I slipped out of the artificial light of the shop and into the dark and chill of predawn that his words reached the processors of my brain.

“I am grateful to have a job.”

He didn’t say: “Working nights sucks” or “Those bastards at (Company X) let me go and now this is all I can get to keep Velveeta on the table” or even “I own the damned place but I can’t find find honest help so I’ve gotta be here myself.”

He was thankful. He had a paycheck. He had a purpose. He took pride in his work.

I’ve been hearing this so much lately, from people in all sorts of underwhelming jobs. Happy to be there, collecting a paycheck, doing something other than job hunt or collect unemployment. I can’t remember the last time I heard a workplace bitch-and-moan session.

Before this Great Recession that has cast my hometown in such a negative national spotlight, who would have thought anyone would embrace a gas station/convenience-store gig? Who would think maybe I felt a twinge of envy.

Not many, I’m sure.

Do I envy the job?The hours? No. But I do admire a person who radiates gratitude in the worst of circumstances, who makes being up at 6 a.m. a pleasant experience, who takes pride in his appearance and attitude even if he’s in a room all by himself.

All this I learned before 6:30 this morning.

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All that glitters

shoes

it all ends up on the furniture, the rugs, everywhere

It’s been a busy stretch, with many events converging upon a three-week period. I’m behind in my reading of other sites. I’m slow in developing posts. I have another award to acknowledge. I have outdoor chores and indoor duties. I have co-op preschool responsibilities and freelance work deadlines.

On the weekends, rather than play catch-up, I’ve been traveling the corridors of color that deliver me from crazy-busy to relaxation, from the claustrophobia of the city to the expansive peace of the countryside. It’s my happy pill, my elixir.

For my little Girl from the East, peace and happiness are achieved with the simple act of slipping on a pair of glitter- encrusted ballet flats.

Blogging rules

with apologies to Jack Handy:
showoff

I think there should be rules for blogging. Like, if I read on your blog that every once in a while you slip into a wet suit, recline on a chaise longue and listen to “Madama Butterfly” while your Irish Setter licks your bare feet, I won’t mention it when I meet you in person. I think stuff like that should be kept to the Internet only, where it’s private.

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Meme Monday: the Honest Scrap edition

honest-scrap
To complete the trio of awards bestowed upon me recently, here is the Honest Scrap award from Lorna the Bathtime Blogger.

Lorna passed this on to me for what she called “my heartfelt writing.”

Thank you, Lorna,  for thinking so. I try.

Nevertheless. This meme requires me to do the unthinkable: list 10 honest things about myself.

Holy crap.

Well, since I’ve done a number of these in recent weeks and revealed a bunch of mundane stuff, I thought I’d take the sprit of this award and delve deeper. Here goes:

1. I never meant for this site to be an anonymous blog. When I set it up more than two years ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  I thought I’d somehow work my identity into it, but I never got around to it. Now? I really don’t know how to break out of this pattern or if I should.

2. People who should have taken care of me in my childhood hurt me. People in positions of trust. So, I have trust issues, particularly when dealing with people in one particular profession.

3. The people who did these things largely got away with it because I didn’t say anything until many years later, when it was too late. It’s fair to say that some members of my family do not believe my stories.

4. I was on antidepressants for three years. I kept it a secret (big shock!) but quit for two reasons: I gained way too much weight and I didn’t cry at my grandmother’s funeral. I could not shed a tear. I loved that woman with all my heart. I was her favorite granddaughter. Here she was dead and I felt — nothing. I decided to wean myself off them when my prescription expired. I have better ways to deal with my demons. I don’t fault anyone who takes them. I fault greedy doctors who push them on patients and never inquire afterward about how they are working or ever suggest maybe it’s time to get off them.

5. I am not easily honest. You can imagine the amount of gut wrenching involved in hitting publish on this post. It’s not that I set out to lie. I do not like lying.  I just like to protect the truth, even if there is no good reason to be so secretive. Lately for the purposes of not letting history repeat itself, I’ve been more forthcoming.

6. It has taken me more than two years to realize a lifelong friendship that ended badly needed to end. It was toxic. Always had been. I had so much guilt over it. Then one day I realized: I deserve better. Magically, I have made countless new and wonderful friends. I’ve also learned to treasure the longtime friendships that are healthy.

7. I just replace one addiction with another. As a child: nail biting. As a teen and into my late 20s: cigarette smoking. In my 30s: exercise. Today: Food.

8. I don’t like a lot of fuss about anything. Once, when I was quite young and on a class field trip, I climbed into a wooden fort, fell through an opening in the floor and plummeted into a mud puddle below. I didn’t utter a peep. I just stood up, waited for the swirling stars to stop orbiting my head and joined the group as if nothing happened. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

9. I am not now and never was a flirt. I figured if guys were interested in me, they could have a real conversation with me. I am not interested in bullshit banter.

10. I am an (almost) daily meditator. After searching for a number of years, I found a community and a practice that met my needs. My life is so much better because of this discovery and a commitment on my part.

Well, there you go, my  guts are on the table, steaming and stinking for all to inspect. It’s taken me a long time to get the courage to post this.

I’ve met some folks in the last year or so who’ve opened my eyes to the idea of a more authentic life, one in which I walk around wearing robes of my own design and follow the path less traveled. If you are so inclined, pass this along to any blogger or writer you feel speaks from the heart.

Blame it on 'Six Feet Under'

blood

by frostnova via creative commons

Blame it on a virus that zapped all my energy.

Blame it on a tight project deadline and a babysitter on vacation.

Blame it on watching three episodes in a row of “Six Feet Under” Season Four, including one in which the mortuary drains back up, spewing copious amounts of human blood onto the floors and up through kitchen sinks.

When I went to check on Girl from the East last night and found her face down in a small pool of blood, which had soaked a pillow, the sheets and her nightgown, I freaked.

And when I picked her up and it spilled out of her mouth and all over my sweatshirt, I really freaked out.

And when I looked at the clock and saw that it was 12:43 a.m. and remembered that my husband was in Massachusetts on business, that my closest friend to call upon was in Pennsylvania on vacation, and the doctor’s office merely advised me to call 911, that’s what I did.

I felt slightly irrational.

I mean, all that blood. Is that normal for a nosebleed? Was it a nosebleed? Had she fallen? Did she stuff something up there?Did the cats do something to her? My mind raced and came up short of any common-sense answers.  All I knew was that the blood just kept flowing.

I don’t like blood. Blood makes me crazy.

I told the dispatcher that I didn’t want a fuss. I didn’t think it was life and death. I just couldn’t get the bleeding to stop enough to get her to the car and drive the three and a half miles to the area hospital.

So they showed up, quietly, but with lights flashing, and further riled my already totally freaked-out girl.

Long story short, the EMTs seemed to think it was a severe nosebleed and that I should take her to the doctor soon and get the humidity adjusted in our house.

An already long day stretched taut. My frayed nerves nearly snapped. My mothering skills as useless and spent as the soaked wash cloth I’d used to pinch her nostrils.

Is it the adoptive mother in me that reacts so irrationally to even the slightest scrape with this Girl from the East? Is it the last-time-around mother in me that cannot abide by illness and accidents threatening our perfect joy? I am gripped at times by an uncontrollable fear and panic over this Girl from the East, who didn’t come to us easily, who didn’t really seem ours until we passed through U.S. Immigration gates, even though we’d fed, clothed, diapered and loved her for weeks in her homeland, who held out loving and trusting us until we had proven ourselves worthy. So many hoops to jump through to get to today, to this blood and fear.

I had a full day of work today, but I could barely part company with her, fearing the worst.

Her precious beauty tears at my insides. I cannot contemplate the worst. I cannot fix the worst. I cannot change that which is already predetermined. I cannot let go of the irrational worry and panic that fills my heart when even the slightest thing seems wrong.

I do not know her health history. I do not know to what she was exposed before she landed in our arms. I do not know what is hereditary in her family. There is no one to call, no records to request. It’s all a blank.

The blood tears me apart, but it bonds us together.

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I can see clearly now;I wish I could walk

Me, 1982

Me, 1982

foureyes

Me, today

Today I provide for you two pictures to illustrate my  post. It’s about my new glasses — the first prescription pair I’ve ever worn.

I consider these glasses — freakin’ progressive lenses, for god’s sake — the official end of my youth.

Friends on Facebook and in real life are always telling me: You haven’t changed one bit since high school.

Sweet things, all of you, for lying to me. I’ll take any ego-soothing lie I can get these days.

But guess what?  I have changed. No more denial. No more faking it.  It took a few doozies — most of them involving cooking disasters —  for me to stop paddling against the current of reality.

So I gave in. I scheduled an eye exam, figuring the optometrist would tell me what I already knew: I needed reading glasses.

Imagine my shock when he told me I was far-sighted and probably had been for a number of years. I counted back at least three years to when I first started noticing eye problems. Not only were my eyes “a little bit worse than most 40-somethings,” but also my work as a copy editor  had exacerbated the problem. Wearing $20 over-the-counter glasses for the last two years hadn’t helped, either.

I picked up the new lenses on Friday. Little did I know there’s a learning curve. There’s about two weeks of adjustment.

“Be careful on the steps,” the optician advised as I pulled on my coat and grabbed my new frames, case, cleaning kit and paperwork.

Did I look like a klutz to her? Maybe she should be careful on the steps, I muttered under my breath as I stumbled out the door.

Within minutes I knew what she meant: Wearing progressive lenses at first is like navigating the fun house at the county fair. Nothing is as close or far way as it appears.  The floor/ground is all-at-once right under your nose and somehow very far away. The contrast between objects near and far almost feels like a 3-D effect. Vertigo hit me almost instantly as I attempted to walk across the expansive parking lot to my car. I felt myself taking big, stiff lurching footsteps like the Frankenstein monster.

When I arrived home, I was overcome by nausea. I had to rest  for a while to get my sense of balance back.

A few days later I understand that I cannot look down while walking. I need to feel my body moving through my environment using instinct and experience rather than trying to navigate entirely with my eyes. Once I had my sea legs, I started really looking at things. Much has escaped my attention in the last few years: mysterious spatters on the walls, a lacework of fine cracks in our plaster, my Girl from the East’s ears (does no one else in this house clean ears at bath time? I thought I was but apparently my efforts were useless.)

I won’t even go into what a terrible job I’ve been doing on my eyebrows. All I can say is I hope most of my close friends have terrible eyesight, too, otherwise let me just add this: I’m not really so slovenly. I thought I was doing a good job on personal grooming and housework. That counts for something, right?

Now I’m adjusting to a piece of plastic wrapped around half my head.  I thought it would be fun. I’m sure over time I’ll forget they’re on. But now, it feels like I’m in a rocket ship, looking through the cockpit window at space junk hurtling toward me at the speed of light.

I’m working on toning down the zombie shuffle, but I may keep it until Halloween has passed.

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Thank you, Michael Chabon

manpurse

Via multiple sources on the Net

Years ago I wrote a piece for the local newspaper about the need for man purses. It received some attention. I had e-mails both praising and lambasting the man bag. My column made the rounds on the Internet.

The married women were all for it. The men in the newsroom railed against it, even the ones who arrived to work each day with a laptop bag slung over their shoulder. That was different, they said. Then, in order to verify that their testosterone levels were up to standard, they pointed out that their wallet, keys and other necessities were safely stowed in their pants or jacket pockets.

That, it seems, is the defining factor: Once the wallet, keys and cell phone find their way into a tote bag, masculinity was on the irreversible slide into Sissyville. You may as well step into a pair of peach girly panties and call yourself Nancy.

Not for sexy writer Michael Chabon. I’ve never read anything by him. I’ve read all but one of his wife, Ayelet Waldman’s, books. I may break tradition and pick up his latest work: “Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son.”

Chabon is a Pulitzer-prize winning author. Chabon carries a man purse.

Chabon recently spoke of his book on NPR’s “Fresh Air” hosted by Terry Gross. I happened upon the interview at a pivotal moment. Chabon was telling Gross about how he became a proud man-bag carrier.

I nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement. I grabbed my cell phone and speed dialed my husband. He didn’t pick up. His man-purse radar must have been fully engaged.

I’ve advocated for the murse, the man bag, whatever you want to call it, for years. I have one person in mind: my husband.

If anyone needs a man-bag, it’s my spouse, whose pockets are often bulging at the seams with both necessary and extraneous items. These bits and pieces, when emptied from the pockets, end up in small piles throughout the house.

A man bag would take care of all that. I suppose I might balk at the man bag abandoned on the floor or on the dining room table or the staircase. But wouldn’t it be easier to pick up a bag and hang it on a hook rather than juggle wispy receipts, clunky parking meter change, business cards, memory cards, lip balms, car keys and orphaned pen caps?

He even has a built-in excuse. His occupation is one that often requires a bag. He’s always distinguished himself as one of the few in his profession who does not carry a bag unless absolutely necessary. There are pockets and there are assistants.

There is hope for the younger generations. I see many young men sporting messenger bags, small backpacks and other masculine forms of personal property transportation. Today’s young men are more comfortable accessorizing, it would seem, than men of my generation and older.

Maybe they’re just wimpier. Maybe they don’t want misaligned spines and pinched nerves and fat wallet syndrome.

So, I remain the lone voice in my home for a man-bag revolution.

Thank you, Michael Chabon.

May you lead the charge toward male liberation.

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Why no post? A top 10 list

In the spirit of David Letterman, who seems to be embroiled in a bit of scandal, I offer you my Top 10 reasons why I haven’t been and may not be posting much in the next week or so:

10. The default font on my WordPress theme makes my eyes cross.

9. Our household Internet service is like Montgomery Burns: slow, spotty and ruthless.

8. The cat keeps jumping on the keyboard and hitting the delete key.

7. My drafts folder is brimming with half-written posts but none ready to go.

6. My youngest has started preschool, which gives me a few hours a week of me time. When she is home, she wants all of me, too. Not conducive to blogging.

5. My oldest is going to homecoming this weekend and the planning is endless.

4. Both a door knob and a window crank on our house have broken simultaneously, coinciding with the recent drop in temperature. Neither of these original hardware items in our 68-year-old home can be fixed quickly or affordably.

3. I have members of  a committee coming to my house in two days to inspect it as part of an application process I am in. I am on a cleaning and organizing frenzy. Not sure how to steer attention away from open, broken window.

2. My childcare for the week is mostly nonexistent.

1. I have found temporary work, which is my No. 1 priority.

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This tree is real

Fake Plastic Trees

Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself

It wears her out, it wears her out
It wears her out, it wears her out

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins

It wears him out, it wears him out
It wears him out, it wears him out

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run

It wears me out, it wears me out
It wears me out, it wears me out

If I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted all the time

–Radiohead

Today is my 45th birthday.

There. I said it.

I can’t believe it, but it’s true.

This song ran through my mind all day today, particularly the line: “Gravity always wins” because it is so true.

And there’s nothing like your mid-40s to make you see physics in action.

This is what I do a lot: I look at my face in the mirror and I pull back my cheeks and eyes to bring it all back to what it used to be. This is what a face lift would look like, I tell myself. This is why all the Hollywood actresses my age look like they are in wind tunnels, like their faces are carved stone. This is why they still look the same and I do not. What have they traded for this look?

Fake plastic trees.

I let go of my cheeks and the skin falls back into place. I wonder: How did I not like the face I once had? How did I not realize how fleeting my youth would be? I think that I’d rather have that face than this one, this 45-year-old face. But that face was traded in for experience and wisdom and all that I have today. To get that face back would be to lose all that I have earned.

That’s real.