The sweetest thing

During a much-needed mom’s night out with wine, food, and good conversation I learned that the A word and my Girl from the East came up with one of the families from our school.

Adoption arose as part of a much larger context, one encircling the areas of family resemblance, dominant traits, and individual uniqueness. It seems too complex for the preschool set, but now is the time when our children’s eyes open even wider to notice such things as tallness, blondeness, bigness, and differentness.

Specifically, the question of what makes boys different from girls, and how African-American kids in the class look different from the Caucasian kids led to how some families are tall and thin and some are short and wide and how some kids have two daddies or two mommies or some other defining trait.

“Like your friend, (Girl from the East),” the mother explained to my daughter’s playmate. “You’ve noticed she looks different from her mother. That’s because she’s adopted.”

“She doesn’t look different from her mom,” my daughter’s friend insisted.

“Well, yes, she was born in China. She is Chinese,” the mom continued.

“Noooo,” the young friend asserted, shaking her head. “She looks just like her mom.”

My heart warmed as I listened to this story.

That is the sweetest thing.

It never occurred to me that we could be regarded in that way, even if it is through the rose-colored lens of youth.

This is, of course, the portrait of our love for each other; we are blind to our differences. I think Girl from the East has my husband’s eyes and disposition. I know she has my penchant for perfection.  I don’t know where she ends and I begin.

When I look at my girl’s smooth cheeks, inky black eyes, and cupid’s bow mouth, I see our history reaching all the way back to that smoky, crowded government office in Nanchang, China, when I first accepted her slight form into my arms. Her long limbs, elegant fingers,  and thick, silky hair remind me of her birth family as none of us possess those traits.

It occurred to me that it has been years — years! — since anyone has asked any of us if we belong together. In the beginning, it was a constant affront.

And now, the court of opinion has grown to include  one very astute five-year-old.

That is the sweetest thing.

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Space cat

During daylight repose it’s hard to detect,
‘neath midnight fur lies something suspect.
When in slumber’s neglect,
as souls drift unchecked,
and guard abandons gate,
the unassuming beast’s powers awake.
Whatever you do,
however your stir,
steer away from its beams,
tread away from the light.
Keep eyes trained to the floor
and aim for the door.

Short and sweet

by alancleaver_2000 via creative commons

My oldest daughter made me cry in public this weekend.

I was front row, center, and caught without a tissue to save me.

Most of what I write about here centers on my life with 5-year-old Girl from the East. I don’t say much anymore about 17-year-old Girl from the West. I no longer feel comfortable blogging about the details of her life. She’s old enough to tell her own stories.

But I want to tell this story. This weekend that almost-adult daughter of mine who often tests the limits of my love and patience knocked the air out of my lungs. In a good way.

After an eight-year hiatus  she walked on that stage before a full auditorium of her peers, teachers, and parents, and sang solo.  I wept.

She kept the whole thing a secret, telling me only a week ahead of time that she was performing in the high school talent show. Last weekend I took her shopping for something to wear.

“Are you alone or with other people?” I ask as we slide hanger after hanger of dresses across the racks, assessing each one for potential.

“What kind of music are you using?” I prod, as we hold up shoes to the dress under consideration.

“Do we need something glittery and showy or something soft and flowing?” I say with growing annoyance.

She has not answered any of my questions. She won’t. I know it. It occurs to me that this irritating habit has some fairly obvious roots.

It also occurs to me that she didn’t really need my help picking out clothes. She wanted my emotional support.  At least she seemed to heed my advice on what not to wear on stage.

After all, there are high heels and sheath dresses and then are YouTube moments waiting to happen.

She did the same thing to me eight years earlier. Made me cry. Kept me in the dark. Back then an even smaller version of this girl stood on the same stage, this time dressed in the rags of a street urchin, dirt smudged on each cheek, holding a straw broom and singing “Castle on a Cloud” in the local high school production of “Les Miserables.”

No one in our family and friends group that evening could believe the clear, sweet music flowing from this child’s vocal chords. Even though she’d been selected from a district-wide audition, we all had braced ourselves for any possible outcome, from perfect delivery to utter stage fright.

Instead, our then third-grader amazed us all with a strong voice that projected around the theater and as much confidence as the teen cast on stage.

We thought it might be the beginning of something for her. She’s been performing in public in odd ways since she was old enough to realize she could attract an audience. (Imagine a four-year-old in Borders getting up on a window sill and breaking out in song and dance while her mother paid for books.) She’s been a member of all of her school choirs, joined local choral ensembles, is a four-summer veteran of music camp, and toured Europe for a month in 2008 as part of an international choral ensemble exchange student program. She’s done all that but she has not reprised the solo since her stint as young Cosette.

I stopped asking her about solos years ago.

Last weekend, she broke her silence and I was caught crying in a crowded theater. I am not a public crier. I’m not even a private crier. But when your child does something to make you that proud, to make you really notice that she’s come into her own, ready to take on the world, it’s impossible to maintain a poker face.




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Watching the otters



At a weekend workshop on literacy tutoring, I learned that my Girl from the East has met most of the academic requirements for the completion of kindergarten. She will not even enter kindergarten until this fall. I wonder how her first year of formal education will play out knowing this?  Will she be too far ahead of her peers? Will things quickly equalize once she balances her academic skills with the rigors of a full day of school? Time will answer these questions.

Meanwhile, my days are spent keeping up with her hearty appetite for knowledge. I am not a Tiger Mom, as some of my friends teasingly have suggested. I just follow this child’s lead. I like to think she is my teacher as well.

Last week, on a rare warmish, sunny afternoon, neither of us wanted to go home after preschool.  I had a long list of to-dos that nagged at my conscience. My girl wanted to run in the wind and bask in the sunshine. What to do? We decided on a quick trip to the zoo.

After I flashed our membership card at the gate, I let Girl from the East decide our fate.

“Otters. Otters,” she begged.

We always end up in the otter house. Girl from the East has a fierce affection for the trio of rescued otters living at the Detroit Zoo. I never protest. The otter house is a nice refuge no matter what time of year. It’s quiet and naturally lighted by a bank of picture windows that overlook the otter’s watery, woodsy domain.

Otters are very much like my daughter. Well, except for the fish-, clam- and frog-eating tendencies. When the otters are sleeping, they are curled up, content and unmoving. When they are awake, they are in constant motion, leaping into and out of the water, gliding through the blue depths, and splashing in the falls until it seems they are on the brink of cardiac arrest.

Although I have never been able to capture it well either in still photography or on video, my Girl plays a game with the otter. As the otter swims to and fro on the watery side of the glass, my girl chases him back and forth on the viewing side of the glass. It seems as if the otter knows it’s being followed but cannot stop itself from repeating the pattern. This goes on almost endlessly.

On our last visit, this game of chase lasted for an hour. Then the docent nicely shooed us out of the building.  But before that happened, I was reminded that my life is too much like that otter. I’m racing back and forth in a crazed frenzy, unable to stop myself.

But my life is also not like the otter at all. The otter isn’t confused about what it is.  It eats, sleeps, poops, and plays just like an otter should. Nothing more. Nothing less. And that is just fine.

Lessons from my five year old. Lessons from an otter.

Otter and child on the move



Lenten muffin reduction

Remember the good old days when a little round of depression* had the nice side effect of weight loss?

Not so much anymore. I’m sure the government, right about the time it yanked pseudoephedrine-laced cold medications off the shelves, decided to cut the weight loss advantage out of all-American depression. You want weight loss? It’s extra. Fill out the forms. We’ll be sure to reject your claim.

What can I say? It happened. Specifically, illness, a long winter, and about of the blues happened. Now, I have extreme muffin top.  I’ve written about this enough lately, with folks waving me off as crazy when I say I’ve packed on a few pounds, but I have. So, I’ll spare you all details except this one. I went to Target today to buy some new workout clothes, in the sizes I always buy (the first sign of denial), by the maker I always buy. Since I know overseas clothing manufacturers are not shrinking pattern sizes, I had to face the truth: my sickly, piggy ways have led me to this place.

So, here’s the plan. It’s Fat Tuesday.

I am not Catholic, but each year I take up the Lenten practice of giving up something. Generally I give up what I call the cookiescakespiesanddoughnuts. I don’t really eat any of those things in great quantity. It’s just the code for the crap I do eat: tortilla chips and other salty snacks, trail mixes, and  those chewy granola bars, which are really glorified candy bars with a few nuts, seeds, and dried fruit thrown in for good measure. I love anything salty. In addition to the carbs and calories, I’m sure the salt intake has every cell in my body retaining water. I think my retained water is holding water.

So, no cookiescakespiesanddoughnuts for six weeks. Maybe longer.

The first week is always hell. After that it gets easier. By the time Easter dawns, I’ll have lost my urge for chocolate and overly salty snacks. Go ahead, wave an easter basket stuffed with candy under my nose. I’ll not flinch.

Also, I’m returning to my working-out-every-day routine. Some time last fall, around respiratory infection No. 1, I started slipping. If I didn’t skip a session, I went through the motions like a zombie. My lungs burned and seized up when I pushed too hard. My head spun from the medications. I decided I needed to get more sleep and take care of myself. That turned into a long winter’s nap, two more respiratory infections, and more medicine.

Now, I’m starting with a two-minute maximum run time on the treadmill, which is dreadful considering I used to do 15- 30 minutes when I was in good shape. I still don’t have full lung power, but I’m toughing it out, using interval training as a method to ease in.

If the mirror and a dresser full of clothes that do not fit aren’t enough motivation, there’s always my search engine search phrases:


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* I know I sound flippant, but I’m really not. I’ve suffered from depression all my life. I don’t wish it upon anyone. But, I’m still ticked off that it no longer knocks me down a dress size or two when it’s over.

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