Sunday, October 31, 2010


We had a nice Halloween this year, beginning with a rainy trip to the pumpkin patch and carving these two beauties, which we named Pumpkinseed and Steve.

Sadly, Pumpkinseed and Steve only lasted a few days before their teeth curled in and they started to stink up the house.

Natalie, shocking everyone, veered from tradition and eschewed her Cinderella dress (worn the last two years), opting instead for Tinker Bell. Here she is dressed for the parade at school.

On Saturday night, Tony and I dressed as our favorite TV couple from our favorite TV show, "Friday Night Lights." Coach and Tami Taylor set a much better marital example than our choice last year: the totally dysfunctional, but extremely stylish, Don and Betty Draper from "Mad Men."

Here's Coach in his East Dillon Lions gear. He even got Croakies for his shades. Authentic!

And here's Tami. Wish my hair was longer, but I think I captured her Texas spirit. That silver and turqoise belt belonged to my grandmother. The boots were an impulse purchase that I justified by telling myself I would have them for life and they were the same brand worn by Teddy Roosevelt.

After we snapped this photo, we went next door to our neighbors' house. Dwayne and Manya and their friends spent the entire day dressing up the house with spiders and centipedes and cobwebs. It was the best Halloween house I'd ever seen. Oh! And someone brought a cake in a kitty litter box, with a scooper for serving and Tootsie Rolls on top. Gross, but tasty!

I think we might keep up the TV couple theme for next year. I was thinking Archie and Edith Bunker, but Tony had a better idea: Lucy and Ricky Ricardo! I'm going to start looking now for a red wig...

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My littie gril

A favorite time of day for me is pulling Natalie's folder from her backpack to see what Mrs. Evins has sent home from Room 1.

The other day, it was a picture with a story below. Natalie wouldn't let me read it until she'd grabbed her crayons and finished the drawing at the dining room table.

Then she read it to me. And when she was done, she looked up at me, over her glasses like an adult would pausing from the newspaper.

"My name is Natalie. I am six yrers old. I am a littie gril. I like to go to the zoo because it is fun. I like to do my best."

Natalie and me on the grass; the sign says pink "because me and Mama like pink"

Of course I told her I loved it.

"You do like to do your best, don't you?" I asked.

She nodded.

The day before I started my new job I told Natalie I was nervous. She considered this, and then gave me a piece of advice I have followed every day of the last two weeks - during which much of the time I've had no idea what people were talking about and felt like I'd parachuted into a foreign country.

"I was scared for first grade. But I'm not scared anymore," Natalie said.

"Just do Mama's best and work hard."

So every day I'm doing Mama's best. I'm so proud of my littie gril.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Curly hair

The new thing around here is braiding Natalie's hair at night, when it's wet. In the morning, when we take out the braids, her hair is "curly" for school.

Actually, it's crimpy. Very retro '80s. I told Natalie that when I was a little girl, I slept with rollers in my hair. (Really, it was just two for the bangs, the rest of my hair left straight. Great look.) I shouldn't have told her about rollers because now she wants them.

I usually manage about six or seven braids and then call it quits. There's no way I'm doing rollers.
Last night Natalie was so excited about the braids and her curly hair, she imagined what her little school friend might think.

"Maybe my hair be so curly, Calista not know I'm me!"

Friday, October 1, 2010

Milestones and hope

It took me awhile before I could drive past Rady Children's Hospital and not think of the night I stood at the pay phone in the ER waiting room and cried into the receiver, telling my mother in Wisconsin that my new baby daughter had suffered two violent seizures and a CT scan of her brain showed that it was atrophied.

Not only would she be paralyzed, as we had been told the day of her adoption just a week earlier in China. She might never be a normal child or functioning adult.

I can still see the parents in the waiting room. I thought them so lucky; their children had fevers or a broken leg. They looked away as I sobbed into the phone. The next morning I drove home to find dinner on the table as we'd left it, plastic wrapping from the paramedics' instruments on the floor, and the phone on the coffee table, where I'd dropped it after calmly telling a 911 dispatcher that my year-old daughter was unresponsive.

But later that morning, I returned to the hospital to find a kindly neurologist, and then an animated neurosurgeon who reminded me of Guy Smiley. And within a few hours the diagnoses from the night before and China were dismissed. They were replaced with theories about the mysterious scar at the base of Natalie's spine and why her brain's ventricles were so large - along with the physicians' guarded hope for a normal development. There would be more visits to the ER, but we had begun the ascent.

My mom and Natalie

There were many visits to Rady Children's over the next several years. And as Natalie sat up, and then learned to crawl and walk on the padded mats of the physical therapy department, those terrible memories of that night, when I thought everything was lost, started to fade. When I'd approach the hospital on the freeway, I didn't feel sick anymore. I felt happy. This was the place that was fixing my daughter, and fixing me, too.

It had become a place of comfort, compassion, camaraderie - and most importantly: milestones and hope.

On Monday I start my new job there. I can't think of another place I'd rather be.

Friday, September 17, 2010

All aboard!

A quick post here as momentarily we will be boarding our train to Santa Barbara for the weekend to see my parents. Look at our old station in San Diego. Isn't it cool? I always thought it'd be a great place for a wedding. That's the train we're taking - the Surfliner.

This will be Natalie's first train trip other than the kids train at Balboa Park that she's ridden 9,000 times with her dad.

Not sure how many times Tony has been on a train. Lots and lots of times for me, starting when I was little.

My dad and I took the train to the Grand Canyon, where he had me stand on the edge and point into the abyss for a snapshot. We sped past moose and deer and stood between the cars shivering to see the moon. I took a train with my mom to visit my aunt in Sacramento. A mustachioed cowboy named Bart took a shine to my pretty mother with her long, strawberry blond hair, but he and his guitar got off in Cheyenne, Wyoming and that was the end of Bart.

Then there were train trips on my own as a child, from Milwaukee to spend weekends with my dad in Chicago. I was so scared of falling asleep and missing my stop. I knew Glenview, which I called Gwendolyn after my school friend, was my warning that downtown Chicago was next.

As a young adult, I took trains across Europe and through the British countryside and stared out the window,watching the landscape rushing by and thinking deep thoughts, typically with headphones on. Trains are great for deep and dramatic. I can't help but think of Dr. Zhivago and his family on that train winding through the Ural Mountains. And then, Strelnikov!

This afternoon will be a whole new experience. Cold cuts and salads from Little Italy, a bottle of wine and my two favorite people in the world. And the best part: my dear dad waiting at the station in Santa Barbara.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The hawk and the ham hock

This morning I woke from a harrowing dream.

I was on the edge of a woods, with Natalie and Tony and I think a couple of my coworkers.

I looked up to see a large hawk circling low. He swooped down for a landing 100 yards away and I shouted to him.


I expected him to know his name. And sure enough, he turned, tucked his wings back, and walked toward us. He was huge.

I thought: he is much bigger than a hawk. This is an eagle! I could see his big talons and his giant, hooked beak and I thought: maybe this wasn't a good idea.

"Go away!" I shouted.

He screeched and unfolded his wings and I realized as he grew closer and I backed up that he wanted something from me. And that he was taller than Natalie. Was he even an eagle?

Conveniently, I realized I had a ham hock in my hand. I threw it as far as I could, and the bird followed. I rounded up my family and coworkers and as we began to run I looked over my shoulder to see the hawk/eagle/prehistoric scary bird with the ham hock in his beak.

Then I woke up.

A little more on the ham hock: I used two for my bean soup on Sunday, and they remained in the refrigerator until last night, when Tony gave one to the dog. She went outside to eat it and gnawed on it with her hackles up.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big girl

Natalie is now a first grader.

It's been a little rough.

New school. New teacher. All new kids. New after-school program.

And... no naps.

Which all adds up to an over-tired, overwrought little girl who falls asleep moments after I kiss her goodnight at 7:30 p.m. Last night, big tears rolled down her face when at the dinner table we asked her to say "please."

On Monday Natalie ran from her line for class, screaming "Mama, don't leave me!" and wailed as I pried her fingers from my pant leg. She sobbed and waved to me through the chain-link fence as I strode away, waving and smiling: "Have a great day, honey!"

By the time I reached my car, I was crying, too.

I recalled the first time I left her at daycare - for two hours. When I returned her shirt was off under her tiny overalls. She had cried and sweated so hard for those two hours, she'd soaked her shirt. For months after I went back to work, I'd have to drive us home with one hand on her little leg, because she couldn't stand any more time apart - not even in the back seat.

But she got used to it. In fact, she grew to love everything about that place. Eventually, I'd have to coax her to the car at the end of the day. This summer at the lake in Michigan she waded deep into the water as I watched from the shore, so proud of my fearless girl.

It feels now like we are starting over. But like we did back then, we try and try again. And each day gets a little bit better.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When you were a baby

Lately I have found that if I want Natalie to do anything, I appeal to her sense of nostalgia.

We went to Gordon Biersch last night and to head her off from requesting macaroni and cheese, I recalled the time when she ate there as a baby and oh how she loved the jasmine rice and steamed vegetables. In fact, the rice was all over the floor because she was grabbing it by the fistful. Silly baby!

She beamed.

"Let's order that tonight!" I said.


I remember at my baby shower Matt's sister wrote to me in a book of advice from my friends and family that I should do whatever works until it doesn't work anymore.

So right now, what's working is "When You Were a Baby ..."

e.g. At bedtime tonight: "When you were a baby you loved it when Mama read this book." (Short, easy book NOT about princesses.)

This actually is very fitting because I am quite nostalgic. As long as I can remember, I've loved looking at old pictures, old letters, recalling times passed. My college boyfriend used to tease me about it.

"You're the only person I know who wants to reminisce about the day before," he'd say.

In other news, we spent part of the afternoon painting ceramics and all I could think about was this video:

Step off little girl, that's my ...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back to the '60s

Last weekend Tony and I went to a '60s party at the Del Coronado Hotel. It was hosted by his new men's club, the Rest and Aspiration Society, which is a fancy name for drinking and talking smart. But they are a nice bunch.

Every year they have a party that the wives attend. Which is really so weird and antiquated to me that the '60s theme seemed perfectly fitting. I happen to adore the style of the '60s and have a few vintage dresses - from a great store called Frock You! and from my grandmother's closet.

Here I am at Halloween, dressed as Betty Draper.

The day of the party I tried on this dress, but it seemed to have shrunk in the hips while hanging in my closet.

I had a backup, a green sheath from Gimbel's that my grandmother once wore. I pinned a great big brooch on it and I was ready to go.

I wore heavy black, liquid eyeliner and pale lipstick. I had my hair done, too. Here I am waiting for my martini.

The hair quickly fell though. (That $%#@! sea air.)

Tony was handsome as always.

Sadly, though, we were no match for the McNallys.

Upon arriving we were greeted by members of the host committee, dressed as flight attendants. That's my friend Stephanie on the left. Isn't she darling?

We drank martinis, ate Waldorf salad and danced to a great '60s band. We did the Twist. We slow danced. It was romaaaantic.

Here we are with our candy cigarettes.

When I left the ballroom for the Ladies Room, I turned a few gray heads. I think I reminded them of the old days.

When the party wound down and the ballroom cleared out, we started to gather up the centerpieces. I slipped off my shoes and went from one table to the next, and passed an older man.

"Barefoot and cleaning!" he said. "I need you over at my house!"

See? This '60s party was authentic!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

He just keeps on livin'

Over the weekend we had house guests: Merlin and Kitty.

They live with Natalie's dad. Natalie and Matt went to the Bay Area for the weekend to see his parents in Bodega Bay and also join the 5th annual reunion of families with whom we traveled to China to meet our daughters.

Poor Merlin is winding down.
He is a dog's dog. A regal animal. The benevolent alpha male who defends Natalie and me, and graciously allows children to pull on his ears and tail. On walks with Lizzy, who is a quarter his size, Merlin walks out in front, his leash taught. Lizzy walks off leash, but keeps a respectful distance behind Merlin. She knows he is the leader, and our protector.

The Merleman has bone cancer, and Matt was told back in January that Merlin didn't have long to live. His face is totally gray now and a man we passed on a walk last night called him Grandpa.

Matt and I found Merlin in the newspaper 12 years ago. We brought him home and tried not to panic as we realized we now shared a one-bedroom, second-floor apartment with an 85-pound dog. Now he is 13, and spends much of his time during the warm months in an Elizabethan collar because his skin allergies make him so itchy he bites himself until he's bleeding.
When I take off the collar, which we call the cone, Merlin is very happy.
Let me tell you, the visit was exhausting. I am tired. Tie-urd.

I felt like I had a newborn. Except I never had a newborn. But I did have an extremely sick baby and sometimes wondered if, when I went to her crib, she'd still be alive.

The other morning - after sleeping in the guest room with Merlin, who rose to pace and pant and bark at nighttime noises every two hours - I went to make coffee. When I returned, he was in the same position, like a dead deer on the side of the road.

"Merlie?" I said.

He was still.



I bent down and stroked his big shoulder, running my hand along his flank, now bumpy with tumors. And he raised his head and smiled at me as dogs do. Moments later he was in the yard chasing birds, as I mixed medicine and turkey meatballs into his kibble.

After he ate he rolled around on the rug, happy with a full belly and free from the cone.

One of the best things about Merlin is that he follows me everywhere. Back when he was a pup I put him on a leash and tied it to my waist. So wherever I'd go, he'd have to follow. It was a great way to keep an eye on him and teach him to stay with me.

So for all these days of his visit, I had a constant companion who waited patiently for me while I dressed, while I cooked, while I read. Which is a nice treat because Lizzy, despite my giving her affection and treats and long walks, really just gives me the High Hat in return. She is Tony's dog, through and through. But we were both able to fake it for that fireworks video.
By the way, Kitty spent the whole time either in a corner of Natalie's room, or under the guest room bed. She once was very sweet. She used to crawl up the screen door and cuddle and play. But now all she does is hiss. So rude!
Smokey, as usual, was a good sport. He likes his big brother Merlin. Likes to sniff his tail, too.
Last night Matt picked up Merlin and Kitty and I was really sad. I worry that's the last time he'll be at our house. But then, I thought that in the springtime. But the old guy just keeps on livin'.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tooth Fairy

Natalie’s tooth fell out the other night. Actually, I yanked it out.

She cried on and off all night, begging me to pull it. I think it was driving her crazy.

“It’s not ready to come out,” I told her.

“Please Mama. Check again.”

So after her bath, when I dry her and hug her and comb her and lotion her up – oh how I love this time of day – I reached in and pulled that sucker out. It resisted at first and I cringe typing this, but then I felt the tearing release of gum and fleshy strands holding it there (more cringing) and in an instant blood was welling in the little hole where the tooth had been.

She was wide-eyed and grinning. And relieved.

Later, in bed, the tooth in a baggie under her pillow, she asked: “Is the Tooth Fairy real?”

My heart sank a little. I thought about being her age when some punky classmate told me there was no Santa.

“Of course she’s real.”

“Mama saw her?”

“Yes, but not when I was a little girl. I was a grown up lady, but not a mother yet.”

“Mama tell the story?”

And so I told her how one night I happened to be looking out my window and saw what I thought was a star. But it was moving, closer and closer to the Earth, until finally it came down to a neighboring house – and stopped at the window to a bedroom where a little girl slept.

I saw then it was a fairy, about the size of Tinkerbell, and she slipped through the window into the room. And behind the drawn curtains I could see the light dancing for a moment or two. Then, the fairy was back outside the window and flew off as fast as she had come, back up into the sky, disappearing into the stars.

Natalie seemed satisfied. The next morning, at 5, she called from her room, waking me from a dream.

“Mama! “ she yelled through the dark. “The Tooth Fairy came!”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Baby talk

Lately we’ve been talking about having a baby.

My approach this time around is decidedly more lax.

Recently I was to have my thumb X-rayed. It had been swollen and throbbing ever since that hike in Kauai, perhaps from when I fell into the hole, or the river, or slid across the mossy rocks, desperately grasping at wet ferns trying to stay alive. Lots of possible thumb trauma scenarios there.

As is the routine, the X-ray tech asked if I was pregnant.

“No,” I told him. “I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No. Probably not.” I told him.

He cocked his head.

“Have you been trying to get pregnant?” he asked.

“Well. We haven’t been trying to avoid it.”

He laughed – “haven’t been trying to avoid it!” - and shook his head and walked me back to my doctor’s office to get a pregnancy test.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women find out they’re pregnant this way,” he told me in the elevator.

So I took the test and waited for the nurse and was a bit surprised to find that that old, gooey, nervous hope rising in my belly. And then, the familiar dump of disappointment.

All for the stupid thumb that wasn’t even broken.

But now, five years into being a mother, the disappointment wasn’t crushing like I remember. No tears. No hating myself and my useless body and wondering what I ever did to deserve being denied what I then considered the most fundamental experience of being a woman.

This time, I got a breakfast burrito and was over it.

The most frustrating thing about all of it back then was that everything was officially fine. All the tests said so. It just wasn't happening.

Will it now? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I do know things are different now. I don't have that hole in my heart that I used to have. I feel happy with my life. I like being a mother. I have an incredible child and I'm proud of the mother that I've become. I think I will be alright either way.

Mostly, the discussions have been light and jokey, and centered on maintaining our current lifestyle. Could we send the baby to Natalie's dad's house when she's over there? Maybe we should adopt a 5-year-old because small children are really so much more enjoyable than infants. Or, we could just opt for a Golden Retriever, because that you can leave alone at home. Much more conducive to keeping the fire aflame.

Recently we floated it past Natalie.

"Would you like a baby brother or baby sister, Natalie?"

She didn't take much time to think.

"Noooo," she said.

"I already have a baby... Baby Miss Ann."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hot cheese

Natalie celebrating her shared birthday with my Dad

We have been discussing differences of late.

Last night Natalie dug into a bowl of leftover macaroni and cheese, and I sat with a glass of wine, watching her. Natalie calls mac 'n' cheese "hot cheese." It's her favorite dish.

She swallowed a bite and looked up.

"Fahd does not eat pork," she said of her classmate. I nodded.

"Fahd is from ... near China."

She looked at me expectantly, as she does when she comes to an unfamiliar word while reading aloud.

"Afghanistan?" I offered.

"Yeah, there." She took another bite, chewed.

"Some people eat pork. Some people not eat pork."

This reminded me a conversation we had last week, after a boy asked why I was white and she was brown. ("Some people dark, some people brown, some people light. Everybody different," she said.)

Natalie was quiet for a moment as she chewed, and then added:

"I eat hot cheese."

Friday, July 2, 2010

The big time

Yesterday our dog Lizzy and I got the big break we've been waiting for.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bedtime beatbox

Lately bedtime has gotten a lot more fun because of the beatbox.

Each night I read a story to Natalie, or she reads it to Tony and me. And then Tony tells a story.

This is how it went when I was growing up, except for the beatbox part. I’d say to my dad: Tell me a story and read me a story! And he'd always oblige. His stories were often about Spot, a bluegill, and Spike, a perch. And each story began the same way:

“This is a story about Spot and Spike. One day, the two friends were swimming in the lake.”

If I complained about the familiar beginning, he started over - the same way, of course.

Spike was the leader; Spot, the follower. That’s because bluegills have narrow heads and therefore can’t be very smart. They had all sorts of lake adventures, such as running into the leeches, who like carnies operated a ferris wheel and didn't have the best reputations.

Anyway, Tony’s stories typically involve a girl and her mother, a girl and her friends, or a girl and a princess. Often they end with a dance party, something Natalie learned about during kindergarten when the children would dress up and dance to the soundtrack of Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

When Natalie senses the story is going to end with a dance party, she sits up in bed.

“And all the girls wore pretty dresses and there was popcorn and juice … and …” His hands go up to his mouth and Natalie shrieks and the dog barks and Tony’s forehead gets red as he busts out some very special beatboxing.

It’s become the best part of the night. And a great way to motivate Natalie: “Do you want dance party? Then brush your teeth.”

Tonight on the way home from school I asked Natalie whether she wanted Tony to tell a story.

"Yeah!" she said. "Dance party! A LOT of dance party."

Peace out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Those questions

Natalie was running to meet me at the playground gate, right past the little boy who sat at the base of the tree and shouted to her:

"Hey! Why is your mom white?"

She didn't hear him, or she ignored him. This child has been unkind and aggressive to her and others before, so perhaps she smartly tunes him out.

He tried again. But this time to me.

"Why are you white and she's ... brown?"

I followed my daughter's example and ignored him. I took Natalie's hand and as she skipped along I asked whether she had heard that boy and what he said.

She hadn't, so I repeated it. And told her he was rude. That people ask questions when they don't understand things and when they see something that doesn't match what they have in their own life.

"Yeah. Some people dark, some people brown, some people light. Everybody different," Natalie said. She raised her eyebrows and shrugged for emphasis.

"My Green Team friends never say that to me," she said of her kindergarten class. The offending boy was in another class.

So as we drove home we talked about China and her birth parents and how she came to be here with us. And she listened to the story for the hundredth time and asked questions that she knows the answers to but loves hearing anyway. And then, she was all done with it. The conversation turned, as it often does, to Baby Miss Ann, who didn't want to take a nap that day despite her mother's urging.

Yet I was left to think. About how all those questions, until now always aimed at me (What's she mixed with? Where'd you get her? Is your husband Asian?), are now going to be directed at her. About how it's hard to be different. And about what do I have to draw on from my own life, except being an odd child who spent an inordinate amount of time alone, in snow forts and trees and didn't quite fit in with the rest? At the end of the day, a woman who looked like me picked me up from school.

I thought about seeking out more families like ours. I thought about making her strong and sure of herself. About coating her with a Teflon confidence to repel rude questions and comments.
But I have a feeling she will be just fine.

I caught Natalie's eye in the rear view mirror.

"You're smart and you're kind and you're beautiful," I told her.

"Yeah, I know," Natalie said. "Mama is, too."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bye, Green Team!

Natalie's dad has done it again with this video about Natalie's kindergarten class, the Green Team. In September, Natalie will start first grade.

We'll really miss the children and of course, the incomparable Mrs. Solomon. What a wonderful year.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Something new

The other day on the way to my spin class I passed a room of little girls in pink leotards, tights and ballet slippers, following their teacher, also in pink, around the room.

And I thought: I must enroll Natalie!

And then: Maybe there's a ballet class for me! I took ballet as a child, and then later as an adult. But now? I realized that would be too Zelda Fitzgerald.

So I kept walking.

Still, I'm thinking it'd be so nice to take a new class. Photography? History? Writing?

Once I took a short story writing class and I wrote an awful story about a young, distracted wife of a deployed soldier who mows down a homeless man collecting cans on her street. It was my first and last foray into fiction. Yet it wasn't all for naught. I met my amazing friends Betsy and Jean in that class.

The thing is, I need new.

I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project," and she says that people are happiest when they are learning something new. How true!

So I'm on the hunt. And you, my 11 readers? Any classes you've taken that you really liked?

Friday, June 4, 2010

What matters

I haven't been writing much here because all of my creative energy has been devoted to perfecting my resume, a cover letter and answering online questionnaires about my experience and qualifications. And then there have been two interviews. One with three people. The other was a seven-person panel (I felt like Sonia Sotomayor!). Tomorrow I have another interview, and on Wednesday, my fourth.

I think I've gotten pretty good at promoting myself without sounding like an arrogant jerk or Stuart Smalley (I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonit people like me!).

None of these leads has come from, or cocktail party networking. All of this job hunting has been within my own office. A massive reorganization is underway, and we were told: Apply for everything!

So for weeks there have been closed doors, and scheming, and jockeying, and so much constant whispering it's like the jungle in Lost. We're now in the fourth week of interviews.

It's hard not to get totally wrapped up in the drama. But on Sunday I was able to pull away. And I realized some things.

1. Work, while important to me, doesn't have to define me.
2. We might want to get a bigger pool.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The girly girl toughens up

Natalie is a girly girl. She wears a dress everyday, often with sparkle shoes, and she sings princess songs to herself while twirling around to make her skirt fly out.

I may have contributed to this by painting her toes, buying all those dresses and generally being quite a girly girl myself. Yet I will unhesitatingly grab for a lizard in the backyard. Natalie recoils.

I wasn't always girly. As a child I was short-haired and scabby, got into fights and spent a lot of time outside in my snowfort, or in the tree in front of our second floor duplex, watching my mother watch television inside. One day on the stairs at school, a passing girl asked: "Are you a boy or a girl?"

But a few years later the boobs came, and with them the boys, and that was the end of that.

Because I think Natalie is so girly and because she doesn't get much exercise at school and because I worry she suffers from Nature-Deficit Disorder, I have decided to act.

Last Sunday was the day. We'd join our friend Donna on her trip to a small, backyard farm to buy free-range eggs. The farm also has baby chicks, goats and bunnies. "Less of an ick factor," Donna said, comparing them to lizards. And then, Tony and I would take Natalie on her first hike.

Natalie was excited for the farm, even obediently changing out of her dress into pants for the trip.

As we made our way to the goats, Natalie asked "What smells, Mama?" And to emphasize her disgust, she pinched her nose.

She wasn't interested in petting this cute little kid.

And wouldn't even offer a finger to stroke this two-day-old bunny's head.

"Look at Aiden," I told her. Aiden lives at this farm. But his example didn't mean much to Natalie.

I don't have any pictures of Natalie because she was never in the same frame as the animals, but rather wrapped around my thigh or holding her nose.

But here she is safely back in the comfort of our good-smelling home with the eggs we bought.

After a lunch of curried egg salad sandwiches and a nap, it was time for Phase Two. I had prepared for this with the purchase of new hiking shoes for Natalie. Of course I made sure there was some pink involved. Cute, right? She totally dug them.

We chose Cowles Mountain for our inaugural hike. It's close to home and a mile to the top, where on a clear day you can see for miles. I kept my expectations low: 20 minutes up?

She was timid at first, unsure of her steps, as she clutched Tony's hand and mine.

But slowly, she began to let go.

And enjoy the view.

We climbed about a third of the way up, and took a break for a snack. We'd made it much farther than I had hoped we would.

And then Natalie said, as she often does when she tires of something: "Mama? I go now."

So we brushed off the crumbs from the pretzels, took another swig of water, and then, something magical happened.

Natalie led the way back down.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


On the way to school this morning, after we'd taken turns singing princess songs and moved on to another favorite topic, all of Natalie's babies, I asked:

"Is Mimi Chinese?"

Natalie and Mimi at DisneyWorld, 2008

"Nooooo. Mimi from Norway."

I think she said Norway. Norway?? How would she know about Norway?

"What, honey?"

"Mimi from Norway, same as Baby Miss Ann."

"Oh. I did not know that," I said. "Did you go and get her?"

"Yyyyyep. When she was one. Really, really small."

Hmmm. This story sounds familiar.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Then I grewed up

Yesterday was Natalie's sixth birthday.

The night before was the fifth anniversary of the day when her dad and I first held her.

So at bedtime that night, I told her the story of that moment. How it was so hot and muggy in Nanchang that the windows of the hotel were fogged, how her bus was delayed for hours and how, despite only seeing a months old photo of her, I knew her the second the orphanage director walked through the door.

I told her how I jumped up from my chair and went to her, how her warm little body felt in my hands, and then against my chest. How her head smelled and how she stared up at me. How she clutched the identification card hanging by a yellow string around her neck; it was her only possession.

And then I told her how I held her, and handed her to her Daddy. And how we took pictures and we went back upstairs to our room, where I gave her a bottle, and she fell asleep on our rock hard Chinese bed, still clutching her ID.

And how it was the happiest day of my life.

I pulled the covers up to her chin.

"That's it?" Natalie asked.

"Yes, that's it," I said.

"Then I grewed up. And now I'm too heavy to hold," she said.

"Yes, you've grown up a lot."

I brushed the hair from her face, kissed both her cheeks, her forehead, her nose, her chin and her lips.

"But you'll never be too heavy for Mama to hold."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The mister is 40

Today is Tony's 40th birthday. So I'm posting this picture, which I know is mostly of me .. but I look happy. Happy with him. And, Tony really likes his fade.

That's the Ocean Beach Pier behind us. We were on the end of it one day when I put my hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eye and told him for the very first time: I love you.

Happy Birthday, honey!

(Photos courtesy of