A Weekend in New York

I’ve attended an annual weekend of meetings and family reunion activities in New York since elementary school. Earlier this month we left the two little ones at home with the Man’s father and stepmother and took the twins along on a whirlwind trip to NYC. Warning: numerous blurry cellphone photos ahead.

As you can see, they were thrilled when we finally loaded up the car and headed out. Annie wore that face-splitting grin all the way to the airport.

Jack and Annie behaved beautifully at the airport. That is, until we each took a child to the restroom before boarding and Annie encountered the automatic-flush toilet. Automatic toilets and potty training are not a match made in heaven. It flushed every time she moved which resulted in her repeatedly leaping off and trying to claw her way up my body to escape the diabolical toilet.

Lollipops kept the kids’ ears popping during takeoff and landing. I always rolled my eyes at what I thought was a bit of a hippie artifial dye phobia but it turns out one of our kids reacts very poorly to artificial dyes with through-the-roof hyperactivity and meltdowns. I’m now a big fan of the YumEarth Organics brand of candies. They’re more expensive but use plant-derived colors and the flavors are rich and fruity.

As somewhat jaded adult passengers it was fun to see the thrill of flying through our preschoolers’ eyes.

The Man’s seat bookended an otherwise empty row so we spread out. Jack talked Daddy’s ear off for the entire flight and Annie stretched out on my lap and fell fast asleep soon after takeoff.

We’d been in New York City all of thirty minutes before Jack picked up a new and colorful expletive from several construction workers in the cab line then loudly interrogated us about it in front of the crowded queue: “Why are they saying ****? WHY DO THEY KEEP SAYING ****?” Thanks, Empire State.

At the fancy-schmancy hotel the twins had the priciest mac n’ Cheese dinner of their lives which hopefully wiped Jack’s shiny new cuss word from his memory. It was spectacularly good mac n’ cheese. We know because we were ravenous ourselves and provided significant, um, “assistance” to our children. We’re used to 5:00 PM dinners with toddlers, not fashionable 8:00 PM gatherings!

After the kids’ dinner we all changed and headed up to a cocktail reception. At this point the twins were hyper and it was impossible to catch a still picture. Perhaps we should’ve understood that as a warning, but no… *cue JAWS music for the evening’s progression*. We said hello to lots of extended family and acquaintances while the twins hid their faces, begged to be held, or thrashed. We tided them over with juice and snacks, then quickly ushered them back to our room.

We’d arranged a babysitter for them while we attended a dinner for the adults. Unfortunately that’s where things really fell apart. One kid was stretched to the breaking point from the lack of routine and anxiety. The other was off the rails with excitement from the novelty. Then they started feeding off one another’s wild emotions. A little after 9:00 we got an emergency text from the babysitter asking us to return because the kids were throwing things, hitting, and pulling hair. No pictures, so you’ll just have to imagine our horrified faces staring at our phones in disbelief. The Man hurried back to find the sitter in tears and two small berserkers on the rampage. They had, among other things, thrown and shattered a glass. They’ve never behaved that way before or since. We were appalled, but also learned to reset our expectations for future trips. Our kids clearly need a parent’s hand on the first night after traveling! Children were dealt with, riot acts were read, the babysitter was thoroughly compensated, and the preschool crowd did much better for the rest of the trip.

The next morning we joined extended family for breakfast and the twins ate their weight in pastries from the buffet. Bonus, we got to meet a new niece who was even cuter than her pictures. As a kid I dreaded these gatherings. I always got sick on the planes, had migraines throughout the weekend (a sort of air travel hangover), felt claustrophobic in Manhattan, desperately craved and couldn’t find introverted alone time, and dreaded making conversation with so many people through my painful teenage shyness. This year I realized how much I’ve come to love meals with all these lovely relatives from around the world. It’s a privilege to get to see them each year and I appreciate the tremendous amounts of work put into planning it all. I still get claustroph obic in Manhattan and feel utterly drained by the end but time with so many interesting and kind family members is a real treat. Any given meal might hold conversations with an academic, a homemaker, an editor, an attorney, an engineer, a ranger, a rock climbing guide, an illustrator, or any one of dozens of other careers and lifestyles. My extended family members are warm, funny, smart, and creative, and I’m so lucky to know each of them.

While I sat in business meetings for the morning the Man took the kids to his much-beloved Metropolitan Museum of Art. He used to visit often as a college student and then later as a young man working in New York. He loved fulfilling a long-held goal of taking his own kids there. We may have spoiled them for life. It’s hard to beat the Met for your first art museum experience! Or at any rate your first conscious art museum experience. They slept through some perfectly nice exposure to art as babies.

After a group lunch with relatives we showered the kids with dire warnings and left them with the babysitter again. Thankfully, they behaved perfectly. The Man and I sat in more meetings for the afternoon. Keeping in mind the kids’ disastrous evening the night before we opted for calm and quiet family time after the meetings. We took the kids for a walk, grabbed dinner for them at a little pizzeria, and enjoyed low-key time together. They were pretty psyched to have an entire bottle of apple juice each since juice is a treat reserved for illnesses in our home.

We left them with sitters again (still with significant trepidation on our part!) and headed out for that evening’s scheduled cocktail party and dinner. Once again, the kids behaved perfectly and went right to bed. Phew! We both enjoyed our dinner with family. I’m so lucky to be married to my calm, confident, kind husband and enjoyed watching him across the table. Every so often I stop and quietly marvel over the fact that, out of all the people in the world, I get to be married to him.

Another family breakfast, another morning of meetings (the twins joined us for some and did well) and we were off. Annie felt desperately tired and kept leaning over on me in the cab and in the airport while trying to fall asleep. To keep her awake until the flight we walked long rounds through the terminal. Our hallway had a wide window overlooking the runway and the twins could’ve stayed for hours watching the planes take off and land. When we boarded our plane the flight attendants asked if the kids wanted to see the cockpit. The attendants and the pilots were very kind and welcoming and Jack has since announced he wants to be a pilot when he grows up. I think he’s inspired by the glowing prospect of pushing All! Those! Buttons!

We all felt wiped out from activity and engagements by this point. Annie crashed promptly after takeoff again and slept until landing. Jack found his second wind and talked with at his exhausted parents for the entire flight. That said, he behaved very well and worked his way through books, coloring, snacks, and my last resort, a barf bag puppet:

We returned home to two happy and well-cared for toddlers. My in-laws were so kind to look after a couple of rambunctious babies for the weekend – they even made dinner so we wouldn’t have to worry about it that night! Jenny asked us for apple juice several times an hour for the next two days so we suspect some grandparent spoiling occurred – which is just as it should be! My own grandparents frequently snuck us cookies or gummie bears, and, paradoxically, bribed us to brush our teeth with M&Ms.

We love the open prairie and peaceful woods around our home but it was fun to take a quick special big-city trip with our big kids!

Toddler-ing

“Did you make a big mess?”

“No!”

It’s hard to claim plausible deniability when the evidence is still trickling in a steady oatmeal waterfall off your shoulder.

Luckily the floor had just been mopped and oatmeal requires cooking anyhow so we were able to salvage most of it. Also luckily, she’s cute. Less luckily, she’s developing a mullet.

This bad picture thrown in only to demonstrate that we’ve finally found a solution for Little Baby No Pants. Her ditch-the-pants hobby wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t still chilly out. As it is she yanks them off, then starts crying because she’s cold. All. Day. Long. We finally put leggings on under her onesie, then snapped it over them. Let’s just pretend it’s an intentional ballerina in a (mismatched) leotard look. I don’t know what we’ll do if she figures out how to unsnap her onesie – duct tape?

Daybook for the First Week of Spring

Outside my window…


Sunshine is pouring down after a long stretch of cold gray days. [I wrote that two days ago. Now it’s gray and dreary, but at least it’s in the 50s]. We’ve had an odd winter with bitter cold and loads of snow in December followed by a snow-less January and February. Temperatures vacillated between frigid cold and balmy spring-like days. We even had a couple thunderstorms and a tornado watch in the mix. Flower buds popped out along the bare branches on our crap apples and daffodil shoots sprouted all over the yard. Now that it’s March we’ve had another four sticking snows and the kids finally got to use the sleds they received for Christmas. All the plants about to bloom have paused and hunkered back down looking a bit sheepish. If they had feelings I think they’d mirror the embarrassment one feels after standing up for a song in church, looking it up in the hymnal, then glancing around after finding the page to realize everyone else has remained seated. A purely hypothetical scenario not based on personal experience at all, of course. We moved into this house in June so I’m looking forward to seeing the yard in Spring for the first time.

I am thankful…


At the natural history museum. Only Josie seems to grasp the peril of their situation

…that the stomach flu continued on its way after afflicting only Jack. Poor Jack, but lucky us. [Update from two days later: apparently I jinxed myself. Reward: spending half last night up with a vomiting baby].

…for community. We’re glad to be closer to family  but have badly missed our old neighborhood, friends, church, and military community in North Carolina. We’re finally starting to build a few connections after many months of church hunting and it’s a nice feeling.

…for bigger kids. This is the last day of The Man’s latest stretch of ICU call. ICU is still exhaustingl and intense on the home front, but so much easier than it used to be. The Man came home late in the evening yesterday, glanced around the tidied-right-before-bed-with-the-kids house, and commented “You know, the house could never have looked this good in the middle of an ICU week a year ago.” It’s true. 4, 4, 2, and 1 is a very different state than 3, 3, 1, and an infant. When he’s gone for extended stretches it’s still (very) hard work but I don’t constantly feel like I’m scrambling to keep body and soul together. There’s just enough breathing space for little extras like a museum trip, park stop, or store run with all four in tow. I even made it to church solo with all four little kids this morning – a first! They can do things now like eat a picnic lunch in the car with (reasonable) tidiness, skip the occasional nap or snack, or delay a meal half an hour without imploding. Altogether, just a little more flexibility in our days.

I am thinking


about Spring plans outside and inside. Our home has basic landscaping but nothing more. We’d like to plant flower beds, a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, and a few berry bushes but will have to see what time allows. We’re also debating school plans for next year. Continue as we have with private school a couple mornings a week and low-key homeschooling on other days? Public special needs preschool? Full time homeschooling with more room for therapy? Another option?

Learning all the time…


with baking experiments. I love to cook and bake but can easily fall into a rut thanks to the basic necessity of feeding all these people all these meals on all the days. I really haven’t done much with yeast breads in the past. So, in place of the usual familiar dessert baking I’ve been experimenting this Lent with various yeast-based doughs: pizza dough, Smitten Kitchen’s Cheddar rolls (delicious, but I think better with tomato soup than for breakfast), and a couple batches of whole wheat/whole grain bread. Do you have a favorite recipe (or cookbook) for whole wheat bread, the perfect pizza dough, or something else? I’m all ears. We’ve had reasonable success but risen doughs are definitely a learned skill.

Celebrating the liturgical year…


with a low-key Lent. I can’t say we’ve done anything specifically Lenten as a family though we continue as usual with daily Bible reading, prayers, and hymns with the kids. As adults it’s been a quiet but beneficial Lent so far. Not dramatic, but steady. While it’s not specifically Lenten, I’ve also been enjoying richer and more consistent scripture study since Christmas. We’re pretty consistent about reading the Bible as a couple but I’ve struggled with sticking to my own devotions. I’m a fast reader and often find myself skimming through the Bible when I sit down to read it. On the other hand, when I use a formal study the intellectual perfectionist side of me rears its head and I find myself writing exhaustive answers to each question and lost for hours on a section that’s designed to take ten minutes. That’s not bad except that I then get impatient and frustrated and abandon the whole thing. At the end of December I jumped (late) on an Advent-focused scripture writing challenge. I started a new one in January and found I really benefited from the forced slow pace and intense focus of hand-writing a passage instead of just reading it. At the beginning of February I decided to start copying an entire book by hand. I settled on Romans because it’s middle-of-the-road in length, theologically rich, and one I haven’t studied in a while. Because I know myself and my tendency to do things just to check them off the list I didn’t even break it into sections to tackle and check off. Every morning I just read the next passage (usually 3-6 verses), hand copy it, re-read it, then rapidly skim the book back up to that point to place it in context and make sure I’m tracking. I’m happy to say, after years of on-again-of-again personal study that I’ve missed only a couple of days since January first. I’m half way through Romans and am pausing to outline the first eight chapters and review. 6 weeks sounds like a long time for eight chapters but I’m flying compared to my childhood pastor who preached through Romans for two straight years. There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

From the kitchen…


as mentioned above, yeast breads. Also, a fair number of meatless meals like potato pancakes, leek and potato soup, salads, black beans, and pasta. I also made crepes for the first time using the Joy of Cooking recipe. I substituted 1/3 whole wheat flour for all purpose. My Mom used to make crepes and I love them so I don’t know why it took me so long to get on the bandwagon. They make a nice Lenten special family breakfast. I skipped the sugar in the batter, spooned warm applesauce down the middle, rolled them up, and sprinkled cinnamon on top. A hit with everyone. Were it not Lent that’d be cinnamon sugar, the way my Mom used to make them for us on cold winter mornings. After Easter there’ll be blintzes and crepes with Nutella and strawberries in our treats lineup.

I am creating…


a scarf. Very. Very. Very. Sloooowly. At this rate it will be ready just in time for the stifling heat of August. Knitting is not a “just like riding a bike” skill for me. I’ve learned and then forgotten how to knit many times: as a small child, an older child, in college, and again while The Man was deployed. At some point after the twins became mobile one crawled to the knitting basket and tangled my work-in-progress. I never finished it. Two more babies followed and all skills were again forgotten. I’m just now getting to the point where there’s a smidgen of breathing room for handcrafts. Courtesy of YouTube I’m now back to knitting Continental Style. I’m making this pattern without the contrasting center stripe or letters.

I am working on…


bits of spring cleaning, as time allows.

I am going


to lots and lots of therapy appointments. Physical therapy for me, feeding therapy for Jenny (the end is in sight after almost three years!), Speech, OT, and Behavioral Therapy for Annie. In addition there are specialist visits for various children and routine pediatrician and dental checkups needed. I don’t really like being a family that has someplace to be every day of the week but right now it’s necessary. Whenever possible I treat appointments as special 0ne-on-one time with a child. We chat in the car, play music of the kid’s choice, and read books or play one-on-one together in the waiting room. Often the long drives are also a good time for me to catch up on my podcasts queue or listen to an audiobook if the child isn’t in a chatty mood.

I am hoping


to prepare well in advance for a weekend trip to New York. Practically, though, who am I kidding ;).

I am praying…


for our three older kids and their first families. Adoption is complicated and messy. A blessing, yes, but also a tremendous loss.

I am pondering

Jack’s face of concentration. Ha!


special needs parenting. I’m reading as much as I can get my hands on. There’s a wealth of (often contradictory) information out there. It’s hard to take that flood of information in, filter it, and decide what’s best for a child who doesn’t yet have much say. Unfortunately many Christian parenting books take a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that may work with typically developing children but is poorly suited to kids with neurological differences.  It’s humbling as a parent who thought I knew everything before having kids (and frequently judged others’ parenting) to realize that much of our kids’ behavior and growth cannot, and sometimes should not, be controlled by us. It’s a constant fight to focus on what a child really needs and not the way others around us are judging the child or our parenting.

I am reading


Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck as an audiobook read by Gary Sinise. It’s wonderful, and Sinise has the perfect voice for it. Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan I highly recommend this account of his casual journey through 40 states. He combines dry wit and poetic description with detached observation and a warm interest in the people he meets. I love a good armchair travel book but frequently cringe at travel writer’s scornful summary of the people they encounter. I can’t imagine how the people Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux describe must feel at the authors’ sardonic assessments of their lives. Steinbeck manages to describe foibles without mockery and approaches others on his travels with warm interest. I’m also reading Madeleine L’Engle’s first memoir A Circle of Quiet which is enjoyable and thought provoking. She’s incredibly well-read so each page brings up some other book I should also read. Dangerous fodder.

I am listening to


Podcasts, whenever I can. When I was growing up my parents frequently had the radio on. Classical music, talk radio, or the news in the car, often Old Time Radio or Car Talk on Saturday mornings. I almost never turn the radio on but I think Podcasts are my equivalent. It’s nice to have a grownup talking to me about something interesting as I do the dishes or fold laundry. We’re also listening to classical music quite a bit as the kids usually request “singing” in the car and one can tolerate only so much of Elizabeth Mitchell or the OkeeDokee Brothers. Right now it’s Haydn’s masses in the car and Beethoven in the CD player at home.

I am hearing


The washing machine gently swishing, laundry tumbling ’round the drying, and an anemic burbling from our increasingly useless coffee maker. The baby spent half the night vomiting through multiple rooms so I’m in wash-and-sterilize-everything mode.

I am struggling


with my hair. Which sounds a bit silly and vain but I’ve never been a hair or makeup person. All my life I’ve just washed every couple days, combed or brushed, and tossed it back in a bun, braid, or ponytail without blow drying, styling, or products. The very hard water in our new home is wreaking havoc on my hair though and it constantly looks unkempt. Dry strands, frizz, and unevenness abound. The hard water doesn’t really bother us in any other way so I’m wondering if there are better product choices vs. investing vast sums in a water softener.

Clicking around


Well, not much really. I’m doing my best to cut back on social media in particular and screen time in general. Which, bonus, allows time for things like writing and reading!

Around the house…

SuperDad comforts four fussing children at once.

we’re making plans for painting a few rooms. We haven’t made any changes to the house and have only hung one picture since we moved in Hopefully we can get a few small projects done before warmer temperatures pull our living outside. We’re adding in some more consistent chores for the big kids now that they’re four. We’ve always had them help, but are adding in a few more regular jobs at regular times for them like vacuuming the dining room after meals and a set whole house cleanup every evening. They’re still at the age where it’s more work to supervise them than to do it ourselves, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

One of my favorite things…


The quiet hour or two before the kids get up. I’ve been consistently getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 since New Years with only a couple of later days from illness or missed alarms. I consider the earliest hours my personal time. For this introvert it’s a key window to read, eat a quiet breakfast, do my Bible study, exercise, or knit. Sometimes I squeeze in a chore or two, but I don’t feel obligated to use that time for household purposes. I find when I start the day with something mentally fulfilling I’m a much better spouse and parent throughout the day.

A few plans for this week…

About typical for our “selfies for six” attempts. Seven if your count Annie’s beloved bear.

Therapies and specialist appointments. Dinner with the pastor’s family tonight. Sending off picture and email updates to the kids’ birth families.

A little peek at my day…


A sick baby overnight means a freshly-bathed baby with fabulous hair in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hikes and Hair

 This is the view from the playground by our house. We love standing on the hill and looking out over the rolling prairie and farms. It’s like a picture book scene: a little town in the distance, trains chugging by in the valley, livestock dotting the distant grass by miniature barns and houses. The ridge always catches a breeze, and hiking trails lead off through the long grass and wildflowers. We stop by as often as we can to savor the changing seasons. Last week I took the big three while The Man stayed with the napping baby. After playground time and a short hike we switched off duties so The Man could take Jack to the barber.


Though we have much to learn yet adoption has already forced us to grow, change, and challenge our own assumptions. For example, before adopting African American kids we had no idea how important hair is in black culture. Hair must always be moisturized and well-groomed. Girls typically wear their hair in protective styles like cornrows or twists. Putting girls’ hair down in a twist out or an Afro is for special occasions only. Many white adoptive families (us included before we learned better!) keep their black daughters’ hair loose and dry. However, that choice leaves kids outsiders in the black community; unkempt hair outside the home is on par with wearing filthy clothes, not brushing your teeth, or never bathing. Likewise, many white families  just buzz their black sons’ hair at home – after all it’s cheaper and easier than heading out. However, black barbershops are a community cornerstone for black men and boys. Many black males get their hair lined up by their barber every week. Black barbershops are a place to socialize, develop inter-generational ties, share news, and learn skills for thriving as a minority in our society. Many adult transracial adoptees regret a childhood of standing out everywhere as the only representative of their race in white communities. They remember being the token black student in their grade, the only non-white kid at the park, and so on. Later, as independent adults who’ve lost the visible connection to their parents and token “white card” black adoptees often find themselves on the fringe of the white community, but unfamiliar with and uncomfortable in the black community as well. As adoptive parents, we believe adult adoptees are one of the best resources for learning pitfalls and plusses in adoptive parenting.


Although we have several African-American neighbors, on average our new town is much less racially diverse than our old town. Since moving we’ve been hunting for church, school, commercial, and social opportunities with positive racial mirrors for our kids. Thanks to a recommendation from friends we finally found a great black barbershop. I grew up oblivious to racial issues and assuming that racism was rare or non-existent in our Midwestern town. Most neighbors would have said they didn’t see or care about color. But there, as anywhere, overt and systemic racism was all around us. My kindergarten teacher sent the only black students to the principle constantly because she didn’t want them in her class. Police stopped black boys just for waiting in their cars in predominantly white areas. A large group of young black men would have been viewed with suspicion by people in the community. What a healthy adjustment now, after lots of hunting, to find a barbershop full to bursting with black teenage boys sent by their parents for fresh cuts before church on Sunday, dads with young sons, businessmen, seniors out to socialize on a weekend morning. Where, for a change, our son blends in with the majority and my husband is the sole white guy in the room. Jack came back bursting with pride in his sharp looking bald fade (and delighted with the three lollipops he scored for a haircut). We’re happy to have another great resource for our son as he matures. That’s not to say he’s so mature right now. This is what happens when I ask him to smile for a photo with his sister:

Threenager

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Many parents say that girls are harder at two and boys are more volatile at three. Some say boys evict the “Terrible Twos” with the “Histrionic Threes”. We’ve seen that over the last two months as our formerly happy-go-lucky and compliant Jack defies instructions by running away, crying, inching forward like a turtle, or throwing himself on the floor no matter what we ask him to do. Please go to the potty so you don’t have an accident on errands? Fascists! He can’t go to the grocery store in his underpants? Outrage! His baby sister is wearing the same color bib as him? Oh cruel fate! Alas! Alack! Woe! *cue Greek chorus*

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Sometimes it is just an outburst of a very little boy still learning self-control. Other times, well… While on vacation a week ago Jack started shrieking angrily in the back row of the minivan. It was painfully loud and Baby Josie let out a plaintive wail. Jack immediately stopped screaming and corrected her for her interuption in a perfectly normal voice “No, [Josie]! I want to scream.” Helpless victim of his emotions, my foot. We are, incidentally, seeing some progress with Kendra’s Bean Jar approach.

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That being said, Jack’s also blossoming as a person with new thoughts, words, and abilities unfolding every day. He’s an endless source of creative play, always takes care of his sisters, and loves to help. He begs to vacuum, runs to fetch and carry if our hands are full with a baby, will pick up sticks or rake leaves all day, and especially loves unpacking the groceries with us. We must have once said something like “thanks, little man” when he helped us unload because now every time he carries in groceries, puts them on the counter, and flattens the bags for us he struts around with his chest puffed out announcing “I’m a yittle man! I’m a yittle man!” Thankfully, between the wild developmental swings of defiance three year olds can be awfully sweet. Josie thinks so, at least when Jack’s not shrieking like a banshee…

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