Archive for November, 2010

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songs of innocence

November 19, 2010

Here’s where the cute Mara stories go! I’m actually glad I waited because i have a new one from today. I’ve been kind of a worthless mommy for the last few days because I finally managed to do some real damage to my back with all the time I’ve spent hauling her around. I got a prescription for muscle relaxants and between that and heating pads at night and my electro-convulsant stimulation machine during the day, I get by. I walk stooped over a lot of the time, but I haven’t screamed or cried in front of her during the worst of the sciatic pain, so I consider it a success.

Anyway, this morning she came to sit on my lap (and, as it turned out, eat the rest of my bowl of soup) and we were talking about what she was going to do once she got down. I asked if she’d play with her musical instruments or her blocks, if she’d read. Since I got a strong “no!” for each of these, I asked if she was going to drive a school bus, since school buses seem to be her favorite thing in the world. “No,” she said decisively, “I’m gonna love1′ and then gave me a hug.

We’re getting plenty of whining and crying, for sure, and regular three-year-old petulance, but I had a whole long full-sentence conversation with her during dinner tonight and it no longer seemed particularly noteworthy that she’s talking so much and so well. Her snuggliness is still a constant, but she also understands that I can’t carry her because my back hurts. (I do lift and hold her; I’m kind of choosing my battles.)

It’s “ba-ba-ball” season and she and Lee are watching plenty. She’s learned “DE-FENSE!” (clap, clap) and tonight added, “Bring it, baby!” to her repertoire. Although she defaults to me when it comes to comfort, she and Lee crack each other up. Lee told Mara, “Get on out of here!” and apparently at first Mara looked stricken, feeling rejected, but then she got a little glint in her eye and said, “YOU get on out of here!” and they were both laughing. I had to hear that pretty much non-stop for the last half hour before they went to bed.

Mara’s a very excited eater and generally sings or hums “Yum yum, yum yum yum!” while eating. She’s learned to say, “No, thank you” rather than “yuck!” (mostly) if she doesn’t want something and even improvised, “I don’t wanna, thank you!” the other night to incorporate her own favorite phrase. She took off from the table with a roll on Sunday night and when I told her to come back, saying, “Mara, sweetie, we eat dinner in the dining room,” she immediately chirped out, “Not anymore!”

Lee’s birthmom Alice just called to say she’d gotten the photos we sent. She’s already choosing her “grandma” name and says Mara is “cute as a bug,” which is the exact same phrase we got from my uncle in Europe. We’ve also sent photos to Mara’s social worker to pass on to her mom. I know this isn’t something the other foster family did and isn’t anything that’s expected of us, but it just seems to me that she would feel better seeing for herself that her daughter is healthy and happy even if she’s not working toward getting custody.

We talked to Rowan, too, at last. I was hoping he wouldn’t feel excluded since we now don’t oficially have room for him. He’s excited for us, though, and happy where he is for now. He was thrilled that Mara is from the same housing project he and his foster brother are, though neither of them knows her family. He says he’s glad she’s with us and doing well. He was in good spirits and sounded relaxed, which I always appreciate. There was a post from O Solo Mama tonight that made me think about my relationship with Rowan. Am I deluding myself in considering him “family” and thinking it’s important to him that we remain a part of his life? Am I just playing out my own view of myself and forcing him to follow his role in that? I think not and hope not, but this is something I’m thinking about, Rowan-as-teen-boy versus Rowan-as-part-of-me-being-parental. At any rate, he enjoys talking to us and I think that’s reason enough to keep calling him, regardless of what my other motivations may have been.

And Lee put Mara down to bed in way less time than it’s taken me to write this. It seems like all of a sudden evenings have just opened up now that it only takes her between five and twenty minutes to fall asleep to the point where she can successfully be moved from the rocking chair to bed, rather than up to an hour and sometimes more we were facing in the first week. Shes getting more active about playing with her cuddly toys, including a puppy one of my coworkers gave her, which she has named Puppy. Puppy is the first of her toys to bear a name she chose. Every day she comes up with something new and she understands things better, I can tell.

I’m still pretty much exhausted, which would be the case if I were in this much pain even without a kid in the house. But with all the laundry (oh, man, the laundry!) and cooking and cleaning up after cooking, doing dishes, getting her dressed and dealing with time in the bathroom, plus just being available to her at any time and talking with her all day, well, I’m beat! But today we watched her favorite movie, the documentary Babies, and talked again about all the different ways mommies can be mommies and how babies have different personalities, talking a little about what little I know of her history. I do know her personality now is a sweet one. Her favorite points in the film may be when the Mongolian baby pees and when the Namibian baby walks around with a can on his head like a hat, but her true self comes out when she’s cheering them on as they crawl, stand, walk. “Good job, baby! You did it Yippee!” I couldn’t have said it better myself when looking at her every single day.

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“I want to!!”

November 16, 2010

I’d wanted to write a post about one of the difficult things we’re dealing with and another about the adorable things Mara says, but I’m afraid I’m going to fall asleep soon, so I’ll focus on the hard stuff where I’d like advice first and you’ll get most of the cuteness later.

I will add that on waking this morning, she said to Lee, “How did you sleep?” which is what Lee has said every morning. She’s just completely hilarious, and “I want to” in the title here is one of my favorite Mara-isms that I suspect we’ll lose soon as her speech keeps improving. Sometimes it means exactly what it says, like “I want to turn off the light!” but other times it’s “I want to cheese!” because it just means “I want” in general. She doesn’t have a lot of grammatical errors yet and I have a feeling this one isn’t long for our world, but I love it and the slightly singsong tone she uses for it!

But Mara’s wanting is what I’d like to talk to other experienced parents about, especially ones who’ve dealt with kids who had inconsistent attachment and caregiving in their early years. Initially Mara was only doing this with Lee, but she’s been doing more of it with both of us and today, when she seemed to be sort of under the weather, was especially bad.

Mara will ask me to do something or signal she wants something but then when I offer it to her, she cowers and runs away and sometimes shrieks a little (“I don’t wanna!” being typical). She honestly seems to want these things, like to have help putting her pull-up on or to have me fill her cup with water, but some part of her just can’t let her accept it. My response has been to say, “That’s fine. You should feel however you feel, but I’ll be here when you’re ready for x.” Then I just wait and after another try or two she’s usually ready for whatever it was she wanted. Lee had thought she was teasing with this and would sort of tease back or chase a bit, which didn’t seem to be as effective.

We’re doing okay in dealing with this and even today, when the whining and crying were pretty consistent throughout, Mara and I both came through still loving each other and simply more worn out than usual. I just think this has to be some sort of attachment thing and I’m curious if others have encountered it or if it rings any bells. She’s still good about showing that she needs affection and cuddling and we’re very clear about giving it to her whenever she needs it. She’s getting more independent by the day, but she still falls asleep in our arms every night. We’re dealing with her other behaviors fine, but this one almost seems like it’s hurting her and we want to be able to address it and support her better if we can.

More Mara cuteness soon, I promise, because it never stops!

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cute things they say/do

November 7, 2010

Dawn told me I’d better be blogging the cute things Mara says so that I don’t forget, and she’s right. I mean, I’m keeping track of bedtimes and meals and all the developmental stuff in case the social workers want to see that, but the more awesome bits can slip through those cracks.

As of this afternoon, Mara has been with us a week. And she’s definitely getting comfortable, which I know because within the last hour when I asked if she was ready to go up to the rocking chair, she said, “Yes, chair!” and then also answered that she didn’t want to walk but that I should carry her. When we got to the chair in her room, she ran right over to the bed to get the duvet (we have two since these were bunk beds before she came; we can double them up on her if she’s cold or, more often, use one for the bed and one to wrap her when we’re rocking her) and climbed right into my lap and positioned herself the way she wanted to be. She was fast asleep within about a minute and a half, quickly enough that my iPad hadn’t gone to sleep from when I’d set it down to take her upstairs. I kept rocking because it feels extra good to rock her when I’m not trying to comfort or relax her, but now she’s out cold and I probably won’t hear from her again until she does her mid-sleep wakeup about 4 am, though this morning she was able to come get me in my bed without crying!

Mara’s been playing back a lot of the games we play with her, asking, “Where’s the 8?” when holding the remote control and once we point out, chirping, “Good!” I find this hilarious! And while I mentioned this last night, she’s been saying a lot today that she feels happy. Lee and I both pointed out that we feel happy too and she said, “Good! That’s good!” Later she asked us if we were happy and then followed the same script, praising us for telling her how we feel. (For the record, I’ve also told her it’s okay to be sad and scared since she answered affirmatively to both of those when I was rocking her at 4 am the other day.)

She and Mama (Lee) spent much of the day together, as I was able to take a pain pill and thus need to sleep. I wouldn’t do this if I had to take care of Mara myself, but having Lee free to do it was perfect. I cleaned off some of the blocks from my childhood (and which had belonged to my parents before me) and put them out for her to play with, and apparently she’s able to make a 10-block tower. Even more impressive is that she can count all the way to ten with pretty good accuracy.

She’s told us that she likes grapes and that she loves cheese, but I think she’d eat nothing but cheese if we allowed it. We’re trying to balance an Ellyn Satter approach with the reality that a child who’s faced hunger and lack at some point in her life needs to know that there will be sufficient food. We’ve pretty much convinced her that getting food out of the fridge is a mom job but that it’s okay for her to look in and reassure herself that there is plenty of food. If we let her demand when she’ll have cheese or lunch meat, though, she’d go through all of it in a single sitting. (And for anyone who’s worried that cheese will cause constipation, um, apparently not. And hooray that Lee got to deal with that particular trial by fire while I was out of the house today! Usually the ickier stuff is all mine!)

Mara is so diligent about putting things away! The blocks are still out, but she loves taking her finger puppets out of their box, introducing each by name (cook, moose, etc., not Suzanne or Jamaal) and then put them back in their box as soon as she’s finished. She’s also good about mopping up spills as soon as they happen and using a napkin to dry her hands, then ask for sanitizer or a wash if they’re still sticky afterwards. She’s willing to do all kinds of things to make her hands dirty in the first place, but at least she’s willing to make an effort toward cleaning up!

Speaking of messy stuff Lee misses out on by having the day job, there was something I think Friday morning that made me so grateful Lee wasn’t home. While Mara was using her fork to eat her graham crackers, she came up with a game she clearly found hilarious. Once she had each piece of graham cracker between her teeth, she’d bite off the inside part while shrieking AHH-CHOO! to pretend she was sneezing while whipping her head and dropping the outside part to the floor. I know Lee would have been in hysterics if she’d watched this (and, I fear, incorporated it into her own dining habits!) but I just kept my calm and let her know she’d have to help clean up the mess after the meal, which is exactly what we did.

I know it’s only been a week, but she seems like a different child both from what we were told to expect and what we experienced in our early interactions with her. She even looks older, though that’s probably a combination of new and different hairstyles (we’re going back to bantu knots tomorrow even knowing she’ll rip them out when she twists her hair later, because Lee doesn’t like the little afro puffs) and just that we know her and her personality better. She’s got big, gorgeous eyes and a mouth full of perfect teeth that show right up when she smiles. Every morning, I know she’s truly awake at the moment she smiles at me and then sticks out the point of her tongue.

We were told Mara needed not just a night light but an actual lamp beside her bed. She’s now sleeping in a totally dark room (though there’s ambient light from the street outside) by her preference and she doesn’t even need her Little Nighttime Friend. We were told she’d be clingy and weepy, but she gets more independent by the day. Even when a storm came up unexpectedly on Tuesday or Wednesday and I needed to run outside to my car to get the windows up, she understood that I was just going to be gone a minute and she waited by the door for me without seeming bothered. We always explain where we’re going when we leave the room and now get a “Yup!” whenever we check to make sure she understands.

I do know Mara’s speech is delayed, but she also just seems to be blossoming there. I can gauge her mood (and tiredness) by her willingness to talk extensively rather than grunt, but she’s growing in what she’s willing and able to do. I noted in probably our first visit that she was very clever about gesturing and grunting and using maybe one word to make it clear what she wants. Now we routinely get “I don’t wanna get under the blanket!” or “I want chocolate milk!” without even having to prompt for details.

Again, I may have said this because I’m not sure what I’m saying to whom and when I’m repeated. HOWEVER! She’s an incredibly polite child. She thanked an older girl at the park who complimented her on her hoodie. She’s careful to say her hellos and good-byes, complete with waves. (Thanks to Lee, she can give an accurate thumbs-up signal as well as a high five!) She doesn’t always say “please” but she’s perfect with “thank you” and occasionally even busts out with, “Oh my gosh, thank you soooo much!” in a voice that’s totally genuine and totally adorable. We earned that one for the dolly we gave her on her second visit, the finger puppets she got for her birthday, and then my mother got probably her most excited one yet for snipping off some late-blooming daisies and giving them to her so she can stare at them lovingly every day in the vase we’ve put on her little table by her bed. We’re working on “excuse me” as a reaction to bodily functions, but “you’re welcome” is there and she picked up “no, thank you” in response to food offers just from observing us (probably only me, since Lee hasn’t been reading Ellyn Satter) at meals.

She’s clearly gotten by without language for complex reasons and her own Mara talk is the kind of babble younger kids have. As she actually learns words, though, they fill in for the blanks she’d clearly been carrying. I heard her say something I couldn’t understand as she was climbing a jungle gym and said, guessing just from the tone and rhythm, “Step right up!” Sure enough, she now says that clear as a bell. Similarly, just before bed tonight I let her watch some Wonder Pets and I sang along with the theme song while she murmured nonsense syllables. By the second time around, she’d picked up more of the words and was singing pretty accurately with me.

I also want to say that all of this is as smooth and easy (relatively speaking!) as it is because Mara makes it that way. She’s incredibly resilient and aware of others’ emotions and inputs because she’s learned to be, although I’m sure part of it is just her personality too. I do believe she’s a good fit for our personalities and that she was yearning for the kind of attention and comfort we can give her, as well as for routines. But she’s gotten comfortable here so quickly in part because she’s learned to get comortable in new situations, and while that’s a survival skill that is making it easier for me to get her into bed, it’s also one that will have negative implications for her life and personality and ability to trust people. I’m not trying to deny or ignore those negatives; Lee and I discuss them a lot. But for now, I want to talk about the beauty I see in this girl and the joy that she’s brought to our lives. That, too, is real and important.

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little-known facts

November 6, 2010

I’ve been way too busy and tired to write here, but trust that everything is exhausting and adorable. There’s still sadness and unrest in the night, but Mara’s a warm and charming child and every day she opens up to us more and talks more and better.

Tonight Lee brought her over to see me serve food at the monthly soup kitchen the church hosts. They had some of the leftovers and then Lee went over to her college for a basketball game and left Mara with me. I’d expected Mara to be clingy around a group of strangers, but instead she pitched in with the clean-up and did more than volunteers 20 times her age have in the past, pushing chairs and carrying things to the garbage.

We’d been referring to ourselves as Mama Thorn and Mommy Lee. She took to calling me Mommy (which she’d used for her foster mom; at her age it describes a job as much as a person) and hadn’t been calling Lee by anything. Today, though, she busted out with Mama and has now confirmed that that’s Lee’s name. This is really endearing to both of us, that she has names she calls us. She has slightly different relationships with each of us and I just love seeing it grow.

She’s got a good sense of humor. She offered Lee a piece of popcorn tonight and then said, “Do you like it?” and when Lee said she did, replied, “Good!” in exactly the over-bright tone Lee uses with her in the same context. She’s a wriggly gymnast and laughs a lot, finds life funny. She’s been telling us for the last half of the week that she’s happy (now that she’s able to separate “happy” from “happy birthday,” which was the earlier part’s association) and I do think that’s true.

I know I said already that Mara is learning to speak better. I’ve seen her add words from “fire hydrant” to “gorgeous” into her vocabulary. And the little girl who was supposedly not making two-word sentences this summer said tonight, “I want to look outside from here (the car)!” She’d been saying “I want to” and “I don’t want” very similarly and when Lee teased her about the latter, sing-song “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna!” over and over, Mara responded in kind and in the process began to actually enunciate the words.

There are so many more cute stories I could be telling you, which is why I really should be commenting daily. She’s the girl who can climb on everything at the park, who is extra gentle with the cat and dog, who loves to cuddle up against us, who notices shapes everywhere we go and sees airplanes before we can. She’s also the one who shrieked while getting a flu shot and having her sinus drainage examined at the doctors’ office but then (prompted by me, I admit) thanked the nurse who’d given her the shot for doing her job. She’s very polite, but also willful and spirited.

This isn’t such a great post, but I’ll try to make better and clearer ones in the next week, when Lee has a break from school and will be around a lot more than she has been. That will let us space things out and do more as mother-child duos and as a family. Plus Mara’s getting more independent by the day, which also makes things easier on me.

I’m totally in love, as is Lee. Early next week we’ll meet the social workers and I hope finally learn more about her family, including what her name is supposed to be. I’m now fairly sure that we’re not using the right version of her name, but we’re not going to change until we know. We have made sure that she can recognize both name versions and her nickname as being herself, which does seem to be the case. I want to make her a lifebook, which will mean bothering the foster mom for some photos, since they never did a lifebook while she was in her home. I’ll also be able to learn her siblings’ names and maybe the names of any caretakers we know she had before entering care. While it’s partly that I want to be able to tell her as much of her story as we can find, I also want to have that information myself so I can try to make connections that will enhance her life more than simple information could.

Last week at this time, Lee and I had gone out to a nice dinner and were trying to imagine how we’d feel when our life changed. I’m pretty sure my reaction is characteristic of her, too. Parenting Mara is an incredibly hard job just in terms of wear and tear on my spine, lack of sleep, the amount of attention it takes to keep up with her all day every day. And yet when I see that perfect smile or when she nuzzles up against me or even when she cries and I’m there to help her (because we’ve agreed that crying doesn’t mean she’ll get her way but does mean she’ll get comfort) or when I see her acting out stories with her toys, any amount of worth would be worth it. I’ve done so little for myself (which will be changing; but the first week was going to be the hardest) and yet I don’t feel any lack or loss there. Instead I just feel that my heart and my life are getting bigger all the time. This is the best, best thing and I’m so proud of the changes I’m seeing in her and in Lee and in me. I, too, am happy!

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social day

November 1, 2010

Mara is asleep upstairs. Trick-or-treating in our town and the next was supposed to go from 6-8 but somehow I’d thought it was 4-6. That meant that at 4:30 we were in the next town over with Mara her ladybug costume meeting some of our friends. Since they weren’t busy supervising kids or handing out candy, she actually got to chatter and play with them. Then we were back home in time for her to walk along our side of the block for some more candy and then sit on the stoop with me to hand out treats.

After falling asleep at 9:30 or so, she woke again around 5:00 this morning. Lee took her to sit in the rocking chair and because I didn’t go back to sleep, I could hear them chatting sometimes. At about 7, I went in and took over rocking chair duty and Lee was able to fall asleep. Mara slept, too, and I rocked her gently from 7 until about 9:30, which I think is a good amount of sleep especially for a first night.

Once we got her out of bed, I was able to restyle her hair quickly into rope twists held with snaps at the ends, which I hope will last longer than last Saturday’s plain two-strand twists did, especially if we give these good treatment. Then we took her to church, where it was youth Sunday and I was supposed to give a little presentation about the academic enrichment program I’m involved with there.

Mara started out very shy at church, but she was also very aware of how just about everyone else hhere had dark skin like hers. The other little girl in foster care sat right behind us, and the two of them share huge eyes and sparse hair. They were grinning at each other over my shoulder. Mara was totally patient and appropriate through church, though she clearly got tired by the end. She bopped to the music and was obviously paying attention to the teenagers’ mime dance as immediately after she started making elaborate wrist gestures with her raisin.

Since she’d been adorable and well-behaved there, we decided to swing by my parents’ house so she could meet them. My dad played one of his instruments for her and they counted to each other on their fingers. As we were leaving, my mother handed her a daisy and Mara responded as if this were the most precious gem imaginable. It even prompted her highest praise, “Oh my gosh!” My mother hadn’t been entirely positive about our taking Mara (I think because in her world cute and desirable kids belong with straight married people, though it may just be that specifically she doesn’t have faith in me) but she seemed smitten. She’s cleared out their back yard so Mara and I can come play there and walk into the woods if we want to while I’m on my leave.

We still haven’t seen any real tantrums from Mara, which was pretty much her foster family’s experience too. Other than reacting as if the person who’s washing her hair is trying to kill her, she is one seriously easy-going kid. She eats happily and is good about telling us what her wants and needs are. She’s chattering more and more every day and singing little songs to herself, some in what seem to be nonsense words and today one in English about being a ladybug and flying and another that was apparently about my heart.

Even from the easy stuff, I’m exhausted and my back is sore. While Lee’s being phenomenal, I’m already being the primary parent in a lot of the gruntwork ways. And boy, it leaves me ready for bed! I’m so glad I have a partner who can pick up the slack when I need to rest. I’m way beyond thrilled I have a little one who seems to love and accept us both.

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