A Fresh Start

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's been two years since I started this blog after reading the very helpful and practical Raising Your Spirited Child, and 4 1/2 years since HJ came home. In that time HJ (and hopefully I) have both learned how to deal with some of those anxiety-inducing issues that kept us up late at night. That's not to say HJ no longer has any meltdowns, or that I no longer have any sleepless nights, but after all these years I finally may be starting to feel comfortable with how to be a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom.

And this is all to say that I think we're ready for a fresh start, and that we've found a new home with the blogging community over at ChicagoNow. I hope to connect with many new moms and other adoptive families in the parenting forums there. I'd love for you to come and visit us at our new home http://www.chicagonow.com/my-spirited-girl/.

Little Sister Lila

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The other day when Sol and I were unfortunately having an argument in front of the kids (or more accurately, I was having a one-sided argument while Sol was listening), Lila interrupted and said "Mommy, why are you doing this?" And she did her best impression of a mad face and kind of jumped up and down. I don't know if I was literally jumping up and down because I was mad, but as soon as Lila said this in her two-year old squeaky Lila voice, I just couldn't be that angry anymore.

Lila has always had that rare ability to make someone laugh at any moment, even when they think they're really in a bad mood. It really makes it hard for me and Sol to get upset with her for very long. When she's not annoying HJ by being a typical little sister, even HJ finds herself laughing at the silly and funny things Lila says and does.

Though Lila's vocabulary has been growing by leaps and bounds lately, probably due to all the "speech therapy" and "school" that HJ forces her to participate in, she still is a two-year old who sometimes says two-year old things. For example, she still has her own way of pronouncing some more difficult words, such as saying, "I have eczemint" (eczema) on my hands" or "I need a princess vitamint" (vitamin). Her teacher "Miss Michelle," is "Miss Mishelf" and "For a while," is "For a wild" in Lila's world. When she wants Mommy to hold her tight, it's always, "Mommy, I'm falling! Hold me with three hands!" or when she's feeling like she's growing up a little bit too fast, "I just want to be tiny..."

When I do see how quickly she's growing up, and when I realize she may be in preschool five days a week in the fall, I definitely start getting slightly nostalgic for the baby days. Especially seeing so many of our friends having their second or third kids lately, it sometimes makes me a little bit sad to think that those days are behind us. A little bit sad, but not enough to actually think that we can handle another kid at this point in our lives! Whenever we ask Lila if she wants a baby brother or sister, she usually is very enthusiastic in saying yes. It's probably because she has no idea that it would mean she's no longer the baby of the family. HJ, who knows better, always says an emphatic no. She's happy the way things are, and for now at least, I think we all are too...

A small measure

Thursday, December 26, 2013

With Halmunee & Mimi, circa 1983
Whenever I look at this picture, I am reminded of how much I miss my grandmother. Not only who she was as a person, but everything she represented to me about selflessness, sacrifice, and most of all, being a mother.

She was the unapologetic matriarch of our family, with the kind of character and perseverance that only comes from years of raising nine children, becoming a widow,  surviving the Korean War, and immigrating to the United States knowing no English and raising another generation of four grandchildren.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure she understood more English than she let on. She was a smart woman, though how much formal education she had in Korea I never knew. There's really little I know of her life in Korea. All I have are a few precious stories told by aunts and uncles, filtered through hazy memories of my childhood. And yet they still fit easily with the image of the woman I knew, her quiet resolve, intimidating to some but comforting to those closest to her, along with her sense of humor and mischief, only known to a few.

What I do know is at some point she taught herself to read and write, that she had memorized countless hymns and read her Bible daily, and she had somehow adjusted, seamlessly it seemed, to a new life in America, watching her favorite Bob Barker on the Price is Right, occasionally enjoying the gravy and mashed potatoes at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and eventually in her eighties, learning just enough to sign her name in English and state that Bill Clinton was the president to become a United States citizen on her first attempt.

She was and still is in my memory, the woman I admired so much because I was nothing like her. She loved the peace and security of building a life at home, and she had a green thumb (that unfortunately I never inherited) as evidenced by the overflowing rose bushes and giant zucchini plants in the backyard of our Chicago bungalow. She never learned to drive, but somehow didn't appear lonely or isolated, even when we moved to the suburbs where public transportation was not readily available, and the neighbors were all at work and we were at school every day. 

I don't remember her having much of an active social life, though there are a number of pictures of her in younger years going on trips to the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls with other Korean grandmothers. In that typically self-centered view that children tend to have, my grandmother existed only in my world as the person always there for me and my sister. She was simply always present, always at home, while my parents were working hard to support us. After school, in the evenings, on weekends, at church, on our family vacations, there she was, never hovering or overly involved, and yet her physical presence was just enough reassurance to know that we would never have to be alone.

It's these kind of memories that made me want to stay at home full-time when HJ first came into our lives. I so wanted to create that sense of safety and assurance for my children, to be the person that was always there for them, to be the first person welcoming them as they got off the school bus, even if there were no fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies waiting. Despite how much I admired my grandmother's simplicity and contentment with who she was and her place in the world, the first few months of being at home with HJ only confirmed that I had not magically transformed into the strong woman that my grandmother had always been. Even with all the freedom and convenience of modern life, I found I had no idea how to recreate the life that I had so loved growing up with her.

After four years of trying to figure out what being a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom means these days, I still have to remind myself how easy I have it in comparison, how much my grandmother and parents sacrificed for us, all without complaint or desire for acknowledgment. Though so much has changed, I'm sure that raising kids was no easier back then. I can only hope that a small measure of who my grandmother was somehow passed to me through all the years of observing her and simply being in her presence. Whenever I feel that the seemingly tedious moments of daily life are unimportant or don't amount too much, I'm going to take a long look at this picture of my grandmother and her garden, and remember how unimaginably difficult parts of her life had been, and yet how beautiful she managed to make it in the end.

Once Upon A Time...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

 Our usual bedtime routine is bath time, followed by brushing teeth, pajamas, and then Mommy reading a story to both girls. Then HJ always has to say to Mommy, "Come back in one short minute!" I don't know where HJ came up with this "short minute" concept, but she has been using the phrase a lot these days... I guess to a kindergartner, when Mommy or Daddy says they'll be back in a minute, a minute can feel pretty long.  In any case, then Daddy comes into HJ's room, and Mommy takes Lila to her room to put her to sleep.

Lately, I've been hearing a lot of giggles coming from HJ when Daddy is putting her to sleep. This is mainly due to Daddy's silly "Jack and the Beanstalk" stories, which for some reason, have her cracking up and fascinated every time he tells them. The funny thing is, Sol turned to me during one of these long and elaborate made-up tales and said, "I don't even know what really happens in Jack and the Beanstalk, do you?" And I just gave him a blank stare, because I realized, I didn't really know either. All I could remember was something about a goose that lays golden eggs.

Mommy's stories to Lila are not quite as creative, but always have to begin with, at Lila's request: "Once upon a time, there was a real pretty girl named Lila." And then Lila says, "And she had a real pretty sister named HJ." And I have to say, "They were the best of friends, and they did everything together." And then I usually have to go into a very thorough and detailed account of the day's events. The only problem is the stories don't make Lila very sleepy. She gets too excited thinking about all the fun things that happened during the day and her eyes start lighting up instead of her drifting off to a peaceful sleep. What can I say except that I'm still sleeping with Lila for most of the night, and HJ is now the easy one in terms of sleep... Hopefully Lila will be sleeping on her own before the age of five...

Maybe one day, in the near future, Lila and HJ can be sharing a room like my sister and I did growing up. And they can talk and giggle in their room, telling stories to each other all night long... well, maybe not all night long, but just until they feel comfortable enough to fall asleep.. on their own, without Mommy or Daddy. The idea seems pretty far-fetched at the moment, but I'm sure, like many other things that have come to pass in the past couple years, will be here before we know it. And like all the other things that we thought would never ever happen with HJ (walking, talking, potty training, getting rid of the pacifier, going to school) I'm sure we'll look back and not even remember what it was like before. Whether that's due to accumulated loss of sleep over the years or just a sheer sense of relief, who knows.  What I do know is I am very much looking forward to that day... whenever it happens...

Family Day 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 21, 2009
Well, it's officially been one month since kindergarten started, and surprise, surprise, HJ is still doing great. We've had a few hiccups, usually coinciding with the arrival of Friday mornings. I've determined that HJ  has been trying so hard to hold it together all week that she has a (minor) meltdown on Fridays just to remind us that hey mom and dad, full-day kindergarten isn't as easy as it looks.

But, more importantly, today marks the four year anniversary of when we brought HJ home from Korea. Our official Family Day. The day we walked dazed and exhausted through the International Terminal at O'Hare with our baby girl in our arms. What do I remember from that day? Aside from the joy and relief, I remember that HJ was wearing no pants. After a 15-hour flight, I don't know exactly what happened to those pants, but when we walked through those doors at the airport all she was wearing was a pink long-sleeved onesie, most likely scattered with Gerber puffs in random places, and we couldn't have been happier to be home.

Sol and I had a hard time figuring out how to celebrate this year. My initial ideas were quickly nixed. A quick weekend getaway to downtown Chicago? Too much traffic, too much stimulation. A trip to the American Girl store? Probably more for Mommy than HJ. A visit to the pet store to pick out a present? Even a goldfish seemed like too much for us to handle. So after some deliberation, we just decided to ask HJ. Her request was simple. She wanted to go to the zoo.

So that's our plan. An easygoing day at the zoo, eating lunch there, maybe catching the dolphin show if we can. I've put aside my ideas of a fancy dinner and a day in the city, because if there's one thing I've learned in four years of living with HJ, it's that the thing she most wants is time to be all together as a family. And this Family Day, my dear HJ, is about celebrating you. Happy Family Day, HJ. We love you more and more every day.

Officially a kindergartner

Thursday, August 22, 2013

HJ's 1st day of school
So HJ's first day of kindergarten has finally arrived and passed with surprisingly little drama. And I'm a little embarrassed to admit that the only tears on her first day were mine.

I did my best to play it cool, of course. The last thing I wanted was for her to wonder why Mommy was crying when I had been talking up kindergarten for the past 6 months! So I tried hard not to think about how strangely significant this moment felt and focused on getting HJ to school on time, pretending like it was just any other day.

We had a couple moments of, "I don't want to go to school, Mommy!" but they were quickly eclipsed by her desire to use her new purple polka-dot backpack with the matching pencil case. Of course, she ended up choosing a backpack more proportioned for a third-grader than my little 3 foot 4.5 inch, 35 lb kindergartner. But what can I say? The girl loves school supplies. I literally had to hide the pencils and glue sticks from her before the first day so that she wouldn't use them all up at home.

Another incentive for her? Her new BFF/future husband Mason, who sits right next to her, and her new girlfriend Mahi, who she met in summer school this year. Though I had worried endlessly about her transitioning to a new class with new kids and a new teacher, so far (and yes I know it's only been two days!) HJ seems to be adjusting amazingly well.  The hardest part has been figuring out what she'll actually eat for lunch. Yes, the drama has been reduced to, "Should she buy milk from the cafeteria or will the line take too long?" and "Will chicken nuggets still be warm enough for her to eat after 3 hours?"

It's only when I stop to think about what it all really means, when my mom says things to me like, "I can't believe you have a daughter in kindergarten!" or my friend asks me if I'm enjoying the "empty nest," that I start to get that choked-up feeling I had when I watched her walk happily through the front door without looking back once.

Lila pretending to go to kindergarten
Lila is definitely going through her own adjustment to having her big sister gone all day, but it's a good thing I still have her with me at home or I would be a complete wreck! And while I'm sure she's loving the opportunity to have Mommy all to herself, my guess is Lila seriously thinks she is going to kindergarten any day now. According to Lila, she is already four years old, and it is absolutely necessary for her to pack her own lunch bag, snack, and backpack in the morning.  Little does she know how excited Mommy gets when she conks out for a two-hour nap at 11 a.m...my mind literally starts racing thinking about how much I can get done without any interruption!

The funniest thing is that so far Sol and I are pretty clueless as to what HJ has been doing all day at school. We have a general schedule outlining the day's activities, but the mysteries remain... How much of her lunch did she really eat and what did she throw out? Did she really like gym class for once? And did she really get a sticker for listening well, or is she stretching the truth a little when she says that only the girls got the stickers and not the boys?

I'm sure in a couple weeks we'll all have a better idea about what life with full-day kindergarten really means, but for now, I'm just happy that there haven't been any tantrums, tears, or meltdowns... yet... I'm just really hoping this drama-free thing lasts for a little while longer.

10 years & 1000 moments

Sunday, August 4, 2013

St. Luica, August 2003!
Lately HJ has been really into talking about weddings and getting married. At the end of the school year, she "wrote" (i.e. dictated to her 5th grade buddy) a story about rainbow kitties and weddings. And apparently she is marrying her friend Mason from school. They are planning to move to Tennessee and live in an apartment so Mason can push the button in the elevator every time. Hmmm, Mason, not sure how that's going to work out with HJ...

So when I told her this weekend that 10 years ago, Daddy & Mommy had their wedding and got married, she pretty much just gave me a look that said, Mommy, I have no idea what you're talking about, but if that means you and Daddy are going out to dinner and not taking me and Lila with you I don't like it.

Thanks to my wonderful sister, aka best aunt in the whole wide world, we did manage to go out for a fancy dinner and a movie (our first since before Lila was born, maybe since HJ came home??), and it was lovely of course, but not exactly what we had planned 10 years ago. When we went on our honeymoon to St. Lucia 10 years ago, we had vowed to come back for our 10 year anniversary. Fast forward 10 years, and we found ourselves celebrating in Northbrook, Illinois, a bit closer to home than St. Lucia.

Not sure what we were thinking back then when we first got married. Did we think that we would have kids? I'm sure we did. But did we realize what that would mean in terms of things like traveling to a faraway tropical island or even going out to dinner and a movie once in a while? I doubt it. We were young, naive, and pretty much 100% clueless!

One thing that changed our plans was thinking that we would have kids right away. I mean, maybe we thought about waiting a couple years to enjoy married life as a couple, but if things had gone "according to plan" we would probably have an 8 year old and a 6 year old who would happily be independent enough to stay with their grandparents for a week. It's funny how much things don't go "according to plan."

Although Sol and I had always thought about adopting in the back of our minds, for me, it had always been somewhat of a distant possibility. I had grown up visiting my grandparents and aunt and uncle's orphanages in Korea, so the idea was never completely foreign to me, but I had no idea how long and agonizing the entire process would be. It seems so long ago now, but in those first few years when things were not going according to plan at all, I remember wondering if I would ever become a mother. It seemed to be the only thing I wanted and the one thing I couldn't control. And then when HJ arrived in our lives, there was hardly a moment to reflect, to really understand that this was everything I had been waiting for. After that, it was wondering how and when HJ would have a sibling, and then Lila was born. And now, here we are, 10 years later, our two beautiful girls, and I can hardly remember what life was like before.

While we were eating dinner on our anniversary, I told Sol that if there was one thing I felt at that moment, it was lucky. Maybe lucky is not the right word. Fortunate? Blessed? Thankful? In any case, happy to be where I was at that very moment. Because even if I could never have imagined how things would turn out 10 years ago, all the moments, both good and bad, and as Sol put it, more than our fair share of drama over the years, there is nothing, absolutely nothing I would ever trade for being right where we are today.

Happy 10 year anniversary, Sol. I love you more now than I did the day we got married. Maybe we can go back to St. Luica for our 20 year anniversary :)

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