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 :)

Dear HJ, on your 5th birthday

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dear HJ,

Today you are 5 years old.

It was late in the evening on a humid August night when we first heard about you, our baby girl. You were two months old. Your father and I had just returned from an exhilarating trip to the border of North Korea and China, where we had spent two weeks meeting North Korean refugees and orphans face to face, seeing with our own eyes a world which had previously only been told to us in stories. I was on the phone with my mother, the grandmother you now know as Nee.

"There’s a baby girl at your grandfather's orphanage,” my mother said. “Do you know someone who would want to adopt her?"

When my mother said those words, “There’s a baby girl…” it was as if the skies had opened, and God had dropped you directly into our laps.

I had called my mother that night with just one purpose. I wanted to know if she could help us with the process of adopting a baby. You see, Hyun Jung, your daddy and I, we had always wanted to adopt. Not only because it seemed like it was in our blood, with my grandfather running an orphanage in Nonsan, South Korea, and my uncle on the other side of the family having started an orphanage in Seoul, but because something inside of us seemed to know about you long before you were born, and maybe long before we were even born. But it was only after our trip overseas that summer of 2008, that we thought it was time to take the first real step towards adoption. And of course, it could not have been any other way, for the summer of 2008 was the summer you were born.

There are certain decisions in life that you feel all your days have been leading up to, moments that some may call fate, or God's will, or sheer and amazing coincidence. That day that we found about you, Hyun Jung, was one of our moments. For before I even had a chance to ask my mother the question that had been running through my mind all day like the pounding of a relentless summer storm, “Can you help us adopt?” she had beat me to it.

“There’s a baby girl,” she had said.

When I heard those words spoken to me, I was sitting in complete darkness in the corner of our bedroom closet, and heavy, fat tears began falling from my eyes, tears not of sadness, but of absolute certainty that you were our daughter.

I repeated the question to my mother in hushed tones. “Do I know someone who would like to adopt? Do I know someone?”

I told her, “Yes, I do. I know someone who would like to adopt.”

After hanging up the phone, I emerged from the closet with tears still in my eyes and told your daddy we were going to Korea.

The first day we met you was the day after Thanksgiving. You were just about to turn five months old. We were coming straight from a 15 hour flight, a sleepless night at the airport hotel, and a 2.5 hour bus ride to the orphanage. It was late morning, and there was a clear, quiet stillness in the air when we climbed the steps to the newly constructed brick building where you had been growing up without us -- we were strangers to you, but to us you were a dream and a life that we had been waiting for our entire lives. The heavy double doors swung open, and suddenly there you were, little arms flailing about in a red and white cotton outfit that was too big for you, your round eyes, bright and curious, and what little hair you had pulled back with a tiny plastic barrette. I instinctively reached out my arms to you, wanting to swoop you up right then and there, but I held back, seeing you snuggled so protectively in your caregiver's arms.

"Hyun Jung," I said tentatively, "We're here."

It seemed that you smiled back, a little smile without any recognition of who we were, but a smile, nonetheless. There really wasn't much you had to do to win my heart that day. From the day I had heard about you, I was already yours.

Later that night, we watched you from afar, as your caregiver wrapped you up as tightly as possible on her back in a soft, yellow baby blanket, singing Korean lullabies to you as she walked up and down the stairs to put you to sleep. She held you close every night that first year of your life, and she would have raised you as her own if she was not already 60 years old and had destiny not brought you to us. The building where you were staying with her had been conceived as a new enterprise of my grandfather’s, a home for elderly Korean men and women who had no place to live and no family to take care of them. Although the orphanage dormitories next door housed over 80 children from ages 3 to 17, this new building where you were living housed no one at the time except you, your caregiver, and my grandmother. It was as if the entire building had been created for you. There were no other babies at the orphanage. Only you. So much time had passed since the orphanage had had a newborn baby that they could not remember how many years it had been. A crib had to be purchased, and sat unused in the corner, while you slept soundly on your caregiver’s bed, and she slept on the floor, to make sure you didn’t fall.

The orphanage, Eden Children’s Home, was founded by your great-grandfather after the Korean War, to take in Korean orphans, many of whom had lost their parents in the escape from the North to the South. My grandmother tells me often of the story of their own escape. How she had two sons, one sick with polio, and how she had been pregnant with my mother, riding a train to Seoul while her husband went ahead to secure a safe place for them all. She never fails to tell me how they almost didn't make it, and then where would all our lives be?

To such grandparents who had survived the war, nothing was impossible. Perhaps that is why your great-grandfather did not think twice about all that would have to be overcome to adopt you into our family. Many people, important people, told us it couldn't be done.

“I'm sorry. A child that is already in an orphanage cannot be adopted,” they told us.

“I’m sorry. I understand that you and your husband are of Korean descent, but that has no bearing on our decision.”

“I’m sorry, I understand that your grandfather is 83 years old and has been running the orphanage for over 50 years, but, a child in an orphanage cannot be adopted internationally.”

"The birth mother must have legally relinquished her rights."

There is not much that we know about your birth mom, but this much we do know. She loved you very much. We know her name and her age when she gave birth to you. And soon we discovered, through your grandfather’s persistence, that she had indeed gone to the adoption agency before you were born to fill out the necessary paperwork to begin the adoption process. She had gone to the very adoption agency in Korea that was linked to the one adoption agency that was willing to work with us in America.

So we went, on that day after Thanksgiving, to meet you for the first time, our baby girl. I didn’t know what was worse, waiting for you on the other side of the world, or knowing what it felt like to hold you in my arms, and then having to let you go. The adoption process between two governments an ocean apart in geography and culture could sometimes be fickle, and we didn't want there to be any doubt that every precaution and law had been followed and respected. So we continued to wait. Every moment we spent with you during that first visit kept us going through the long winter months when we were apart.

In the spring, when the cherry blossoms began blooming, their white petals softly raining down on the gravel in the courtyard of the orphanage, I went again to see you. I could not bear to be away from you another day. You were 9 months old. You were starting to pull yourself up to stand, you were laughing, you had four little teeth, your hair had grown just a tad longer, and you still liked being held facing out, so you could see the world all around you. You didn't say much, but you made your desires clearly known, pointing a chubby, stiff arm in whatever direction you wanted to be taken. As much as I wanted to tuck you on my hip and walk right into Incheon Airport with you, it was just another visit, and we had to wait, again.

And really, we were still getting to know each other. You let me give you a bottle in the middle of the night, and you ventured to lay your head on my shoulder while I rocked you back and forth. You let me dress you in a green flowered dress on Easter morning, and take picture after picture with you in front of the deep-rooted mok ryun tree that is your great-grandfather’s pride, but at the end of the week, I had to go home, again, without you. Before I left for the airport, I placed you gingerly on top of my suitcase and wheeled you around the entryway of the orphanage building where I had first met you, and you looked up at me with an uncertain little smile, still wondering who we were to each other.

At last, in the humid, oppressive heat of a rainy, Korean summer, I arrived at the orphanage a final time - to bring you home. They moved us into a small blue house in the back of the orphanage. In the past, it had served as a bath house for the other children, and now it was to be our makeshift home. The old linoleum floors were soon covered with your baby toys and blankets, and they brought us a brand-new washing machine with fancy buttons and Korean words that I didn’t know how to read. They didn’t believe in using dryers much at the orphanage. They told me it was better to let the clothes breathe in the fresh air, so I did my best to hang your little Korean dresses on a clothesline outside our doorway, though it hung in the shadow of the girls’ dormitory next door. I learned how to heat the water before bathing you, and at night we watched Korean dramas on TV before you fell asleep in my arms. I fed you rice and seaweed soup, your favorite, at every meal, but when I gave you eggs and toast for breakfast I was scolded for not giving you something more substantial. The orphanage cook would then proceed to fry you a small fish, mackerel, and I would pick out all the bones with slippery metal chopsticks and feed you the morsels with my fingers.

Through all of this, your daddy was still waiting in the U.S, now for both of us to come home. No one knew how long it would be before the final visas were approved.

I forged ahead anyway, putting you in a rickety borrowed stroller, pushing you over the uneven concrete sidewalks and the busy streets of Nonsan, walking with you to a little bakery one day, another day taking you to visit a friend and her baby who lived in the apartment across the street. We walked beyond the gates of the orphanage as often as possible. We took you to a bustling strawberry festival, to city gardens, and rural mountainsides, all the while still waiting for the final call that we were free to go.

The hottest day of the summer, the last day of August, as was the tradition in Korea, we took you to a village restaurant to have freshly cooked chicken soup, served bubbling hot in earthenware bowls. We sat on the floor, as is the custom there, and I tried my best to protect your little hands from the boiling soup and the rows and rows of tiny side dishes, laid out temptingly for you to touch.

When the heat had finally abated, and the children at the orphanage were back in school, and the relief of an autumn breeze was slowly settling in, your daddy decided that he missed us too much not to visit one more time. He came on Labor Day weekend, and everyone remarked again at how much you looked like him, both of you with your dark, long-lashed eyes and oval faces. You even suffered alike from eczema due to the sweltering heat. But to you, he was still a stranger from America, and you only stopped crying when he tickled you and threw you up in the air and made you breathless with laughter in that way that only daddies can do. The day he left was another bittersweet goodbye; I so longed to just walk onto the plane with you and him, together as it should have been all along.

But this time, we didn’t have to wait much longer. Only ten days after your daddy had left, we finally received the news. The visa had been approved! We were free to go home. As soon as I heard, I scooped you up and danced around the back room where we had been biding our time, your hand enclosed in mine. Your daddy came back the very next day. All at once, what had seemed like an endless wait was over almost too quickly. Our goodbyes to everyone at the orphanage were short and fleeting, unable to express the significance of all that you were leaving behind, and both the gratitude and relief we felt at finally being able to take you with us this time.

I hardly slept the night before we were to leave the orphanage. Mercifully unaware of how much would change the next morning, you slept peacefully. The day was September 21st, 2009. You were 14 months old. In the early dawn hours, we packed your precious memories of the first year of your life, the well-worn clothes you could still fit into, the Korean pacifiers and bottles and rice cakes that you would miss otherwise, and the heavy, leather-bound dol album, the photos from your first birthday, which we had missed, but your great-grandfather had taken care to preserve in painstakingly arranged professional photos of you crying in your beautiful Korean hanbok.

We piled all our belongings into the orphanage's white van, the one that had driven us countless times to the bus terminal and back, but this time, we were leaving without knowing when any of us would be back. There wasn't even a car seat for you, things are different there in Korea, so I held you extra close in my lap as you placed your little hand on the window while the crowd gathered in the courtyard.

"Bring her back when she's a little grade-school girl, before she forgets all her Korean," my grandfather told us.

“Will she only eat pizza and hamburgers in America?” the other children asked.

Your caregiver was too emotional to come outside to see you go. She had already said her goodbyes to you the night before, giving you a children's Bible written in Korean and English, a navy blue satin book bag to use when you started school, and two long Korean nightgowns in the softest cotton that you still like to wear. My grandfather gave you two tiny gold rings and a gold bracelet, so delicate that they bend at the slightest touch. The workers tried hard to be cheerful, and the other children smiled and waved, but there was a heaviness that lingered because you were so loved. You were the youngest, and the favorite, no one could deny.

And this time, we really did walk with you straight into Incheon Airport. I still couldn’t help looking over my shoulder to see if someone would stop to interrogate us, as if to say, "Where are you taking her? And is she really yours?" No one gave us a second glance, but I held the thick manila envelope of paperwork from the adoption agency as though it were a shield. I suppose we looked no different than the hundreds of other Korean families wandering around at their respective gates, waiting not quite patiently for their boarding call.

Well, I take that back. You stood out a little, Hyun Jung, the way you liked to be held with your hands on the handle of our big luggage cart, directing it back and forth, and angling your body in just the right way so that you could see everything and everyone around you as you began this long journey home.

15 hours later, we arrived in Chicago, received by balloons and welcome signs, and a whole other world eager to meet you. You had been an angel on the flight. Sleeping eight hours straight in the bassinet in which you barely fit, and quietly eating your favorite rice cakes and drinking your sweet Korean formula in your familiar Korean bottles. We brought you straight home, and I snuggled in next to you in your new big girl bed in the room that we had painted a pale green, with the sheer butterfly curtains hanging from the windows. Exhausted as we were, this time, neither of us could sleep. Whether it was jet lag or the anticipation of beginning the rest of our lives together, or both, no one knew. How long had we been waiting for this moment? And now, you were finally here.

Hyun Jung, when you first came home, we called you Hyunnie. Now, you always remind us that you like to be called Chloe, your American name that you use in school. It’s a fitting name, meaning verdant and blooming, as is your middle name, Eden, meaning delight. Your favorite part of the day is when your daddy comes home and kisses you and lifts you high in the air. You sometimes like to boss your little sister around. And thanks to the instruction of your Nee and Ha-ji, your grandfather here in America, you haven’t forgotten all your Korean.

The second time around...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

So HJ's summer has been relatively smooth so far, except for the fact that her little sis Lila has officially entered her terrible two's. It was as if a few weeks ago, someone switched our easy, mild-mannered baby and replaced her with a crazy toddler complete with ear-piercing screams, tantrums, food-throwing, pushing, and general crabbiness.

And in the midst of it all, I've realized that HJ looks like a mature, well-behaved grown-up girl in comparison, and that the second time around, it's really not so bad.

When HJ was two, the constant tantrums and refusal to go to bed, the throwing food from the high chair, the resistance to the car seat, all were cause for constant anxiety and even a few sessions with a behavior therapist.

This time around, Sol and I look at each other, and sometimes we just have to laugh. 

Granted, things were different with HJ -- the tantrums were more intense, she couldn't express herself verbally, and we were completely novice parents who had no idea what we were doing. But going through it with Lila all over again makes me realize there's probably no need to freak out. HJ went through it all and worse, and we all survived.

Even Grandma from Korea has been remarking how HJ eats so well, sleeps well, and takes good care of her little sister, whereas with Lila, she tends to say things like, "Wow, this girl is never going to take no for an answer... She really isn't going to give up on anything when she gets older.." I have to smile because those are the very things I'm so used to hearing about our first spirited child, HJ.

But with the two-year old stage, also come all the cute and funny things that make this stage one of our favorites as well. Here are a few Lila-isms that I've noted lately that have made us all laugh...
  • Replacing "horn" in her favorite song with her favorite food "corn" as in "The corn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep...."
  • Calling mommy's yoga mat "a yogurt mat" which again references another favorite food... I think I'm seeing a pattern here!
  • Telling mommy she is riding in her "red dragon" (aka "red wagon")
  • Making binoculars with her tiny chubby hands whenever she thinks she needs to see something far away
  • Asking for "shaving cream" for her strawberries (aka "whipped cream")
  • Getting panicked because "Grandma eating my blueberry!" when we just bought a giant container from Costco
  • Learning the words "colonoscopy" and "Dr. Petrungaro" after accompanying Grandpa to a few too many doctor's appointments
And after every little or big tantrum that Lila has, one thing I love seeing is how HJ does her best to make her little sis feel better, even if sometimes she's the cause of the tantrum, and even if her answer is to give her candy or chocolate to make it all better. I'm sure it's complicated for HJ now, still wanting things for herself, but not wanting Lila to be sad. She's learning, though! After Lila calms down after a big tantrum, HJ likes to say, "Are you ok, Lila (or Ya-ya as it sounds like when HJ says it)... Are you happy now?" And thankfully, Lila's answer is usually yes, even if it's only until the next crisis hits...

Moving on up

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sometimes Sol and I take a long time to realize that our little girl is growing up... Last weekend we finally changed HJ from her carseat to a big girl booster seat. Now I know she's almost 5, but we didn't realize until recently that her head was sticking out over the top of her carseat and that it really was time to move her up!

One of the problems was that we had a hand-me-down booster seat that HJ had been refusing to sit in for some time. Then Sol came up with the ingenious (and simple) solution to take HJ to Babies R' Us to pick out her own carseat. Problem solved.

HJ picked out a gray booster seat with purple and pink flowers, obviously, and that very day she was happily sitting in her new booster. With no complaints at all. In fact, the next morning , she even wanted to drive to our music class which is just down the block, just so she could sit in her new booster.

Now there were a few lessons that I learned from this little transition. HJ likes to have some measure of control and choice, no surprise there. And she is actually ok with some change, as long as she feels she is ready for it and it is introduced with a little creativity.

I'm hoping this is a little preview of what will happen in August, when yes, HJ will be entering full-day kindergarten.

We had our official transition meeting last week, and it was decided that HJ will definitely be moving on up to kindergarten in the fall. I had mentally prepared myself for this decision, so this meeting wasn't as difficult as I expected, but I still had a few moments where I got teary. Whenever the teachers or therapists mention how far she's come from when she first started preschool, I always get choked up. Lately HJ has even been asking to go on the school bus with all her friends. I'm not sure if she fully understands that when she goes on the bus, Mommy and Lila can't go with her, but at least she's entertaining the thought this year!

If the day ever comes where HJ gets on the school bus with her lunch bag and backpack and waves goodbye, I will be completely and utterly shocked, but we'll see what happens. I'm having flashbacks from last summer where the bus driver would wait patiently at our driveway every morning and I would have to run out and tell him, "Sorry, not today."

Going on the school bus, eating lunch in the cafeteria, starting kindergarten, they all seem like such minor things relatively. Still, I don't know why, but for HJ, and probably more for me, they also seem like these giant momentous steps towards growing up and becoming an independent little person, no longer hanging out at home with Mommy all day, or at least in the mornings, but being in school all day, by herself. I know she can do it, though. We just have to think of ways to prepare her and get her excited about the idea. It's a good thing we have all summer to do that....

If you're happy and you know it

Saturday, May 11, 2013

With summer coming up HJ has generally been pretty happy, soaking up the sunny days and the time running around outdoors with her friends. I have to say, this is one girl who thrives on being outside. Sometimes I think we just need to move somewhere where she can enjoy the sunshine and fresh air all year long.

The upcoming summer also means some transitions for HJ, which can be good and bad. The good includes less stress about getting to school every day and more time to stay with mommy and Lila. The bad includes potentially hectic days without a set routine, and new possibly anxiety-producing situations such as our big vacation to California at the end of June. Yes, HJ has already been reminding us that she does not want to ride on any planes (guess she does not remember that 15 hour trip from Korea when she was a baby, or maybe she does...) and repeated requests that she does not want to go to Legoland, go to the big swimming pool, or have a big birthday party. As you can see, HJ is definitely not your typical 4 year old...

Yet despite her worries, HJ has also been excitedly talking about when she can have her friends over to swim in the princess pool in the backyard and when she can do a "family" birthday. So it's not that she doesn't want to do the typical kid things, she just wants to do them in her own way, HJ style.

It definitely takes HJ a while to warm up to new situations.. A while as in, I just realized she pretty much never mentions her fear of elevators and highways anymore, and like any other little kid, is now racing to the elevator to see if she can push the button first. But really, it probably took close to a year before she got to this point. Her latest anxieties include a fear of riding on amusement park rides, or even letting Lila ride on one, even non-threatening ones such as merry-go-rounds, so we will see how long it takes HJ to get over that one... I'm just hoping she'll warm up to the idea before we take that trip to Legoland.

I'm hoping this summer will be less stressful that last year's ... I've learned my lessons about cutting back on the activities and we've got no huge birthday parties planned this year, so that should definitely help some. Just need to brainstorm some ideas about how to prep HJ for our vacation, and we should be good...

Sweet moments

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sol's been working late these past few nights, which means the crazy hours between 3 pm and whenever he gets home (post-school and pre-bedtime) have been a bit crazier than usual without his extra help. That said, somehow, miraculously, the kids have been pretty well-behaved this whole week.

Well, there was that one evening, around 630 p.m., when the kids still hadn't eaten dinner, and I was sitting with Lila in the living room (who looked like she was about to fall asleep) when I realized that HJ was being unusually quiet. As a mom, you know that means something's going on.

I casually asked HJ what she was doing. "Eating chocolate bread," she replied.

That "chocolate bread" was the freshly baked batch of fudge brownies we had made, which I had told her we were saving for dessert, but which had obviously proved to be too tempting for HJ.

"I only ate the edges," she added, only a little guiltily.

Then, while I was in the kitchen, assessing just how many "edges" she had eaten, and pouring her a glass of milk, I realized that now there strangely wasn't a peep coming from the living room. I returned to Lila to see her sitting on the couch stuffing her cute little face with a bag of swedish fish she had found. As soon as she saw me and my shocked expression, she spit out the candy and said, "This Mommy's? This Mommy's candy?"

I just had to laugh, because first of all, I realized my kids were starving and I should just feed them dinner before Sol came home, and secondly, I realized I was really going to miss these moments.

With Lila turning two and HJ starting kindergarten in the fall, I know that these times aren't going to last forever. And for all the moments I've thought about the "freedom" I'll have when HJ is in school all day, I'm getting a little teary thinking that maybe I've forgotten to appreciate these days of chasing the kids around and seeing the look in their eyes when I catch them with smears of chocolate on their cheeks and guilty smiles on their lips.

With Lila being the youngest and growing up way too fast, I'm doing my best to try to slow down and enjoy the little moments with her. I'm sad some of those moments have already passed me by with HJ, but when things get crazy these next few months, and I know they will, with Sol working late nights, and HJ being out of school for the summer, I'm going to remind myself to just laugh, and enjoy them, before I close my eyes and wake up and suddenly they're teenagers telling me they don't want their mom hanging around anymore.

For now, I'm thankful that they're still little enough for me to scoop them up and smother them with kisses. Although when I do this to Lila these days, I've noticed she's starting to squeal and say, "No!!! Too much, Mommy!! Too much!" It's already starting, the inevitable growing up and away, and as much as I want them to be independent, now that it's actually happening, I'm sad! Please, Sol, remind me of this next time I wake up in the middle of the night and find myself sandwiched between both our girls.

Maybe I've forgotten...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It seems I've forgotten in the past few weeks that HJ is a child with special needs. How can that be, you may be wondering, since it seems that everything I write about on this blog is related to the unique and "quirky" things that HJ does and says... I guess it's not that I've really forgotten, but maybe I've just started hoping that those special needs have lessened or even gone away in some ways. Which now that I think about it, is really as ridiculous as it sounds.

On one level, I know that I'm constantly thinking about HJ going to the full-day special ed kindergarten in the fall, and I know that we just came out of an IEP meeting where we discussed her apraxia and her low muscle tone, and her social-emotional issues, but for some reason, I think I buried that all underneath the idea that she has made a lot of progress.

But really, it's only taken a couple weeks of setbacks for me to realize that things are not always as rosy as I'd like to believe.

We had quite a few meltdowns in the past week.It all culminated with a small group meeting at our house where HJ had several meltdowns related to other children playing with her toys, the house not being "in order" anymore, too much stimulation, and general anxiety and inability to regulate her emotions.

It made me realize that in a sense, she's not just going through a stage where she has to learn how to share, but it's a serious anxiety and fear that she has about situations that are unfamiliar and things that are out of her control. In a word, it's debilitating.

But in a strange way, this also makes me less discouraged. It kind of resets my expectations for her, and softens my heart to what she is going through internally. It makes me have compassion instead of only frustration and anger. And it makes me rethink once again, our daily schedule, and the activities and commitments in our lives.

If she was physically disabled, I wouldn't so conveniently forget and wonder why she can't run or jump or do things that other "normal" kids can. But, I would still want her to be able to experience and enjoy everything as much as possible, just with the right assistance.

With this whole anxiety and sensory processing disorder, though, it's just not as clear-cut for me. How do I make accommodations for her, without making excuses? How do I know what is due to environment and over stimulation, and what is due to bad behavior? Most of the time, it's just really confusing. Sometimes I start to wonder, maybe she needs even more help that we're giving her. Does she really need meds, or more frequent therapy, or more testing to see what other diagnosis we might be missing?

On the other hand, although I know that we cannot have our lives revolve around HJ's issues, I realize that life is just better for all of us when we make even the simplest accommodations for her. For example, after the meltdown debacles we had through the week, we had a relatively quiet and stress-free weekend. And not surprisingly, HJ did great at Sunday school, slept well, ate well, and was ready to go to school on Monday.

A happy moment from the past month (visiting Daddy at work)

It's time for me to remember this, and accept it, and not just wish that HJ didn't have these issues. It's time for me to admit to God again, that I really, really cannot do this parenting thing without His help and strength every single day. So please help me, God, be a better mother to HJ and love her unconditionally as You love us all the time.

Simple Revelations

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

So today was finally our back to normal day. The hectic activity and fun of spring break had come to an end and we were back to our daily routine.  And although it happens after the conclusion of every weekend, holiday, special occasion, or vacation, I'm still surprised each time by how much HJ thrives when she knows what to expect and she feels secure and comfortable once again.

She had a good day today. She woke up happy, after a relatively good night's sleep, and she did her best to be nice to Lila pretty much all day. There were a few tears, a few would-be tantrums, and a little bit of "I don't want to go to school, Mommy!" -- but it was soon overcome by reminders of seeing "all her friends" and her favorite teachers Mrs. G and Mrs. S.

She was actually doing so well this morning that she was happy and willing to go to what Sol and I have been calling the "play place" aka child care center at the gym, and actually ok with Mommy going to exercise while she stayed with the new teachers and Lila.

It seemed like every other stay-at-home mom and their toddlers and young kids had the same idea after spring break, because there had to have been close to 30 kids running around in the child care center. Honestly, I was panicking when I saw how many kids there were, knowing that the potential for conflicts, meltdowns, and over stimulation would only be heightened with that many kids. Plus, it was HJ and Lila's first time being dropped off there, and as I clearly remember, though wish I could forget, one bad experience like we had at the Y last year, could easily mean the end of ever going to the child care center again for HJ...

Thankfully, all went well to my amazement. I kept waiting to hear them calling my name over the speakers... And I couldn't really concentrate on the treadmill as I kept picturing various scenarios of how it could all go so badly with that many kids and HJ in an unfamiliar place. But my worry, at least for today, was unfounded, and when I went to pick them up an hour later, HJ proudly told me how she "took care of Lila," and kept Lila's Minnie mouse thermos safe from all the little boys trying to take it away. It figures. That shouldn't surprise me either. When HJ has a job to do, like protecting her little sister, nothing is going to stop her from getting it done!

I was really proud of HJ today. The other night I was telling Sol how I just wished we could make it through a day without any tantrums. And he reminded me that although I may not be able to control how HJ reacts in every situation, (and believe me, there's sometimes nothing I want more than to minimize every possible scenario for a tantrum!) I can always control how I will respond to those tantrums. I mean, it's so obvious, right? But for me, it was good to hear that. It made me feel at peace... Knowing that no matter how rough of a day HJ has, I can still choose to respond with love, with God's help of course... It's not always going to be easy, but I was trying my best today not to yell, lose my temper, or get agitated with every little crisis that was about to erupt during the day... And it gives me hope... Hopefully things are looking up again for us. It's been a long, long winter...

HJ was all smiles after school today, talking about their new unit on flowers and springtime. She's also been asking Sol about planting flowers in the garden and setting up the princess pool in the backyard... This girl is definitely ready for a new season...And so am I...

Polite as a Princess

Friday, March 22, 2013

HJ and her cousin E
Phew, it's been a rough couple weeks for our family, especially HJ. Last night while she was sleeping, I heard HJ say very clearly, "Nooooo! I don't want to share... You're not my cousin anymore!" So as much as she loved having her cousin E from California visit, playing dress-up with her and running around holding hands, there's been more than a bit of lingering anxiety about having to share her toys.

To add to the fun, Grandma from Korea was visiting too, which HJ loved, but it required some extra adjusting for everyone. What HJ actually loved was going up to the guest room and trying to wake up a still jet-lagged grandma by knocking loudly on the door and saying, "Yoo-hoo! Grandma!" and barging in, with Lila not far behind.

Grandma has been very patient, trying to teach them life lessons by reading them books like "No more Junk Food" and "Polite as a Princess," and trying to show HJ how to use different colors when she paints. Unfortunately, HJ has not been so kind in return, telling Grandma, "I don't need help!" and proceeding to paint the entire piece of paper brown.

Topping it all off, we've had a couple dentist appointments (broken filling probably from her grinding her teeth at night), resulting in one successful cleaning/xray appointment and one spectacular failure of an appointment today -- literally being carried to the dentist against her will, refusing the laughing gas, reconsidering for a moment as she was shown a tempting basket of prizes, and ultimately rescheduling for another time when she would be feeling better. Or another time when Daddy may be able to help Mommy out, because HJ is getting just too big for Mommy to physically force her to do anything.

And in the midst of everything, HJ still says and does those little things that make me laugh and help me make it through the day.

Like the other day, when HJ was bringing home her updated IEP in her backpack, she took it out and pretended to read it to me. According to HJ, the "note" said, "We will be having swimming class tomorrow. Please wear your swimsuit to school."

Or her tendency to sing old school gospel songs to herself lately, which comes from watching her current favorite DVD, "100 Bible Songs" -- where she doesn't quite know the words, but she stills sings with confidence anyway, "Go, tell it on the children, over the mountains and everywhere!" or "Knock, knock, knocking, if anyone hear my voice, if anyone hear my voice, I will come in!"

One week of spring break to go, and hopefully things will be "back to normal" relatively soon... Although I may just have to accept that this is as normal as things are going to get for us these days...

One year later...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

HJ March 2012 (yes, she's wearing a winnie the pooh nightgown to school)
We had our IEP annual review for HJ today. I didn't realize how stressed I was about it until it was over! Last year's meeting was such a big ordeal for us. It was the time we decided to take HJ out of her regular preschool and put her into the special ed program. It was the first time we officially learned about her diagnosis of apraxia. And last year Lila was also at the meeting causing a little ruckus, so I'm sure that didn't help matters.

This year, it was smooth sailing, in more ways than one. First of all, Lila was happily staying with our neighbor and her BFF zoey, so we had no distractions. And more importantly, we knew and trusted all of HJ's teachers and therapists, which made everything easier. The overall message I took away from the meeting was encouraging... They gave us example after example of how much she had blossomed in the past year. How she had gone from struggling with saying the ending sounds of words to telling them stories about Daddy's bday and Lila's antics. How she went from being shy and quiet in class to coming in and saying, "Hi guys, I'm here!"

She still has a diagnosis of apraxia, although the speech therapist said it was more mild than moderate now. We realized that she can sing a lot of the words and sounds (r, l) that she can't normally say correctly, and we learned that's because singing is more automated and uses a different part of the brain whereas speaking is spontaneous and a very complex process in comparison. And she still has low muscle tone, so much so that they have her sit in a chair during group time rather than on the floor, and she still has some personal space/social issues at times...

The end result, though, appears to be that all her teachers and therapists seem to be recommending that she move on to kindergarten. It will be a special ed program, but it will probably be all day, so I'm still nervous about how she'll handle that. Her occupational therapist said, I think HJ will be able to rise to the occasion... I'm hoping so. I don't want to underestimate her or overprotect her, with my mama bear tendencies, and I do have peace about the decision for now. They will make a final determination closer to the end of the school year, in May. Until then, I'm going to keep praying about it, trusting God, and maybe getting my sister to tutor her in her letters and phonics... I know, she's only four... But I guess I'm still a Korean American mom (aka tiger mom) at heart! With all the progress she's made this past year, who knows how far along she will be at her next annual review. Really, overall, I'm just thankful for how far she's come...

40 (+1) Reasons HJ and Lila Love Their Daddy

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

For Sol's 40th bday today... From HJ & Lila

1. You're always happy to see us
2. You never forget to kiss us goodbye
3. You tell us lots of stories about when you were 4 years old
4. You read us Barbie books, Corduroy, and Curious George
5. You let us snuggle with you in the rocking chair
6. You help me go to sleep EVERY night (HJ)
7. You let me watch Barney over and over again (lila)
8. You cook the best blueberry pancakes for breakfast
9. You cook the best eggs (better than mommy)
10. You provide for us everyday
11. You give us piggy back rides
12. You read the Bible to us
13. You hold us during worship time at church
14. You held me through the whole sermon when I fell asleep (lila)
15. You're always patient
16. You never ever yell
17. You pray and fast for us
18. You teach us how to be wise with our money
19. You let us do facetime and skype with you when you're not at home (and sometimes when you are)
20. You can be silly and goofy
21. You can fix anything!
22. You buy the best prizes and special surprises
23. You make good decisions for us
24. You're nice to mommy :)
25. You make us feel like princesses
26. You help other people in need
27. You are generous
28. You spend lots of time with us even when you're busy
29. You are good at puzzles (especially the tricky 3-D one) (HJ)
30. You go with us to birthday parties and other kids stuff :)
31. You took me down the pump it up slide a million times (lila)
32. You understand us
33. You let us garden with you
34. You shovel the snow for us
35. You cut the grass for us
36. You take us on long walks in the double stroller
37. You wake up early so you can play with us before you go to work
38. You always know how to make us laugh
39. You know how to get us out of a bad mood
40. You let us "play golf" with you in the house
41. And, you never say you're too old to play restaurant and tea party with us, too :)


If Only

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our kindergarten dilemma continues... This week we went to visit my sister's kindergarten class, just for fun and because HJ has been always been unusually interested in whatever Mimi eemo is teaching in her class...

She of course loved the visit, and I felt like she could have stayed there all day. That is, if kindergarten only involved eating goldfish, making crafts, doing puzzles, and having your mom, favorite aunt, and little sister with you at all times.

I started going down this "if only" path ... even considering, hmm, maybe Sol or I could get a job at Allstate so that HJ could be eligible to be in Mimi's class. Wouldn't that be great? She'd be so comfortable and secure.

My sister quickly brought me back to reality. 

I've been thinking lately, that maybe I've gone too far to the side of wanting to protect my little girl... 

Especially with this kindergarten situation. I want her to have the perfect teacher, the perfect classroom, the perfect school... Not in every aspect, but in being perfect for her. But is that even possible, or am I just putting myself, and HJ, on the road to disappointment? 

And not only kindergarten, but what about every choice and decision making point that we'll come across in the future? I'm sure it's not going to get any easier as she gets older. The stakes will just get higher, and we'll have to ask ourselves, how much in our lives, and HJ's life, are we actually able to control? And really, we can't protect her from everything... From heartache, or failure, or hardship... 

But I do know that God has His hand on her life. From the moment she was born, even before she was born, He knew her and had specific plans for our little girl. Plans to bring her into our family for a reason. And I never want to forget that. 

A few months before we brought HJ home from Korea, Sol and I went to hear Richard Stearns, the CEO of World Vision, speak at Willowcreek. Due to a travel delay, he wasn't able to make it to the service. But I remember there was an African children's choir there that night, many of whom were orphans. One of them, a little girl, sang a song that I've always held on to for HJ ever since. The song begins like this:

I have a maker
Before my heart,
before even time began
My life was in his hands

He knows my name
He knows my every thought,
He sees each tear that falls
and hears me when I call

I have a father,
he calls me his own
He'll never leave me,
no matter where I go...

Big Sister

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Now that Lila is 1.5, she is picking up a lot of things from her big sis HJ. That includes fashion sense, how to sing her ABCs, and how to be pretty feisty and still look cute while getting her way.

Of course, that's not to say there's more than a considerable amount of sibling rivalry in our home. Usually, it involves Lila wanting anything and everything that HJ has, and HJ responding by screaming, "NO! LILA! That's not for babies!" followed by running away with said object, or sometimes, a wrestling match with Lila obviously losing, or in rare moments of generosity, trading the sought after toy for something clearly not equal (i.e. a random piece of paper or broken crayon, etc...).

But, at the same time, HJ really kind of loves being the big sister. In addition to always having a playmate she can somewhat control, I think she genuinely likes being helpful... The best way I've found to encourage her in her helpful big sister role, versus the "No! Lila!" don't touch my stuff big sister persona, is to sing a somewhat ridiculous song we've adpated from Caillou, which goes something like... "Big sister, big sister, she knows how to ... " insert whatever action she has done that is helpful "help me brush my teeth!" "Big sister, big sister, she knows how to share her ipad with me!" "Big sister, big sister..." you get the picture....

I don't know why, but HJ positively beams whenever we sing that song, and she seems to be extra sweet to Lila immediately following, even too sweet... Meaning, she will give her things that Mommy and Daddy have been trying hard not to give to Lila. Whenever we see Lila looking guilty with another piece of candy or chocolate in her mouth, we don't even have to ask where she got it... Yes, it's "Big sister, big sister..."

Mostly, though, I'm just loving having two girls and reminiscing fondly about the old days with me and my little sis, who I still consider my best friend and the one person other than Sol that totally and completely gets me. I can only hope my girls grow up with the same kind of closeness. So HJ, just want you to know, keep being nice to your little sis, there's really nothing in the world like having someone who knows everything about you and still loves you just the same.

Lost & Found

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

This is pretty much how we all felt last week, shortly after I posted all about sunny days and rainbows. Sol was in Mexico for work the entire week, I was going crazy turning the house upside down looking for two ipods that had "gone missing" or had been mysteriously misplaced by HJ into one of her many hiding places, the smoke detector battery kept beeping, and I literally felt I was living a "Friends" or "Modern Family" episode, especially when I thought I had broken both the dishwasher and the vacuum in one day. On top of that we had a kindergarten info meeting where I was probably the only parent there who already felt like crying when they said, "Welcome, class of 2026!"
And, this is pretty much how we felt when Daddy finally came home. Life was good. Both ipods mysteriously reappeared in the bottom of a bag full of princess pull-ups, HJ slept through the night without waking up, and we went to another kindergarten meeting where I almost cried, again, when they started talking about drop-off and eating in the cafeteria. Sol said, "What are you going to do when she goes to college?" Not going to think that far ahead right now. Gotta make it through preschool first.

And, in reality, this is pretty much all we've been doing every morning, recovering from last week and Daddy being out of town. I'd be a pretty horrible single mom. I don't know how all those moms do it whose husbands travel every week. Welcome home, Daddy. We missed you. More than you know...

Anxious no more

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Summer... sunny days... rainbows... la la la ..."

The other day I overheard HJ singing this to herself as she was walking around her room, gathering various toys and knick knacks for whatever elaborate imaginative scenario she was setting up.

Oh it's definitely a new year for HJ.

She has come a LONG way since the day I started this blog. Pacifiers and diapers no more... "Adios!" as HJ likes to say, to major meltdowns and marathon tantrums ... "She just seems happier," our friend told us just today.

And yes, at the risk of having to take it all back tomorrow, in reality today was one of HJ's good days.

We actually survived a trip downtown to the Shedd aquarium, 90 minutes in the car, mostly highway, and not a peep from HJ about her previous highway fears... Three trips on the elevator, and not a word, about her prior elevator phobia ...

For those that don't know the full extent of HJ's anxiety about situations involving cars and elevators in the past, two stories come to mind. Both took place during the summer when our schedule was at its busiest.

The first occurred during the midst of my insane planning for Lila's dol, aka the single most stressful social event since our wedding 10 years ago. We were driving to the party venue one last time to look at the set up, and on the way, I made the apparently tragic mistake of finding a tiny goldfish cracker in the cupholder of our car, rolling down the window, and throwing it out the window as we drove along a busy Green Bay Road. Let me tell you, I have never heard so much about a goldfish cracker as I did that day. If HJ had the verbal ability then that she did now, she would tell me a million times, "Mommy. Time out for you. Four minutes." But at the time, it was just, "Mommy! Go back! Go back! Go back!" Yes, in HJ's mind, it was absolutely critical that we turn the car around, go back, and rescue the poor cracker. I blame it on lack of sleep and stress, but for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to tell HJ that I couldn't go back because the cracker had probably been run over by a car or truck. You can guess how well that went over.

The second event burned in my memory concerning an elevator involves the time we went to visit our friend who had just brought home her adopted baby boy from Korea. On the way to her house, we were riding in our friend's minivan, and with all the chaos of moving carseats and being in an unfamiliar car, HJ of course had to bring a variety of her security items. That day, it happened to be a plastic ziplock bag filled with coins. Don't ask me why. On the half hour ride to our friend's house, she must have dropped the bag and coins a handful of times. Each time we gathered the coins, put them back in the bag, and continued on our way.

After a brief and relatively uneventful visit, we headed back to the elevator in our friend's building. HJ's elevator phobia was at its peak at the time, and she generally freaked out every time she had to step foot in one. Our makeshift solution, since I was already holding Lila and the diaper bag, was to have HJ literally step on top of my feet and hold me around the waist so that her feet were not touching the elevator floor. As we were shuffling our way into the elevator, you can guess what HJ dropped, of course. The bag of coins. It was as if it all happened in slow motion. Thank the Lord that the plastic bag happened to fall precariously on top of the gap where the elevator door opens, and not straight down into the elevator shaft, or else HJ may have never recovered from the incident.

It's been a long time since I've had stories like that to share... And that to me is a good thing. It's hard to point to just one thing that's helped HJ overcome her anxiety about cars, highways, elevators, and various situations in life. It may be the counseling, the attachment therapy, the speech and OT, her teachers, a less hectic schedule, a general feeling of security at her new school and church and with her baby sister, but whatever it is, I'm thankful for it.

And in honor of all the progress HJ's made, I've decided to recommit myself to this blog. It is a new year after all. New goals, a clean slate, and a new design to keep me inspired. Happy 2013, HJ. I can't wait to see what this year has in store for you and our family.

You're my best friend

Monday, January 21, 2013

One of HJ's favorite things to say lately, "Mommy? You're my best friend." To which I have to reply, "No, you're my best friend!" And then she has to say, "No! You're my best friend!" And so on and so forth. That in itself is enough sometimes to get me through the rough moments.

Another lovey-dovey phrase of HJ's lately ... "I love you because I'm so happy of you!" Or, "I'm so glad of you, I'm so proud of you, I missed you!" The favorite part of my day is still picking HJ up from school, when she comes running out the door with a big, happy smile and she says, "I missed you, Mommy! Did you miss me?" And sometimes, "Did Lila cry? Did you keep (whatever toy happens to be on her mind) safe?" meaning safe from Lila... But then, as soon as she is reunited with her after school, it's a big hug and kiss, along with, "Lila, you're my best sister!"

Then we come home from school, and HJ begins her "projects." It usually involves making a card for Mommy, the steps generally being 1) "color" a Hello Kitty picture really hard with a pen, 2) fold it in half, and 3) give it to Mommy, saying very loudly, "Happy... Something!" HJ also likes re-enacting the events at school, such as forcing Lila to do "morning work" (lots of worksheets), or cutting paper into tiny strips and glueing them everywhere, or doing "speech," by again, forcing Lila to repeat vocab flash cards over and over again. Poor Lila...Then again, maybe that's why Lila knows so many words ...If Lila starts getting bored and walks away, HJ's solution is to turn to me and say, "Mommy! Lila is not listening! Can you yell?" Um, thanks HJ... Guess Mommy's great discipline tactics have not gone unnoticed.

Later, when Sol gets home and we are rushing to get them fed, bathed, and in their PJs, there may "occasionally" be a little disagreement between Mommy and Daddy, to which HJ usually says very seriously, "No, Mommy, be good." Not sure why Daddy doesn't get a similar warning...

And throughout the day, a few other things HJ likes to say here and there, just to show us that she's listening to everything, trying to process it all, and reminding us that she may only be four years old, but she's wiser than she looks... "Mommy, are you fine or good? I have to check my email... I have to do facebook ... Can you buy x toy for me?" And then we say, "What toy? I don't even know if they make that (mini Hello Kitty doctor's set)..." To which she always replies, " You can buy it on Amazon..."

My Little Punky Brewster

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Last night HJ fell asleep in a really pink, really poofy princess tutu ballerina dress. She was wearing it over her new pink princess pajamas. Seeing her lying there in bed, with the layers of pink tulle all around her, I just had to take a picture of her, even knowing that the flash might wake her up. I know that these princess dress up days will be over all too soon. For a moment, I was reminded of that commercial where the dad is looking at his 16 year old daughter asking for the car keys and all he sees is this little girl sitting in the driver's seat.

Sometimes, like last night, HJ is totally that girly girl with the pink and the purple everywhere and the giant sparkly bow headband and rows of bracelets and "pearl" necklaces. But more often than not, HJ's fashion sense leans more towards Punky Brewster than princess.

A more typical outfit for HJ is polkadots and bright colors, accessorized not with girly girl jewelry but strangely random things like Hello Kitty goggles or a stretchy headband worn low on her forehead in a slightly boho-chic/Native-American/ or gym teacher kind of way. For example, there was the one day HJ woke up and decided she just had to wear her "Happiness is a Sunny Day" swim shirt and swim shorts, accessorized by the Hello Kitty goggles, of course. The only problem was it was 30 degrees outside, and most children don't go to school wearing their swimsuits. Pajamas, princess costumes, mismatched outfits, all might draw a few second looks from strangers, but hey, if you're 4 years old, you can still get away with it once in awhile. But really, you just can't wear a swimsuit in the middle of a Chicago winter. Or so you may think...

It must have been one of those "you have to pick your battles" kind of mornings, because I had to get HJ dressed and to the therapist's office and ready for school, and of course we were running late.  So rather than fighting about not wearing her swimsuit, I just put on a pair of leggings (yes, they happened to have polkadots on them) underneath her swim shorts, and we were off. The therapist put it kindly when she saw HJ's outfit, something along the lines of, "Wow, great job Mommy on figuring out how to keep her warm." Whereas HJ's preschool teacher was a little more honest when I picked her up after school, telling me, "I almost peed in my pants when she walked into class today."

Looking at HJ standing there that windy December afternoon, I almost forgot that she was wearing a swimsuit underneath her jacket. I thought her teacher was just remarking on her overall outfit, which consisted of a fuzzy hot pink fleece jacket, the navy blue leggings with pink polkadots under the hot pink swim shorts, a pink and purple fleece scarf with multicolored polkadots and big pink pom poms on the end, and her fuzzy red and purple mittens. Basically, if that's too hard to follow, the overall effect was a swirl of fuzzy polkadots in various colors.

One day my daughter may grow out of this Punky Brewster, who cares what I look like as long as I want to wear it stage, but part of me hopes she doesn't. To me, it just represents quintessential HJ. Sometimes I come across a picture of her with her paci and I realize how strange it looks. But really, that wasn't so long ago. I wish I had taken a picture of her that day with her swimsuit/polkadot outfit. All I have now is the memory, but knowing HJ, I'm sure she'll be coming up with crazier outfits before long.

Freaking out about kindergarten

Saturday, January 5, 2013

HJ's letter and number artwork in the bath :)
When I told Sol after HJ's school conference that "I need to step it up" regarding her academics, he literally started laughing at me. Ok, I know that stepping it up at her age may sound ridiculous and that she is only possibly going to kindergarten next year, and that it is still 7 months away, but the beginning of kindergarten just seems to signify so much more to me ... And even more so because it concerns my spirited little HJ.

Yes, in July of this year HJ will be turning five years old, meaning she is at the age where she should go to kindergarten. But, to be completely truthful, I can't really reconcile the idea that she will really be five. Not just in a "But she's still my baby!" kind of way, but in a deeper sense I have that she is still catching up to other kids her age... Yes, she's four now, but I see in her so many things that make me think she is more similar to peers who are three, and I'm not talking about just academically. Sometimes HJ actually says crazy things like, "I don't want to be four! I want to be three..." Either she's intuitively picking up my own anxieties or she's the only child on this planet who wants to age backwards. Some of her closest friends are three years old, her BFF Jordan from school, her best buddies from church, Justin and Justin, both three. She just clicks with them and has fun, laughing and running around together holding hands. The four and five year old girls in Sunday School? She likes them, but while they're playing house and fighting over who gets to be the mom and who has to be the dog, she's just not interested...

Is it strange that I still believe she's catching up from being adopted at the age of 15 months? I know that didn't set her back to being a newborn when she arrived in our family, but I can't shake the feeling that it had a significant impact. And although I don't want that to be an excuse or a "I make everything about adoption" kind of reaction, personally as a parent it makes me understand HJ a little better. When she didn't start walking until 17 months, didn't start speaking until after the age of two, when she is still struggling to pedal a tricycle or do things independently, I remind myself, well she's had a lot to overcome, and it makes me take a step back and breathe a little easier.

So basically Sol asked, "Why are you worrying about kindergarten now? Is there anything you'd do differently?" And I realized, yes there is! Maybe I really do need to pull out those Kumon workbooks like my friends use with their kids, and get them to write their letters over and over again, instead of thinking that her Dora Learn ABCs app on the iPad is good enough? But maybe I have a certain bias against workbooks, thinking they remind me too much of tiger moms of a previous generation than the kind of open-minded, creative parent that I think I should be? And as much as I know I'm not supposed to compare my kid to others, sometimes I find it's the only way I have of trying to see if I'm totally missing the boat!

I do have to say I've come full circle from all the fears I've had about putting HJ in special ed. At this moment, I love what the special ed class has done for HJ's confidence, social skills, and general attitude toward school, and I love the caring and individual attention that she gets from her therapists and teachers. I mean, everyone pretty much agrees that she is just thriving there. It pains me to think of how much she may have missed out on when we made the decision to put her in regular preschool when she turned three. First of all, I think there was just too much going on for her at that time, having just moved to a new house and a new town, and still getting used to the idea of having a baby sister around... And if I hold to my idea that she is really about a year younger than she is, she was like a scared, little two-year old girl going to preschool and having no idea what was going on. The teachers there were also loving and nurturing, but she just didn't have the social and verbal skills at the time to be really successful.

Ok, now I realize I have probably gone completely overboard with all this analysis of HJ's preschool and kindergarten, but it is always at these decision points that I go nuts regarding what is best for HJ. Although I logically know that she will most likely be fine in whatever placement she has, there is this mama bear part of me that just wants the BEST for her, not just what's good enough. I don't want her to miss out by being in the wrong environment for her, or with a teacher that's not a good fit for her, or struggling when she could be thriving. If that's what it means to be a tiger mom, I guess I may be in denial about being one after all.

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