Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dead reckoning

For some reason the changeover to the new year feels more weighty and important this year than it has in the past. Maybe I'm putting too much thought into it, but it feels like I'm moving toward big changes. We're almost certainly done having babies, so there's the transition from what has seemed like a holding pattern into moving forward with our complete family assembled. In the fall my first baby will start Kindergarten and my second will probably start preschool, so that's pretty huge. We are discussing a serious and major step to reduce our debt, which may turn out to be a game changer. In general I feel antsy and poised to shake things up. Or maybe it's just that I saw something on facebook this morning pointing out that 2030 is now just as far away as 2000. Let that one soak in for a moment.

Past year-end posts: 2006 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before? I officially became a supervisor of other employees - previously I had only managed volunteers. It's been a learning experience, to be sure.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Three close friends had babies this year and while I find their babies delicious, they don't infect me with baby fever as I feared they would.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
 Luckily no.

5. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014? More follow-through on my goals and plans.

6. Any memorable dates or events from 2014? We had a great trip to Memphis with the boys at the end of May, as well as lots of smaller adventures that I really enjoyed.

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
 Doing very well at work, I think. As much as I sometimes regret the time spent away from my boys, I appreciate very much this second chance at a fulfilling and rewarding job. I also end the year feeling mostly like I'm acing this motherhood thing. (Though currently my beloved second-born is ransacking his room instead of taking a nap while I hide downstairs and blog, so...perhaps there's room for improvement.) I'm also proud that I was able to nurse Elliott to 14 months, though it's bittersweet because I wanted to continue much longer than that. I still have regrets about not pushing to get his lip tie diagnosed and fixed early enough to make a difference in our nursing relationship.

8. What was your biggest failure? I let a lot of small things slide that in the big picture probably don't matter, but which would have improved my day-to-day existence if I'd stuck with them a little better. I'm disappointed in myself for not being more diligent about keeping up with the boys' monthly letters / journal posts, and really hope to get back on track in the coming year.

9. Did anyone suffer illness or injury? Nico spent three nights in the hospital in January with what turned out to be a bad asthma flareup.

10. What was the best thing you bought? I think MB got the iPad this year. If so, that probably wins.

11. Where did most of your money go? mortgage, the damn credit cards

12. What did you get really excited about? As much as I miss having a little baby in the house, having two little kids has been so amazing. I am truly giddy sometimes when I think about all the great things we will be able to do with our kids.

13. What was your favorite TV program? Supernatural

14. What were your favorite books of the year? Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

15. What was your favorite music from this year? I made a road trip mix that I really liked for a while. I also spent a lot of time listening to the CDs from Elliott's first semester of Kindermusik, which he loved.

16. What were your favorite films of the year? I think the only new movie we watched this entire year was Captain America: the Winter Soldier. We liked it very much.

17. What did you do on your birthday? A look at the calendar shows that my birthday fell on the second Thursday of March this year, so I suspect that I took the day off work to volunteer in Nico's preschool class.

18. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? It would've been nice to have had more of our debt paid down.

19. Tell us a valuable life lesson from 2014. You can't be the good guy all the time, and that's okay.

20. One word to describe this year. Full

Monday, December 22, 2014


And just like that, it's almost Christmas. We've had a really nice lead-up to the holiday, and if this year turns out to be a model for Decembers to come, I will not be disappointed.

Getting the month off to a festive start, I took Nico to a gingerbread house workshop at the library on the 1st. We ended up being the only people there, and Nico had a really good time. He decorated two houses, mostly by himself - a change from last year when he put on three candies and then ran off to play. Elliott was impressively patient while waiting for the masterpieces to take shape. I hope next year he'll be able to decorate one of his own.

The next thing won't become a December tradition, I don't think, just because everyone would prefer to space out travel expenses from holiday expenses next time around, but we spent a great weekend with our friendmily at the swanky rental cabin. The children were generally charming (I think) and not hooligans.

We went to see Santa at the library, as previously reported. I took both kids to a Christmas-themed Kindermusik class, which they enjoyed in a high-speed, blurry fashion.

We had two cookie-painting parties with friends, still one of my favorite holiday things.

I baked eight dozen ginger squish cookies for my coworkers while watching Stardust. We met up with my old work friend Julia and her family and took the kids on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the big light display at the park. Someone at work put a Santa hat on the office skunk.

We spent a day in MB's hometown and had two family meals / visits. The kids were excited about their gifts and Nico said thank you to everyone without prompting. They did almost get into a fight over Elliott's pretend guitar from their papaw...who knew my kids were that into guitars? MB's mamaw got the boys these little rubber animals that pop tiny nerf balls out of their mouths and Elliott LOVED them. He would carefully try to reload the ball, then be nearly overcome with anticipation of the coming flight. It was spectacular.

I finally found my Christmas CDs stashed in a box in my closet. I got all our gifts wrapped and bought supplies to make more cookies and I think our last Amazon shipment will just make it on time and our cards will only be a day late getting to everyone this year. I still really can't believe Christmas Eve is the day after tomorrow.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

the road not taken

I am adopted. I was adopted as a baby by my parents in a closed adoption through family and children's services in my home state. I haven't written about it much at all here - there's only one real post about it, and it's one I wrote when I was really irate about an article I'd read condemning all adoptions as sinful and against nature (seriously). Be warned, there's lots of swearing: Recycled Child (100% Post-Consumer Content)

I've never had much curiosity about my biological family, other than to wonder if my birth mother was still alive or had any other kids, or to ponder how weird it is that I could have biological siblings and cousins wandering around in the same city where I live (because my parents never moved away) and not even know it. It was never a constant question in my mind, just something that would float to the surface every once in a while - after I watched Juno, when my aunt told me in passing she'd seen a girl working at a shop who looked and sounded so much like me that she'd had to do a double-take to make sure it wasn't me. My truest, deepest hope was always that my birth mother had gone on to have a normal, happy life of her choosing - a marriage, if she wanted it. More kids, if she wanted them. A life without regret. I decided long ago that I probably wouldn't ever go looking for her, but that if I found out she was looking for me, I might consider making contact. I often wished there was a way to write her an anonymous letter assuring her that I'd had an excellent life. Once or twice, I googled my birth date and adoption state together to see if anything popped up on the registry sites where people go to look for adopted children or biological parents, but nothing ever matched and I was always kind of relieved about it. A good friend asked me when I was pregnant with Nico if I thought my feelings about my own adoption would change once I had a child of my own, and I honestly didn't know. I did wonder if once I became a mother myself I'd feel more abandoned or more curious but really, not too much changed. I suppose if anything it made me a bit more grateful to her for making a difficult choice after carrying me for so long, a choice that allowed me to have the family I have now.

Then, in July, I was clicking around idly on facebook and wandered into my other messages folder. There was a message from a random girl sent back in December 2013 asking if I, by chance, might be adopted. She'd seen a posting on a family connect / find people type of site from a woman looking for a baby girl born on my birth date in my hometown. I think the message-sender must've done a facebook search for anyone listing my home city with my birth date and then just sent them all a query. I googled the seeker's name and found several postings she'd made on websites for adoption searches. They weren't super consistent site to site, and on each posting only some of the details would fit with the story my family has of my adoption circumstances. I messaged the facebook girl back and told her I didn't think I was a match, and figured that was the end of it. But it has floated to the surface of my mind again and again since July. It's not something I think about every day, or even every week, but it keeps coming up. It's not an intense or nagging curiosity, but it's there. I still don't feel a deep need to discover my roots or find my true family, but I feel a lot of compassion for this woman who is clearly feeling an intense loss, nearly 34 years later. If I were in her position, and it was one of my little boys that was lost to me, of course I would want to find out what happened to him. I've googled her a few times since, and the only info I can find is what's on the adoption sites. She doesn't seem to have any online presence otherwise, which probably makes sense for someone in her early fifties. According to the postings, she married her baby's biological father and had two sons not too much younger than their first child. To me, this almost makes it harder. Connecting with a lone biological mother, maybe not overwhelmingly intimidating. But a mother, a father, and siblings? A whole new family? That's intense. That's terrifying to contemplate, honestly. I'm not naive enough to think it'd be a perfect little happy transition for everyone, either.

A friend of mine is married to a guy who was adopted as a baby, had a bit of a fraught relationship with his adoptive parents, sought out and found his biological mother as an adult, and now is attempting to maintain a relationship with her. I talked to my friend, told her what was going on, asked her what her input was, based on her experiences with her husband's biological mom. It sounded like they didn't necessarily regret finding her, but that there were definitely issues introduced by bringing her into their family again - issues with boundaries, with commitment and hurt feelings, with passive-aggressive behaviors. I'm glad she was honest with me because as much as I'd love to make sure my biological mom (whomever she is) had closure if she wanted it, I do not think I'd be willing to do it at the expense of my family. If opening the door to that contact would cause grief or danger or great stress to my parents, my husband, or my children, then it's staying shut. In the intervening months, I've decided a few things. I've decided that before making any kind of contact, I want to consult somehow with someone who is versed in family law to make sure that she wouldn't have any legal claim on custody of my children if MB and I die before they are adults. I've decided that unless there is a way to unseal the birth records and see the original birth certificate (if it even exists), I'd want to pay for some kind of DNA test to verify - after all, what if all the details fit but it's truly a coincidence? Why go through all of that and then have it turn out we aren't related at all? I've decided that I would want to contact her anonymously at first in case she's nuts or the kind of person to ask for money all the time or just generally not someone that's healthy to have around my kids. I've decided that I will discuss contacting her with my parents and my sister beforehand, to make sure they won't feel betrayed by the whole thing.

What I haven't decided is what I'm going to do. I have no idea if I should even attempt to figure this out. Should I leave well enough alone because I truly think I can live out the rest of my life not knowing and not feel any regrets about it? Or do I owe it to her to answer her question, if I can? If I can't be 100% certain she's actually my birth mother, should I avoid contacting her just so her hopes aren't crushed if it turns out I'm not her long-lost baby? I have no idea. I don't really even know what I'm hoping to get from posting this. Clarity often comes from writing things out, even just brain-dumping like this. I suppose what I'm asking you is this - What would you do? Would you want to know, even at the risk of opening the door to someone you may later wish didn't have access to your life? If you or someone you know is adopted and has contacted their biological parent(s), I'd like to know how it went. Did you / your friend regret making contact later? If you were her, what would you want? If you were me, what would you do?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

the great playroom cleanout

I know there are people who do a big purge of their kids' toys before Christmas every year, but until recently I had never attempted it. I'm sure part of it was due to my ingrained packrat tendencies, part to not wanting to upset or deprive my children, but mostly I just didn't know where to begin. I was also hesitant because first, it's hard to judge what Elliott will like based on Nico's habits since 1) Nico pretty much only played with vehicles until recently and 2) they have very different personalities / preferences. Second, Elliott is still young enough that his interests haven't really revealed themselves yet, and he may well grow into a lot of the toys we have that Nico basically ignores. On the flip side, our house was getting a little bit out of control. The way things are set up now, both boys have some toys in their bedrooms, but everything has to be able to be stowed neatly away at the end of each evening - we keep their rooms picked up almost 100% of the time. (Though we are getting a little more lax with Nico's now that he usually has in-progress Lego creations scattered around.) Toys that Elliott can play with are in the living room, but stored in a cubby bench and a small bookcase. There are a few loose / large items (bag of Megabloks, toy garage, shopping cart), but the rest is generally contained. Toys that are special to Nico or not yet safe for Elliott to use are kept in Nico's playroom, which is a small space created from a side porch that was enclosed to create a teeny office. It's not a big playroom, but so far it seems to be just the right size for Nico and his big boy toys.

Except it was getting out of control in there, so full of stuff that it was impossible to keep neat and so messy that Nico never went in to play. Maybe a month ago, I went in one night to do a room reset and snapped a little. I realized with increasing irritation that there were lots of things in there I hadn't seen Nico so much as touch in months and months. I've heard of different strategies for dealing with this sort of thing. One friend has her kids' toys sorted into bins by type / theme, such as all the Lego, all the Playmobil, all the blocks, etc. The kids have to trade out the totes if they want something different to play with. My officemate's wife has their kids' stuff mixed but divided up among four big bins and she rotates them periodically. I liked the idea of both of these, but wasn't really sure where to start with either. I stayed up literally all night sorting and cleaning, and ended up filling a big plastic tote with toys that I couldn't remember him using in quite a while. I also dumped out his matchbox / hot wheels collection and divided it in half. Half went back into the bin to be played with and the other half went into the to-be-removed tote. The room felt a lot better after my spree, but I did feel a little guilty about pulling toys out that belonged to Nico and were for the most part given to him out of kindness / generosity. Nico has a sharp memory, so I didn't think it was a good idea to actually remove the toys from the house just yet. I decided I would stow them in the basement and not mention the clean-out to Nico. Any toy he specifically requested from the bin could (probably) come back up, but anything he didn't miss after a month or so would probably be safe to donate. I thought it was a pretty sound plan, and sure enough Nico only specifically asked about one toy, even though he spotted the bin in the basement pretty quickly. Also, when we got home the day after my cleanup, Nico went into the playroom and came back waving a matchbox truck in the air and exclaiming, "Look what I found! I haven't seen this in forever!" VINDICATED. I stopped feeling bad at that moment.

When I got the house ready to decorate for Christmas, I ended up pulling more toys out of the living room and playroom. I pulled some toddler things that neither of the boys play with much, plus the Little People Noah's Ark that I love but my kids give no shits about. The only person who ever plays with it is a friend's daughter when she comes over for playdates. I also decided this past Sunday night that the first bin of pulled toys had been not-missed long enough that I could send all the small interchangeable plastic cars and trucks to Goodwill. I added them to a tote of miscellaneous stuff that I'd been collecting and loaded them into the car after Nico went to bed, and then Elliott and I dropped them off while he was at school. I saved the big / nice trucks that I had pulled, but left them in their tote in the basement. I was feeling really good about this whole process, but I have to admit to you that it all almost went completely off the rails that afternoon. After preschool, Nico went into his playroom and started playing with the set of Pooh characters he's had forever but had forgotten about in the mess. I was thrilled, honestly. Then he came out and asked me where Eeyore was, and I had this sudden unpleasant feeling in my stomach and a perfect memory of a small plastic Eeyore in the bin I'd taken to Goodwill just that morning. I had thought it was a spare, leftover from college, but now it seemed I was wrong. Feeling like utter shit, I called the Goodwill where we'd been, only to be told there was basically no way it could be found and that they weren't really interested in trying. Nico was taking it much better than I expected, but I still felt pretty awful. I added a few Eeyore-containing Pooh sets to my amazon cart and pondered how long I should wait before deciding that Goodwill was not going to be calling us. Much later, sometime that evening, I went into the playroom on a whim, dug through one of the miscellaneous tubs on his bin rack and eureka! The Eeyore from his set was found!

So I take back all the guilt and remorse. I am resolute that this purging thing is a really good idea. Probably. Almost certainly. What about the rest of you...any strategies or tips that work well for you when culling your kids' stuff? I've broached the topic of donating toys to kids who don't have much to Nico, and also the idea of getting rid of old things to make room for new things. He wasn't really having either of these explanations and announced that he thought those other kids' mommies and daddies should get them their own toys and that he'd just keep his old stuff and not get new stuff. There is a certain logic to that, I suppose, but sorry kiddo...I'm still going to stealth-clean your hoard as needed.

Reading:  The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

Playing:  Christmas music, of course

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the most wonderful season of blogs

I am loving all the Christmas blog posts this year. It doesn't matter how many gift guides, decoration photo sets, or pictures of cute kids in Christmas jammies I've seen - I'm always eager to see more. I figure I'm not the only one who likes these, so here's mine.

I took the kids to see the most wonderful Santa of all again this year. He makes the rounds at the public libraries, and we have always been able to catch him at one of the small branches, which is extra nice. I chatted about our visit off and on with Nico for a few days beforehand, in the least-pressurey way I could, hoping that he'd be less nervous for it. We talked a little bit about what he might want to ask for, and I gently steered him toward small stocking-stuffer type things (though it didn't take much steering - he didn't have any huge gifts in mind). He decided he would ask Santa for fuzzy socks since he got some in his stocking last year that he likes, maybe some Matchbox cars, and maybe another cheeping bird. A day or so before, he told me he was going to ask Santa for a Lego police car. Feeling cringey about the price of Lego sets, I reminded him that he already has a police car set, and he decided to ask Santa for a Duplo police car for Elliott instead. I wasn't sure this would actually happen, so even though I was hesitant about adding a biggish item to our stocking list, I let it go.

The Stories with Santa we attended was on Monday afternoon. Initially both kids were skeptical of the whole affair:

After all the other kids had taken their turn visiting, Nico was willing to give it a shot. Elliott graciously allowed me to place him beside his brother for a few minutes, though I didn't get any great photos of them together. Nobody cried, so I'm counting it as a victory.

And then, once Elliott had been set free again, Santa asked Nico what he wanted for Christmas. And my sweet, wonderful boy politely and earnestly asked for a "big Lego" police car for his baby brother. He explained that he already has a Lego police car, but that Elliott is too little to play with it, so he would like Santa to bring Elliott a Lego police car of his own to build. He completely forgot about all the stuff he wanted, though I reminded him about the socks. It was one of my proudest parenting moments to date, honestly. A few days later, I'm still feeling a little swell of love and pride in my chest when I think about it. MB and I are so charmed by the whole thing that Nico is getting a second police Lego set, and possibly a note from Santa complimenting him on his generosity of spirit.

I have loved seeing all the "what my kids are getting" posts popping up lately, so I figured I'd write one, too. I'm trying to keep it simple this year because the boys already have so many toys and because their birthdays are coming up quickly on the heels of Christmas (January 15 and February 25). They each will get one wrapped gift from MB and me and some things from Santa.

Nico, almost five years old, will be receiving:

Bruder logging truck from us. He was given a different logging truck for his birthday last year and loved it, and then it started to fall apart after barely a day of gentle play. I was pretty furious. This is the only other decent logging truck I've seen on the market (other than a bigger Bruder model that sells for $85), so I hope it's a good one. I managed to score it at Marshall's for less than Amazon price, so I'm pretty pleased.

Santa always brings books to our house, and this year's picks are two favorites we've had checked out from the library for months and months:

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara and Peggy: a Brave Chicken on a Big Adventure by Anna Walker

His new Lego set, which I think will be easier for him to build (the other one he has is from the City collection, which are a little above his skill level):

I may also have Santa leave him a puzzle that I got from one of his book orders, though I may wrap that.

In his stocking, he'll have:

>> Christmas striped cozy socks from Old Navy (I'm SO SAD that he's about to outgrow the biggest size of cute socks that Old Navy makes.)
>> a packet of cookies
>> Lightning McQueen snack containers for his school lunches
>> a little Lego snowman set I picked up at Barnes & Noble
>> a Tow Mater ornament I bought last year and saved
>> a Matchbox car from the stash in my closet, since he did mention hoping Santa would bring one
>> maybe an Audubon cheeping bird...he picked one he liked off the tag of the one he has, but of course the bird he chose is discontinued

Elliott, almost two, will be receiving:

A handmade wooden logging truck that I really hope can withstand the rigors of his much more rough style of play. I got it from a local woodworker who is a super nice guy. His is just like this, except the cab is red instead of yellow:

His books:

Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Schertle and Mix it Up by Hervé Tullet

His Duplo set:

I scored these Melissa & Doug instruments off craigslist for five bucks and I'm deciding between Santa leaving them and wrapping them. Maybe I'll wrap, just because unwrapping is fun.

In his stocking, he'll have:

>> Christmas striped cozy socks from Old Navy
>> a packet of cookies
>> a Matchbox car
>> his own flashlight, since he's always eager to play with Nico's
>> maybe an Audubon cheeping bird

Let's also enjoy some obligatory Christmas decoration photos! This was the first year Nico was at all interested in helping me hang ornaments on the tree, so that was fabulous. Elliott spent a few days stealing ball-shaped ornaments off the lower branches, but seems to have settled down now.