The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

May 28, 2012

Day in the life

I just want to write it down, so I can remember these days.

He usually wakes up in our bed. He’s still not sleeping through the night—at six weeks home, we don’t really expect him to—and if he wakes up and is inconsolable, bringing him from his crib to our bed does the trick. And he loves his sleep! Some mornings he snoozes until close to 9, although usually it’s more like 8. By then, of course, John’s left for work, so it’s just me and him. He often wakes up with a grin on his face, and we cuddle together until he hears Stella’s tags jingling from her bed on the floor, then he scootches over immediately so he can see her.

Right now, I think one of the tougher things about taking care of a toddler is occupying him while I’m trying to go to the bathroom, put on the barest essentials of makeup, or get dressed. I’m constantly trying to think of distractions to keep him occupied and in the same room while I do these things: a flashlight, a small box filled with ribbons and other odds and ends, an old makeup bag with empty containers in it, a toothbrush (he loves brushing his teeth). I have gotten very fast at things like washing my face.

Next up, a diaper change (sometimes there is screaming involved), then breakfast. He loves fruit, so I usually give him strawberries or pineapple along with a frozen pancake, waffle, or dry cereal. If the dog’s in the room, he’ll throw pieces on the floor and giggle wildly as she eats them, so I usually babygate her in the hallway. I eat my cereal or toast and coffee, sneaking peeks at the newspaper as we babble and make faces at each other. If I hand him a whisk, sometimes he’ll play with that in his highchair while I clean up the kitchen. Other times, no—there’s cry-whining until I lift him out.

Playtime! We head over to the den, where we keep most of his toys, to play for about an hour. Right now he’s loving his Pororo keyboard, wooden stacking toys (amazing to watch him learn to stack them), a plastic giraffe that has balls that go through a hole in its mouth, toy cars (great for pushing along the dining-table bench), and books. It makes me so happy to see his interest in books—we started reading to him right away every night, and how he’ll bring me books to read him during the day, too. Current faves are The Hungry Little Caterpillar, Five Little Puppies Jumping on the Bed, Doggies, and Mr. Brown Can Moo. His attempts at making barking and rooster-crowing noises are adorable.

My goal is to get out of the house at least twice a day, so around midmorning, we start our preparations to leave, most often to visit one of four playgrounds nearby but sometimes to run errands, too. It’s a slow process—I give him his morning bottle of formula (he was drinking this way in Korea, and we don’t want to introduce too many changes at once) and get him dressed, then we head to the master bedroom so I can make the bed and get myself dressed. Sometimes the application of suntan lotion is involved, which good God he hates.

Once I sit him on the mudroom bench and get out his shoes, he knows for sure we’re heading outside, and his excitement is obvious! Another thrill is getting to push the button to set the house alarm; that never fails to elicit a grin. I strap him into the blessed BOB stroller—best baby gear we own—and off we go. The farthest playground is about 1.2 miles away and the closest is less than a half-mile, but overall we usually spend about an hour and a half on our outing. I love watching him toddle and stumble around the equipment, watching the bigger kids with wide eyes. Every once in awhile, he’ll turn to me with outstretched arms to be picked up, but usually he’s independent enough to do his own thing. He likes the toddler swings and recently started trying to climb steps, and he’s now going down short slides by himself. He definitely tries to copy what he sees other kids doing.

We take a short break on a shaded bench to eat Cheerios together—a time that I love—and we leave so that we’re home by around 12:15, lunchtime. I put something together for us as quickly as I can while occupying him in his highchair with more Cheerios or a kitchen utensil, or directing him to his unlocked cabinet that’s full of Tupperware. It’s kind of funny to me that I usually eat the same frozen meals I ate at work—fast is best! Will’s lunch might be PB&J, leftover butternut squash or sweet potato, cheese, grapes, turkey lunchmeat, pasta, applesauce. It’s easy to see what his favorites are by noticing which food’s on the floor when we’re done.

Getting Will to nap has tended to be a challenge, but right now we seem to be settling on one afternoon snooze at around 1:15 or 1:30. Sometimes it lasts more than an hour; other times it’s 40 minutes. And right now, the only way to get him to sleep, unless he’s already super-drowsy, is to put him on my back in the Ergo carrier. He’ll sometimes fight and shriek about getting in (which does not make the process easy), but he’s fine once I stand up. I strap him in, we take Stella for her short midday walk, and then I pace the floors a bit, and he’s asleep. I pick up the kitchen and read a book or magazine or spend some time online. No, it’s not terribly comfortable doing this with a 25-pound child on your back, but I’ve figured out how to make it work. I sincerely hope that someday Will will be able to nap in his crib. Right now it’s more important to us that he naps, period.

Lately he’s been in a terrific mood when he wakes up! Super smiley, uncomplaining during diaper changes, etc. We play with his toys, read books, drink another bottle, maybe watch a few Pororo cartoons on YouTube (if I ask him if he wants to watch, he runs to the computer). Then we gear up for our afternoon stroller run. I’ve been trying to leave the house around 3:30 or 4, when the sun’s not as strong… and since I can’t shower when I’m home alone with him (the pack-and-play isn’t really tolerated yet), waiting until the end of the day to get sweaty is best. We usually do a three- or four-miler with a break halfway to play in the grass at a park or the lakefront. Not only does this take up a nice portion of the afternoon, I get my workout and he gets to explore. I swear, Will spends just as much time in open outdoor spaces as any suburban kid.

After we return home, it’s snacktime—Greek yogurt with cereal sprinkled in it. I love this little ritual of ours. We both love yogurt, so he’s always in a good mood. It’s something I used to do in the late afternoon at work, too, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun (or messy—just once it would be nice if my dining companion didn’t end up with yogurt on his wrists and eyebrows, which he loudly protests being wiped off).

After that, it’s usually not too long before John gets home, around 6. I won’t lie, I look forward to this—it’s so good to have a break after a 10-hour day of toddler wrangling. John takes Will onto the back deck to play while I start dinner, sneaking in a newspaper article between stirs and chops. Then it’s mealtime and watering the outdoor plants and bathtime and bottle and stories and “Twinkle Twinkle,” and he’s asleep by 8:30 or so. The next three hours are mine—to wash dishes and pick up toys, but also to read or email or work on my Seoul photo album or watch TV. The decadence!

People have asked me if I miss work. When I’m sitting in the sunshine in a green park, watching my son pull up grass or stare at a bug in wonder, no, no I do not. There’s absolutely nowhere else I’d rather be. When I’m scrambling to prepare some kind of lunch while he screams, or trying desperately to put on makeup or sunscreen while he flushes the toilet for the eighth time, being at work sounds pretty damn nice. Sometimes I look forward to going back and other times I dread it. But truly, I haven’t thought about my job much in these past six weeks… I just don’t have the headspace for it right now. My mind is completely engrossed in parenting. And I suppose that’s how it should be. That’s the purpose of this beautiful, idyllic, maddening, challenging, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime time. 

Labels: , , ,

May 11, 2012

How I wonder what you are

Will is home. We are three. How to write about this? How to even start, and what to say?

I have been a mother for four weeks now. The mother of Will Jiho. I’ve felt pretty much every emotion under the sun during those four weeks. But the ones that consistently come out on top are happiness and love. Happiness at being Will’s mother. Love for him that began, in full unadulterated force, the moment John scooped him up at the agency in Seoul, and we got into the impossibly tiny elevator, rode the seven floors down to the lobby, entered the waiting cab, and drove away, across the river, back to our hotel. A family of three.

I think what I’m going to do here is just write whatever comes to mind about him. Because really, what these four weeks have been about is Will, learning to care for him, and getting to know him. They’ve been about me and John, too, and our adjustment and feelings, but really, right now, this isn’t about us at all. It’s about the eighteen-month-old who’s in the midst of one of the biggest changes a person can experience—with no real way to understand it, or have it explained to him. And it’s our job to help him through it.

To be blunt, I’m in awe of how well Will is doing. I don’t credit myself and John much; I think it’s largely due to Will’s personality. He is a cheerful, outgoing, funny, friendly, and curious kid. He smiles and laughs a lot—I’m realizing that one of my number-one goals these days is getting him to laugh! He’s not afraid of meeting people and going new places. He was certainly bonded to his foster family, with whom he lived for sixteen months, but he was happy, playful, and relaxed with us during our first meeting with him in Seoul. From day one, he has let us comfort him and care for him. When he’s upset, he’ll sometimes show a preference for me over John, but overall he seems think we’re both pretty cool.

Will loves…

…Eating. His foster mom thought he ate too much, although he’s under the fiftieth percentile for weight and height. Favorites so far are strawberries, grapes, fish, chicken, sweet potato, waffle, Puffs, yogurt, bread, applesauce, Cheerios (or rather, the Trader Joe’s brand of faux Cheerios), and cheese.

…Going outside. He gets so excited about his shoes and coat! He truly loves heading out, whether it’s on the back deck, to the playground, or for a run in the stroller (thank goodness). He’s been fussy a few times during my runs, but usually he’s completely relaxed. We’re not sure if he ever rode in a stroller in Korea, so we were worried about this.

…Bathtime! We have a true little fish. No matter where he is or what he’s doing, when he hears John turn on the tub faucet, he goes running to the bathroom. He shrieks and babbles with happiness and tries to climb into the tub. In four weeks, the adorableness of this has not waned. He also just loves H2O in general—when we give him a sippy cup of water, instead of drinking it, he revels in letting it drip down his chin. One of the best ways to keep him occupied during a wait at the doctor’s office was to let him turn the water fountain on and off (and on and off…).

…Music. He loves to dance and bop his head along to his toy piano, the maraca we gave him, bits of music played during NPR newscasts, even the sound of two plastic cups being banged together. He also loves any kind of song that has accompanying hand motions, like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “The Wheels on the Bus.”

…Waving. He is an expert, and he gets a lot of practice, since we live in a neighborhood bustling with pedestrians, dogs, cars, and buses. All of them get an enthusiastic wave.

…Buttons, switches, dials of any sort. Our lamps, the wall light switches, the DVD player, remote controls, cellphones, John’s guitar amplifier—you name it, he wants to push/pull/turn it. …Opening and shutting cabinets, doors, and drawers, repeatedly.

…Stella! His foster family had a dog on the premises (not sure if it was an indoor dog), and he’s never shown a shred of fear toward his hound sister. We’re still working on “gentle petting,” but he’s getting there. After a few days at home, he knew which toys were hers and would pick them up and bring them to her bed (heartmelt). For her part, Stella has been a true champ. Her tolerance amazes us. If he does something she doesn’t like, she simply walks away.

…Interesting textures. He loves to rub his fingers on the heating vent, stuffed animals, screens, the grass, etc. His favorite books right now are the kind that are “touch and feel.”

…Keys. Sadly, they (like everything else) go right into his mouth, so we don’t let him play with them for long. This can lead to screaming.

What doesn’t Will love? Well, naps have been a challenge. Apparently he was taking two daily ones in Korea, but he’s been haphazard about it here. I think this might change as time goes on and he’s more used to his surroundings. The best way to get him down is to wear him on our backs in the Ergo (he’s actually snoozing there while I type this). Better than nothing, because no nap = not a happy Will. 

Everyone asks how sleep is going, and really, it could be a lot worse. One of us slept on the floor in his room for the first two weeks or so, with him beside us on the crib mattress. (The jet lag was crazy those first few days—he’d wake up at 3 a.m. ready to play.) After about two weeks, we slowly moved him up into his crib. He now falls asleep there between 8 and 8:30, wakes up around midnight for a bottle, sometimes wakes again around 2ish but can be soothed back to sleep, then wakes about 4 or 5 and usually isn’t soothable, so we bring him into our bed to sleep until we get up for the day. Honestly, I don’t have many complaints about this right now—I feel like we’re getting a bit of co-sleeping in there, which is supposed to be good for attachment, but he’s also learning to sleep in his own room and in his crib.

I’m trying to think of what else upsets him, or what he doesn’t like. He does have cranky days, and he does tantrum. Sometimes diaper changes are a challenge. We have to say “no” to him and remove him from situations quite often, since he’s 100 percent mobile and into everything. But truly, his default personality seems to be goofy, happy, and curious. He often wakes up in our bed with a smile on his face, his hair all sticking up. It is the very best way I have ever woken up.

How I’ve been feeling: in love, in awe, in shock, confused, frustrated, incredibly lucky, worried, impatient, guilty, tired, amazed, overloaded, wistful, bored, proud, happy, purely joyful. My first few days home alone last week, when John went back to work, were pretty mentally overwhelming. The 10 hours of each day seemed unfillable. I could not fathom how to handle the following eleven weeks. This week felt much, much better—I have ideas for how to structure things, we get out and do something every day, and that makes a huge difference. A lot of the time, I really, really like hanging out with Will. At certain times, all I want is for John to get home. My son is a toddler, and I’m thinking these feelings are pretty normal, especially for someone who didn’t have the eighteen months leading up to this to get used to parenthood and this particular child.

What else?

I want to write that watching John parent—which he does generously and responsively and thoughtfully and well—has been an amazing thing to see.

That I cried at least once a day for almost two weeks after we got home: tears of jet lag, joy, exhaustion, frustration, love.

That I still don’t quite feel like a “real” parent, and that we have no idea what to do in many situations (let’s just say that Will’s diapers went on backward for awhile), but that I have learned mightily in the past month.

That hearing Will laugh and seeing him smile floods me with a kind of happiness I’ve never felt before.

That you should absolutely never turn down an offer of a homemade meal when you’re a new parent. 

That it is possible to go out to dinner with a toddler, if you choose the right place and go early enough. That putting on makeup and pretty clothes can feel hugely restorative.

That I had read about people needing months to feel attached to their adopted children, and about women dealing with post-adoption depression, and I’d secretly thought I might experience these feelings, but I haven’t.

That I suspect the Pororo music will be playing on a continuous loop in my brain for the next five years.

That taking care of a toddler for a whole day alone can be really, really hard. You might find yourself thinking purely in terms of how to fill the time until your partner comes home. Then you might feel guilty for thinking that way, but you still kind of do.

That I sometimes look forward to Will being a little older, and other times want him to stay a baby so very much.

That sitting on the couch at 9 p.m. with a New Yorker
and a glass of wine or a brownie has never, ever felt so good.

That feeling my son’s arms cling around my neck for comfort at 3 a.m. is a beautiful feeling, no matter how tired I am.

That I don’t understand how the universe worked to make us Will’s parents and him our son, but that I will be always, eternally grateful that it did.

Labels: , , , , , ,