Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Marley's 2nd Gotcha Anniversary

Two years ago tomorrow, I held Dave's hand as we walked into a seemingly deserted civil affairs office in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China and walked back out with a daughter.

She was tiny, stinky (we teased her and said she had 'Breath of the Dragon'), and so far delayed that I admit to feeling more than a bit scared ("terrified" might be a more appropriate term), but she was my daughter and in many ways the experience of meeting her and holding her that first time fulfilled the dream of adoption that had been in my heart since girlhood.

We had done our homework in preparation for adopting, and expected a child who was fearful and rejected one or both of us. Instead, we met this calm little child who seemed to wonder just where we'd been for her first 23 months of life and what the hell had taken us so long to get there. I loved that, but I wondered and worried if she'd look at every stranger the way she looked at Dave & I that day--so trusting, so open, so willing to be ours that it scared me.

Spend five minutes with her now, and there is no doubt who her family is and which four lucky people get to claim her as ours.

She loves her brothers and finds their antics hilarious.

She thinks her daddy can do no wrong and has been known to profess how much she likes him, especially when she's mad at me ;)

She loves me, her Mama, even though I didn't get to do so many of the 'mama' things I did with the boys when they were babies. I think of her birthmother and what she gave up, and hope that someday, somehow, she will know how pure and honest and deep my love for Marley is.

There are things that Marley does (including being so incredibly stubborn that I am torn between frustration and admiration) that make me wonder: Is this a girl thing? a little sister thing? a birth family/genetic thing? an orphanage thing? an adoption thing? a Marley thing? or simply a thing thing? It's kind of like rattling off all of the usual questions we moms ask ourselves about our kids, but with a few extra layers piled on top to keep it interesting. And, keeping it interesting is something she excels at. When I look back at the pictures and videos of the strides we celebrated with her, it almost breaks my heart all over again because it is right there in front of my eyes, how much impact the orphanage setting had on her early development. But she had so much in store for us and has exceeded every tentative hope I felt for her.

At 2, she learned to pull up in her crib:


At 2 1/2, she had a few clear words:


A few months later, she started preschool in a language-enriched non-categorical special education program. Big lump in the throat that day, watching her "big" brother carry that Tinkerbell backpack for her.
And I'll admit to having a big old hunk of "stuff" to work through regarding the whole special ed thing. You'd think that as a special ed teacher, I'd instantly feel comfortable with my daughter being in special education classes, but that was just not the case. Knowing in my head that she needed the help didn't go very far to help me get through conversations that went something like this:
"Where does your daughter go to preschool?"
"She goes to ____".
"Oh, I didn't know they had a preschool."
"She's actually in the special ed program."
"Oh. . . " (long pause).
I'm still learning not to end that conversation with a rushed apology/explanation "She's adopted from China and had a cleft palate blah blah blah." Anytime I've said that, I end up with someone staring at me like I'm some sort of saint, not a mom who gets totally pissed when my 3 year old is saying something for the 100th time that I can't understand and we're both losing our noodles over it. I get mad at myself for trying to explain away her special needs, rather than stating them for what they are--obstacles she has fought like hell to overcome, but that still drive us all batty once in awhile.

This summer, at age 3 1/2, she learned to swim without her life jacket, including underwater backward somersaults and picking dive toys off the bottom of the pool.



To see her now. . .it still takes my breath away at times to think of how much she has changed and how easily she grew into an independent spirit. She talks in full sentences, she sings, she dances, she says "No" and gives me death stares that I was hoping not to face until the teenage years. She loves to cook and to play with her babies. She loves to ham it up for the camera:


She likes to get fancied up:

But is just as happy taking a fully-clothed dip in a river:


Every day she lines up an entire fleet of strollers and cars packed full of so much junk that you'd think she was preparing for a bag lady convention.

I emptied her purse two weeks ago and found a gigantic can of artichoke hearts inside. That sucker was heavy and I have no idea how long she had been lugging it around. As I type, Casey is giving her hell for hiding his Big Time Rush CD inside her Little People farm, and I just dug the whisk, a plastic walrus, 4 legos and a dried up fruit snack out of the seat of her Elmo car. Seriously, we may have a future star of one of those reality TV shows like "Hoarders Anonymous" or maybe a remake of "Sanford & Son". And yes, this is one of those things that leaves me wondering: Is it an orphanage thing? an adoption thing? a Marley thing?. . . .

She is a joy and a little turkey at the same time, but mostly she's an amazing girl who squeezes as much playtime, affection and attention out of every day as she deems adequate. And while I won't pretend that having three kids is easy (too many of my loyal readers would call my bluff on that anyway), I know without a doubt that getting to be her Mama, giving her brothers the gift of growing up with a sister, and her Daddy the gift of having a little girl who thinks he's the bees knees--these things will sustain me through those days that leave me yearning for more and less all at the same time.

For my friends who read my posts on facebook only, click on 'see original post' so that you will be able to view the videos.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Picture Bloopers

Following is a random sampling of the pictures that did NOT make it onto this year's Huffman family Christmas card. Please feel free to laugh at our expense!

Mom watches bratty eldest child after Dad huffs glue:

Eldest child gets one naughty face closer to a big twisty arm pinch from Mom:

Forlorn children sit with Mom who somehow gained 30 pounds for this one picture and Dad who suffers sudden intestinal distress:

Last attempt before nightfall on photo shoot Day 1; coincides with eldest son's only genuine smile of the day:

Two youngest children accept bribe; oldest does not; parents think of ways to exact revenge:

Sunglasses anyone?

Duh. . .

"One" silly picture before we get serious; day 1 of photo attempts; taken by 82 year old grandpa known as Big Ole Bob:

Another gem by B.O.B.:

Boys do what they do best--take rearview self-portraits:


Middle child exerts authority and takes charge of remote button; eldest and youngest seen in typical form:





Friday, December 17, 2010

Cocoa and Climbing and Christmas. . .Oh My!

Cocoa With an inch or two of snow on the ground and the kids' first official 'snow day' (actually, a 2 hour early dismissal), I felt inspired to search for a "from scratch" kind of cocoa recipe last night. And, lord, did I find it! My only regret was giving it to the kids right before bedtime--poor Casey was awake until 11:00. Thank goodness for this morning's 2 hour delay; he happily snuggled deeper under his blankets and slept past 9:00. Without further delay, here is the recipe (makes 3 servings):
What you'll need:
3 cups milk
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate grated (we used mini morsels)
1 tablespoon white sugar (we used 2 tablespoons powdered)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
What you'll do:
1. Nuke milk for 2 minutes.
2. Stir in chocolate, sugar, cinnamon.
3. Whisk egg until totally smooth and add to the mixture.
4. Nuke for 3-4 minutes until foamy (don't boil).
5. Whisk again and poor into mugs.
6. Enjoy! (preferrably several hours before bedtime!)

Climbing
Keller climbed in his second competition on Saturday, the 11th. He had a case of jitters this time around, as the competition was run very differently from the last one, and he had to have peers watch him and sign off on his climbs. But he's a natural climber and he did an awesome job of getting up the walls! Here's a video of him climbing one of the easier climbs of the day. For this route/problem, he had to climb using the holds taped with white for his hands, and any foot holds. The tougher climbs of the day aren't video taped because his mom was too busy fretting and ringing my hands to remember to pull the camera out!


Christmas
With an inch or so of the white stuff on the ground, snow boots drying by the door, and me running from store to store like a lunatic---it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here! Some of my favorite parts of this year's Christmas countdown so far:
* Casey and I had a "date" last Sunday to go shopping for his brother and sister. When he came down from bed in the morning, he had on a collared shirt--commonly known around here as a "school picture shirt." I asked why he was fancied up and he very shyly said, "I thought it would look nice for our date." Be still my heart. Someone is going to be very lucky some day when he turns his little romantic heart in her direction. Off we went to watch the Steelers game and have lunch (during which he kept innocently yelling "Go, black guys" despite my gentle prompting to call them "Steelers" instead), and to Toys R Us where the masses were huddled; with my sweet boy in his collared shirt.
*We've started a "12 Days of Christmas Huffman Family Game Night Challenge" around here. So far, many rounds of Toy Story Yahtzee, Kerplunk, Monopoly Jr. and Shut the Box have been played. We missed last night (too busy enjoying our delish cocoa), but I'm not allowing myself too much guilt over it. This is a new tradition for our family, and I think it's okay to flub up a bit in the beginning ;)
*The kids had a two hour delay this morning (only in the WDC metro area would this dusting of snow qualify as delay-worthy!) so Dave had Keller and Marley out in the yard making snow piles while Casey caught up on missed sleep. Something about seeing everyone bundled up out there just makes things feel 'right' as we get closer to Christmas.