Two days ’til China: Stress dreams, speed-shopping and koalas

Bini decided that writing would chill him out tonight. I can't deny that I was a little bit thrilled.
Bini decided that writing would help him wind down tonight.


I had a really horrible dream last night. I’m fully aware that dream-sharing is annoying, but indulge me. It’s my blog, and you’re reading it, for some reason.

I dreamed that when we went to China to meet little X, he was the size of a 9-month-old baby. Which would be fine, except that he’s almost 3. And he started shrinking. It’s hard to tell timetables in dreams, but I’d say a couple of days had passed and he was small enough to slip under the furniture. I held him cupped in my hands and took him to doctor after doctor, but none of them knew what was wrong.

All around me were the disembodied heads of people who’d been nice-but-skeptical about us adopting a child with a special need: “I knew this was a risk .. I wanted to tell you … It was clear from his pictures that something was wrong … Should have kept your family how it was …”

Friends kept pestering me for pictures, so I ignored my phone and stayed at home, holding and bathing and feeding my shrinking child. I thought about how I loved him and felt a responsibility to raise him, even though he wasn’t what I’d expected. I woke up to the alarm, at 7:00 a.m., disoriented and shaken.

I slipped out of bed and woke Bini for school, letting Steve sleep for a little while longer. I was so troubled by my dream that I told Bini about it over breakfast.

“That’s a weird dream,” he said. “Are you worried that X is shrinking?”

“No,” I said. “I think I’m just nervous.”

“I’m nervous too,” Bini said. “But I dreamed about breaking a board with my foot.”

You don’t have to have a psychology degree to interpret what my dream was about. We’ve never met this child, but we already love him. We’ve promised to take care of him and be his parents. And I’m worried that he will have needs that exceed what we can handle. What I can handle. We know he had cleft palate, and that it was repaired. But we also know the risks. Cleft palate in isolation can signal other birth defects, and though we’ve asked all the right questions and gotten all the right answers, we won’t know for sure until we get him home. I can’t deny that I’m scared.

Non-sequitur of the day:  I actually started packing. I went to the mall for a little speed shopping, and solved most of my clothing concerns. My wardrobe for China consists of the following colors: Black, white, gray, navy blue and one red t-shirt. I bought a scarf. I have packing cubes. Things are in the suitcase. It’s go time.

Other non-sequitur:  Bini has been having trouble winding down for bed lately. I can’t imagine why. Tonight, as I was peeling him off the ceiling, I asked if he’d like to pick some books to read until he fell asleep.

“Actually, I want to write,” he said. “Could you get my clipboard from downstairs?”

When I peeked in 15 minutes later, he had written three pages about koala bears, including a diagram. He did indeed seem calmer. And I’m kind of delighted that my boy likes to write before bed, just like his Mama.

Halloween is hell

I love scary things. Bini is scared of "Scooby Doo."
I love scary things. Bini is scared of “Scooby Doo.”

I love Halloween. LOVE IT. In the Bay Area town where I grew up, the weather was always mild so kids roamed the streets for hours, collecting candy and scaring each other. And I liked being scared. Still do. I used to stay up way past my bedtime watching “The Twilight Zone.” I watched “The Shining” over and over.

I’m sure I inherited my love of horror from my dad, who used to tape old scary radio stories from the 1930s and 40s, like “Inner Sanctum,” “The Shadow” and “Suspense.” Dad would play these tales for us on long road trips, terrifying the snot out of us with stories of young coeds getting their heads crushed by tombstones, and nagging old wives who get killed and stuffed into pipe organs. Yes, really. My dad didn’t know from “appropriate.”

As an adult, I used to go to scary places on Halloween. One year, I went to New Orleans, which is super-freaking-fabulous on Halloween. Another year, I went to Austin, which isn’t really scary, but they have fruit bats that fly out from under a bridge. Another year, we were in Bangkok, which is terrifying for different reasons. Anyway, I think you get the point.

Of course, I hoped that my own son would enjoy Halloween, and being scared, too. No such luck. Bini is afraid of “Scooby Doo.” And ever since the neighbor kid showed up on our doorstep wearing a Michael Meyer mask, Bini has spent every October freaking out over Halloween. And by that I mean nightmares, super-crazy-energy, vacillating about trick-or-treating and just general disobedience. This year has been the worst yet. He’s older now, and everything this month has been an argument, topped off with crying jags and bouts of manic tumbling. Steve and I are at the end of our respective tethers.

So yesterday, I thought I’d try something other than screaming at him: I had him write down what was bothering him. My own therapist had suggested that I write down all of my top stressors, and possible solutions for each. So I got my little journal and wrote, and Bini sat next to me and complained.

“Just draw something, then.” I suggested.

“No,” he shot back. It’s the word of the month. Oh, you toddler mamas think they grow OUT of that? Har de har har.

“Well, I’m going to keep writing,” I said, describing on paper how my insomnia was stressing me out.

After a few minutes, Bini stopped drawing himself inside an army tank. “Mommy, can I tell you what’s scaring me?”

“Sure,” I said, taking his notebook and awaiting dictation. “Go ahead.”

Bini’s scary list is as follows:

  1. The Joker
  2. Clowns
  3. Men in Kabuki masks

So, there’s a theme here: My kid is scared by weird makeup and masks. I explained, in painstaking detail, that these were disguises. That underneath it all, everyone in a disguise is just like us — with regular skin and hair and eyes. Bini didn’t look convinced. So I took the low road, as I so often do.

“Bini, just imagine those scary people without any clothes on,” I said.

He started giggling. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you see someone in a scary mask, or dressed as a clown, I want you to think of them naked. Like, you can see their butts.” He looked at  me, agog.

“Mama! You want me to imagine people’s penises hanging out? That’s potty talk!” His eyes were wide, but he was cracking up.

“You’re darn right,” I said. “That’s potty talk, and potty talk is funny, isn’t it?”

“It is!” By now, he was laughing so hard he fell off his chair. “It is funny!” But then, he looked pensive again. “Won’t I get in trouble, though?”

Oh dear. Now I had visions of Bini pointing at a kid in the school Halloween parade and shrieking “TESTICLES!”

“So, let’s just imagine it, like in our heads, OK? And it’ll be our secret.” Super awesome. I’m just waiting for CPS to knock on my door.

“OK, it’s our secret,” said Bini, looking thrilled to have such a secret with his potty-talking Mama.

So that’s how I taught my son to combat his Halloween fears, ladies and gentlemen: Naked people.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

I have 4 baby teeth in my underwear drawer

This is how you've gotta position the tooth envelope.
This is how you’ve gotta position the tooth envelope.

Tuesday night, right before bed, Bini yanked out his fourth baby tooth. It had been really loose for a week, so it’s not like we didn’t know it was coming. Bini had been traveling to camp with a Ziploc bag, in case it came out during archery or fort-building. But still, Steve and I were caught unprepared. It was 11 at night and we were getting ready for bed when we realized that our wallets contained only twenties, and a few nickels and pennies.

“We’ll have to steal from his piggy bank and pay him back,” I told Steve, who was already snug in bed with his Kindle.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” he said.

The first time Bini lost a tooth, it was a similar deal. Steve was playing basketball and I was home alone with Bini. I got a little lightheaded when it came out, all pointy at the root and blood pouring down his lip, but from deep in the recesses of my brain came my mother’s voice: Rinse with warm saltwater. The bleeding stopped and we wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy. Bini stuffed the envelope holding the pointy tooth and note under his pillow.

“I think I’m going to try and stay up to see her,” yawned Bini. Tooth-losing was tiring business.

“She won’t come then,” I replied. “She’s like Santa. If she knows you’re awake, she won’t come.”

“Mom, sometimes I think you’re making this stuff up,” Bini grumbled, and then promptly fell asleep.

My wallet was light that night — just one $5 bill. I decided that would have to do, and wrote a longish note in Tooth-Fairy hand explaining that the first tooth was special, blah blah. I snuck into Bini’s room that night and tried to extricate the envelope from under his pillow. I had my hand under his pillow and was giving the envelope a good tug when Bini’s eyes flew open and he stared at me. I hit the floor like a ninja, barely breathing, and waited. Five minutes ticked by. I’ll be damned if I screw up the Tooth Fairy, I thought. What kind of mom screws up the Tooth Fairy on the first try?

After ten minutes, I stood up slowly and crept over to the bedroom door. While I’d been hiding, I’d devised a plan. It was clearly going to be a grab-and-run operation, and I needed a clear escape path. 

While I was trying to get the envelope out from beneath Bini’s pillow, I heard a loud meow. Jinx, one of our cats, had snuck into the room and was standing in the doorway, watching. And meowing. Her meow could wake the dead and, sure enough, it woke Bini. He sat straight up. “Mom? What are you doing?”

“Just checking to see if the Tooth Fairy has come, buddy.” I patted his pillow. “Not yet, looks like.”

Bini said something nonsensical and flopped back down. It took me two more tries before I got the damned tooth.

Lesson learned: Make sure the envelope is in an easy-to-grab position. Tuesday night, I was able to swipe it and raid the piggy bank without waking the kid.

This Tooth Fairy thing does make me wonder: How long do kids believe in this stuff? Bini’s only 6, but his Santa questions have gotten progressively more probing. I feel like a jerk making up fantastical reasons why and how he can distribute presents to a billion kids in one night. And the Easter Bunny is just weird. Bini doesn’t like that a giant rabbit sneaks into our house and hides stuff every year. I can’t say that I blame him.

I found out in one fell swoop that all of it was a lie. I think I was about 9 or 10, and my mom asked me to go grab something from her scarf drawer. Her scarf drawer, as it turned out, was where she kept all of the teeth we kids had lost over the years. I walked into the bathroom, where she was doing her hair, carrying a little white envelope with “Tooth Fairy” written on it. I recall that she turned quite green.

You’re the Tooth Fairy?” I accused.

No reply from my mom.

“Are you the Easter Bunny, too?” I asked, starting to get hysterical.

Nothing from my stricken mom.

“SANTA??” I screamed. When my mom looked at the floor, I ran from the room, slamming doors and yelling, Harriet-the-Spy style.  I felt like I’d been lied to, and I was pissed. I think kids have one of two reactions to the big reveal: They’re either incensed, or they pretend not to know. If they do know, maybe the presents will stop coming, my brother explained. (They didn’t.)

Until Bini figures it all out, I’m keeping the baby teeth in my underwear drawer — a place I know he will never, ever to. I feel like I’m supposed to hang onto them, but to be honest, they kind of creep me out.


The kind of mom I am

Bini and I, playing Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots. It's a pretty good metaphor for our relationship, sometimes.
Bini and I, playing Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. It’s a pretty good metaphor for our relationship, sometimes.

We’re in Hawaii this week, on the trip that Steve’s company gives its employees and their families every year. It’s a nice perk, and much more manageable now that Bini’s almost six and can swim like a fish. Our first trip with him was rough  — the three of us in one hotel room, coming to terms with our much-diminished freedom and trying to maintain a nap schedule.

The trips have become a yardstick of sorts for me — noticing how other moms mother and how I stack up. It’s hard not to do: there are hundreds of us, in the pool, at mealtime, at the beach. And the moms judge each other: who lets her kids eat too much sugar, who lets her kid bop other kids with beach toys, who lets her kids have too much screen time. I’m sure the moms judge me. I know I judge myself all the time. I know how I’m different, and what I do “wrong.”

I am not a sweet mom. I have a soft heart, but I wouldn’t call me gentle. It’s just not my personality. My attempts at “mom voice” sound forced and inauthentic. I can be brusque, I can be stern.

I am not a patient mom. I remember reading “The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up,’ on Hands Free Mama. A bunch of my friends had reposted it on Facebook and were vowing to be more tolerant of their children’s lollygagging. I’m all for honoring my kid’s personality, but sometimes, he needs to get his damn shoes on and go to school.

I am not a crafty mom. Well, unless you count cutting up old Zappos boxes into the shape of surfboards. (Hey, that’s what he wanted to do.) I tried doing a couple of crafts with Bini, but to make it look like the picture on Pinterest, I had to step in and that seemed to defeat the purpose. I love coloring and drawing with Bini, but I don’t see any paper tube trains in our future.

I am not an easygoing mom.  I don’t believe that the inmates should run the asylum, so I’m a hardass about rules. Bini says I’m “mean,” which is one way to interpret it. I believe in structure and consistency, and I’m strong willed. So is Bini. We butt heads a lot.

I yell. I was raised by a father who yelled, so I just thought that was normal. I’ve tried to tamp it down, mainly because my yelling was turning my kid into a yeller. But I can remember times when I screamed myself hoarse, like the time Bini drew all over the underside of my beautiful honed-granite counter with a Sharpie.

I am a mom who needs her space. I know moms who are attachment parents, those who won’t hire babysitters and who selflessly sacrifice daily showers so they can be attentive to their kids’ needs. These moms used to make me feel horrible about myself, because I’m just not like that. I need time to take care of myself or I’m just not a very good mom.

But, for all of these bad mom attributes, I have a few things that I like about the way I’m raising my kid.

I am silly. Bini and I find it hilarious to have butt-cheek-squeezing contests. I taught him how to tape his nose so he looked like a pig. I’m queen of the spontaneous dance party. I make up games. I make up songs.

I play wall ball.  Bini came home one day this winter and said that he was bad at wall ball, this strange variation on handball with little-kid rules. He was trying to play it with the big kids (first and second graders) and he kept getting out. So I bought a playground ball and we practiced most days, in the garage or up at the school. When I asked him if his friends knew his mom practiced with him he said no, that he wanted it to be his secret superpower. That’s one I’ll cherish when I’m on my deathbed, I think. I was my son’s superpower.

I have turned my son on to music. Music is something special between Bini and me. We have our own playlists, filled with stuff that we listen to together and that’s just ours to share. Bini loves Queen, Daft Punk, Linda Ronstadt, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson and Earth Wind and Fire. Bini has his own little guitar (which he wields like a natural) and he plinks at the piano with a surprisingly good ear. He loves to dance.

I am trying. I am only too aware of my maternal deficiencies, so I’ve worked hard to learn how to be better. I got help for my own issues. I go to support groups for adoptive parents. I ask questions and pester experts and I reach out for help, all the time. I love my child, and somehow, he’s turning out awesome, despite my screw ups. And every day, I get a chance to try again. That’s all I can do.


Re: Student Share Night, but really, just a bunch of nonsense

My son is good at being sneaky. And he wants to wear shades.
I’m glad my son has recognized his marketable skills early in life.

Last night was “Student Share Night” at Bini’s school. In my day, we called it open house, but whatever. Bini’s teacher told him he “had” to come, and although we’d planned to, I don’t like being told what to do, which should give you an idea of what kind of student I was.

Anyway, there was a frozen-yogurt social afterward (because it’s healthier than ice cream), and I volunteered to help scoop toppings. You probably don’t know this about me, but I slung fro-yo in my day. Yep. Yogurt Park, a Walnut Creek, Calif., institution, where the small size was medium and if you wanted a small, you ordered a mini. DUH. For three straight summers, I perfected the art of calling out “Can I help who’s next?” while looking supremely bored.

Bini was alternately nervous and excited as we fought our way through the thick crowd on the way to his classroom. There, he showed us what he’s been up to since September. Holy mackerel. They do so much WORK, and some of these kids have better penmanship than I do. We looked at his Suessy sentence, and his book of self portraits since the start of the year (in September, Bini drew his arms coming right out of his giant square torso; this month, he’s got arms and shoulders and perfectly rendered hair). We saw his “What I want to be when I grow up,” and my kid wants to be a secret agent. Could be worse. One kid wanted to be a princess ballerina, and her parents have to figure out how to break it to her.

I had to split a bit early and make my way to the mosh pit that was the gym, where people were queuing up for miles to have Menchie’s frozen yogurt. (All they had was vanilla, which was just my damn luck.) I muscled my way up to the front, where there were nine tables of volunteers scooping out toppings: chocolate chips, two kinds of sprinkles, some sort of crunchy chocolate cereal I didn’t recognize, and chocolate and caramel syrup. It was complete chaos, which is what you’d expect in an elementary school gym where they’re giving out free frozen desserts to a bunch of kids. Seeing no order to the situation, I walked up to toppings-scoopers and offering to relieve them. One woman finally agreed, so I stepped in next to another mom.

“Let’s try and split it up,” she said. “You do the caramel and chocolate sauces, and I’ll do the scooping.” She was probably a project manager in real life. This system worked for about three minutes, and after getting goop all over myself I noticed that the other volunteers had on gloves. I walked off to glove up, and when I came back 80 seconds later, there was another volunteer in my spot, grimly squirting sauces.

“Oh hey — I can slip back in here. Just needed to put gloves on,” I said.

“I’ve got it,” was the terse reply.

Okee doke. I was ready to find my family and go home to find some chocolate when the harried organizer rushed past, looking like she might have a nervous breakdown. “Oh thank God,” she nearly sobbed. “Can you PLEASE help out on table nine? She’s all alone and it’s just crazy.”

Table nine was indeed busy, but it wasn’t like Altamont or nothin’. Me and my topping compatriot worked congenially, side by side. She seemed to grasp that this was a happy thing, delivering sugar to people.  And it was an interesting experience, topping vanilla frozen yogurt for the school population and their families. The kids, by and large, had better manners than their parents. One grandmother dug her hand into my chocolate chips and shoved them into her mouth, dropping strays onto the table.

“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you not to do that,” I said. “If you’d like some toppings, I can put them in a cup for you.”  She grunted and walked away, munching.

Shortly, it was 7:45 and the cleanup crew (again, volunteer parents) was on the case, breaking down tables and kicking people out. Which was fine. I went outside to find Steve and Bini on the “lower playground” (the “upper playground” is for “big kids,” according to my son). I managed to catch Bini doing the whole monkey bars, all by himself, while Serena, the adorable pigtailed girl from his class, watched from below. When he hopped down, she gave him a hug. He let her.

On the way home, we ran into another family from the street and we walked home together. “Do you remember elementary school being like this?” asked Amir, our neighbor, who himself had a rigorous education in Israel. All of the adults agreed that we didn’t. But I’m not going on again about that.