My delightful friend, Jennifer, reminded me over the weekend that I hadn’t blogged in awhile. That’s not entirely true. I haven’t blogged for free in awhile, but I’ve been blogging like it’s my job since April. Because it is my job. In April, I started a contract gig as a communications consultant for a super-cool nonprofit organization. I blog, and do social media, and edit things and write things. I work from home.
Working at home has its advantages, particularly when your awesome nanny cleans and does laundry and empties the dishwasher. I don’t have to commute anywhere. I can sit around in my pajamas all day. I don’t have to take a shower. (I do take a shower. Usually.)
The big issue I find is keeping my head in the game. Being at home, it’s easy to get distracted by laundry that needs to be folded, counters that could be wiped and clumps of fur on the carpet from my mangy cat. I’m also the one who’s taking the kids to their dentist appointments, organizing the play dates, doing the grocery shopping and planning the social schedule. I’m still the stay-at-home parent, trying to do most of what I used to do. And mostly, failing.
It’s possible for me to fit in 20 hours a week. But my chock-a-block schedule makes it hard to get — and stay — in the zone.
Here, I’ve outlined today, an average day. I’m expecting sympathy, FYI:
7:15: Awakened by two children crawling on me, and an aggressively purring cat.
7:20: Realize that I still have a toothache. Also, that I way overdid my workout yesterday, and my left hip hurts like a bitch.
7:22: Hobble downstairs.
8:00: Call my dentist. Confer about toothache. Schedule root canal for Friday, when I was hoping to be working. Fix lunches, clean up kitchen. “We’re out of compost bags,” says Steve. Add to mental list.
9:15: Put on a baseball hat that says “Grumpy,” throw on clothes, brush teeth and drive Evan to camp. (Bini has been delivered to his camp by Steve.)
9:30: Stop at Walgreen’s to buy compost bags, batteries and Sharpies.
10:30: Notice that Kona is filthy and needs her nails trimmed. Call grooming place and book appointment for noon.
11:45: Leash up Kona and walk to the groomers. Feel virtuous about getting some exercise, spending quality time with dog, and doing an errand. (Win-win-win!)
12:10: Realized I am unshowered, and hungry. Turn on oven with the intention of roasting beets that have been in the crisper for a week.
12:15: Answer e-mail.
12:25: Shower and do minimum grooming.
12:55: Make sad lunch and carry it up my office.
1:00: Conference call.
1:25: Notice that my battery is at 17 percent, and that the charger for my new MacBook isn’t working.
1:33: Log off, race to Apple store.
1:45: Arrive at Apple Store. Informed by idiot Apple employee that I have to wait an hour to see a “Genius.” Reply in a way that could be characterized as hostile. Receive new charger, for free.
2:00 Kona is done being bathed. Remember, as I’m driving, that the groomer does not accept credit cards. Pull into grocery store to buy something and get cash.
2:10 Grocery store does not have flank steak, the only thing I need. Buy skirt steak instead.
2:15 Park in loading zone to pick up Kona.
2:20: Get yelled at by meter maid.
2:25 Arrive home.
3:05: Bini comes home from art camp. I take a break to say hello and make him a snack.
4:00: Realize that I left the oven on. And forgot to roast the beets.
4:15: Mangy cat vomits on carpet, because she hasn’t been brushed since April. Clean up vomit. While doing that, realize that I’ve had damp clothes in the washing machine since Monday, and they smell a bit off. Rewash clothes.
5:50: Walk downstairs to listen to last 10 minutes of Bini’s piano lesson.
5:55: Bini says: “I never see you, Mom.” Heart breaks.
6:00: Release the nanny, begin dinner/bath/bedtime routine.
8:30: Yell at Evan for requesting water for the 50th time.
8:40: Write blog, sulking.
8:45: Realize that I need to update my blog image to include Evan, who we adopted over a year ago.
If you’ve been following along, you know that Steve and I decided to take the kids to the Great Wolf Lodge for 25 hours during mid-winter break. Before we left, I polled my friends on Facebook to get some advice. I also got pretty freaked out, because I heard that the clientele was “interesting,” that the place wasn’t particularly clean, that the food was lousy, and expensive, to boot. Now that we’ve taken the plunge — get it? — I’m gonna give you my own special spin on the place.
Do not go for two nights. That was our original plan, as we didn’t want to drive 90 minutes to Grand Mound, Wash., only to turn around the next day and come back. But as one friend put it, there is not enough fun in the place for two whole nights. She was 100 percent right. Overnight guests get access to the water park starting at 1:00, and you can change in the changing rooms. We were able to get into our suite early, which was nice. (See #3.)
I wouldn’t classify the “suites” as an actual suite. We booked a Wolf Den Suite, so named for the partially walled-off kids’ sleeping space. Inside, there was a bunk bed and a private TV. We got a queen bed which was the smallest queen bed I’ve ever slept in, a dusty couch and a carpet that I insisted only be trod upon with slippers or socks. I mean, can you imagine what goes on in these rooms? Anyway. A suite, as far as I know, is a hotel room with a separate living area that HAS A DOOR. The Wolf Den Suite did not have a door.
If your kids are adopted, find the check-in agent who is also adopted. So, I need to ‘fess up to something here. I’d heard that you should tell the Great Wolf Lodge that it’s your kid’s birthday, so they can get free ice cream. I didn’t feel right doing that, but since we’re about two weeks away from our Adoption Day for Evan, I was prepared to exploit that for some free stuff. I didn’t need to, though. Somehow, we got the check-in agent who was also adopted, and when she saw our little rainbow family she got all teary and started handing out free ice cream wristbands. I didn’t need to say a word. I wish that I hadn’t pre-paid for the late check-out or the buffet breakfast, though (see #9) because she was prepared to throw those in too, but couldn’t take it off our invoice. She did hook us up with a room three hours early, though.
Go with friends. We didn’t do this, and I so wish we had. Not only so we’d have other adults with which to share our pain, but because then we’d have people to tag-team with for kid-minding. I didn’t get to go on the Howlin’ Tornado, which looks awesome, because Bini did it once with Steve and then wouldn’t go again. I spent a lot of time in the wave pool going “whee!” with Evan, and in the baby pool area. It would have been nice to run off with Steve and go on water slides. I guess we’ll have to go back.
The baby pool will be contaminated at some point. I’m not a germaphobe (which is helpful at the GWL), but I did wonder what might be commingling with the heavily chlorinated water in the baby pool. On the second morning, they closed the thing, and we all know what that means.
It wasn’t as gross as I’d feared. I don’t know what I was worried about. A human head floating in the hot tub? Feces in Fort Mackenzie? The clientele was “interesting,” and I think I may have spotted some prison tattoos. But there were plenty of “normal” people there too — pale-bellied software developers and moms in sensible swimsuits, just trying to get through the day.
I did get a rash, though. I can’t prove it, but I suspect the rash that I got on my neck, chin and upper lip was somehow related to our visit. Was it from Big Foot Pass? Or was it from the vegan, organic Eminence Apricot Oil that I had to buy because I forgot my body lotion?
Don’t forget your body lotion. In order to filter out all the gross stuff, the Great Wolf Lodge employs “state-of-the-art water treatment equipment,” which I think means a shit ton of chlorine and saline. Your skin, my skin, everyone’s skin is no match for that. Bring body lotion. Lots of it. And hair conditioner, which I also forgot, and had to buy a travel-sized Aveda thing for $8.
Prepare to be nickel-and-dimed TO DEATH. Everything, except life jackets and towels, costs extra. Those kids running around the hotel with magic wands? That’s extra. Wiley’s Story Time? Extra. Late checkout? Extra. Buffet breakfast and dinner? A fortune. (See #14.)
Do not buy bottled water. I learned this from a barista in the lobby Starbucks (which is mobbed at breakfast time): Buy a Venti ice water for $.73, and you get free refills your whole stay.
The spa actually sells good stuff. I might have to try it next time.
There are kids everywhere. Even the goddamned exercise room. As Steve and I told the kids, there is nothing, NOTHING at the Great Wolf Lodge for adults. Except booze (see next tip). It’s like Vegas for kids, and they LOVE IT. But if you think you can escape to the gym for a little alone time, you can forget it. The sign on the door clearly says that no children under 18 are allowed without “proper supervision,” but the dumbass on the treadmill next to me seemed to think that that meant it was OK to have four kids clanging on the weight machines and yapping away on the elliptical while she ran. She kept saying, “Behave, you guys!” and “Almost done!” But she wasn’t almost done. So, after 20 minutes of it, I stopped my treadmill, turned to face her, and said through clenched teeth: “Get your kids out of here.” I must have looked scary, because she did. And then I changed all the TVs from Fox News to CNN.
13. Bring your own booze. Or, tip generously when you buy booze from the bartender. After spending almost three hours in the water with the kids, Steve and I felt deserving of a drink. He took the boys to get ice cream, and I bellied up to the bar. I ordered a Mac & Jack’s for Steve and a margarita for me. The bartender had a full blender going when she handed me the receipt, and my swim-addled brain wasn’t thinking clearly, and I gave her a $5 tip on a $13 bill. She looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again, and said, very sincerely, “Thank you, honey.” And then she dumped the entire contents of the blender into two cups, and gave them to me. (They were strong, too.)
Bring your own food. I’d heard from some people that the food at Great Wolf Lodge was awful, and I remember thinking they must be high-maintenance. No. The food at Great Wolf Lodge is indeed awful. And it costs a fortune. We did the dinner buffet, because we were too tired to get in the car and go somewhere else, and it’s $20 per person. I gotta hand it to them — the buffet is huge. And has all the bells and whistles: Pizza, “Mexican” food, salad bar, carving station — even salmon for the fancy types. There was no way I was eating the salmon at this joint, so I had a $20 salad. And got a stomach ache. I swear. Steve grimaced while eating the salmon. The kids loved their pizza and Costco taquitos, as well as the dessert bar. Next time, we’ll rally and go off property.
Get down to the water park as early in the morning as possible, or, go after dinner. These are the least-busy times, and you’ll actually be able to snag a table or a solitary chair to dump your stuff. We ended up having to clump our shoes and towels and duffel along the wall with 100 other people’s shoes, towels and duffels.
When a table opens up, be ruthless. Evan and I were waterlogged and hungry, but Steve and Bini wanted to do one more ride, so we nabbed a table as it was being vacated. It had pretzel salt all over it, but I didn’t care. These teenage boys had claimed two of the chairs accompanying the table, but I was undeterred. Cool as a cucumber, I ignored them and placed our stuff on the remaining two chairs, and the table top. “Um, is this your table?” one of the kids asked. “Yes,” I said, giving them the best haughty stare I could muster with a towel wrapped around my head. (They went away.)
The cabanas are stupid. Don’t waste your money. We actually considered renting one of these, to the tune of $159 a day, so that we didn’t have to fight for space. But these aren’t Seahawk Suites at Century Link, for God’s sake — they’re just little nooks with a place to sit, a safe and a TV. If you’re a guest in the hotel, the cabanas make no sense. They make no sense anyway. They’re stupid.
Get late checkout. It’s worth the $50 splurge. That way, you can enjoy the delicious breakfast, take advantage of the exercise room and use the water park one more time. And your kids might fall asleep in the car on the way home, like mine did.
Watching your kids have a blast is infectious. The Great Wolf Lodge was tied with Pyongyang on my list of Places Not to Visit. But as one friend said, it’s kinda magical seeing your kids having The Best Time Ever. Bini was beside himself when we pulled in to the parking lot, for God’s sake. The looks on their faces when we walked into the water park? Pretty awesome. At some point, you’ve gotta just let go of the fact that you’re in an indoor water park in Grand Mound, Wash., and roll with it. And think about what you’ll do next time.
About a month after winter break, and eight weeks before spring break, Bini’s school district takes a “mid-winter” break. If it seems like the kids are out of school more than they’re in school, you’d be right. And don’t get me started on Evan’s school, which didn’t sync its weeklong mid-winter break with the local school district.
Still, it is mid-winter and dreary here in the Pacific Northwest, so it seemed like a good time to get out of town. I lobbied for a Southern California trip, where we could visit with friends in Los Angeles and then head down to San Diego to go to Legoland.
It was a lot of traveling (fly to L.A., stay somewhere, drive to San Diego, stay somewhere, fly back) and it was also pretty expensive. Also, after flying to the Bay Area twice in 10 days, I was weary of airplanes. It was snowing a lot by then, so Steve and I booked three nights at Suncadia, a mountain resort about 90 minutes away.
Two weeks ago, we were getting really excited about our fun family trip filled with snowshoeing, sledding and snow tubing. Then I looked at the long-range weather forecast: Rain, rain and more rain, which meant melting mountain snow and a trip spent indoors.
“Well, what should we do?” Steve said.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
We had this same conversation about three dozen times over the next few days, and finally, I said: What about Great Wolf Lodge?
I don’t think I could have surprised Steve more if I’d come home and said: “Honey, I’ve decided to live my life as a armadillo.” Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor waterpark and hotel in Grand Mound, Wash., and since becoming a mother almost seven years ago, I’ve always said never. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, over my dead BODY. Nope.
“I hate the idea of it,” I would say whenever we passed the exit for Grand Mound, on the way down to Portland. “It’s my version of hell, being trapped inside like that.”
Bini was forever telling me that he was the only kid never to have been there, but I wouldn’t relent. I even remember, at a playgroup, telling the assembled women that I would rather endure my children whining and complaining through back-to-back museum visits than go to an indoor waterpark.
But here I was, suggesting it. Why?
The only answer I have is motherhood. It’s somewhat easy to cling to your pre-child ideals when you only have one child. Like: “I will never buy my kid a Happy Meal!” Like: “I will never let him watch more than an hour of TV a day!” Like: “I will never hand him my phone while I get my hair cut/try on clothes/finish up dinner at a restaurant!”
When one has more than one child, however, one’s righteousness begins to lose out to one’s weariness. As in: “Sure. You can stand on the end of the shopping cart.” As in: “Don’t cry– Mommy has 15 Oreos for you!” As in: “Oh, did Bruno Mars just use the ‘f’ word? Just don’t say it on the playground.”
And that’s how I found myself rebooking our luxurious mountain suite at Suncadia for later this summer, and reserving a Wolf Den Suite at the Great Wolf Lodge for one night. Also: blog fodder.
“Hi Kristin, this is Ashley at WACAP…kind of an interesting situation came up and I wanted to run some information past you. If you could give me a call back as soon as possible, that’d be great.”
It was one year ago today when I got that call. I was in the produce aisle of the Metropolitan Market in Kirkland, looking at Pink Lady apples and drinking a 12-ounce Americano. I was in workout clothes. I’d just been to barre3 class. And earlier that we had decided to decline our latest referral. It was number five.
When I saw our adoption agency’s number pop up on my phone that day, I put my phone back in my pocket and kept trudging toward the market. I was expecting yet another pep talk from Ashley, our adoption coordinator, about how we’d know when it was right, etc. But the whole process — reviewing children like they were dogs on Petfinder — was becoming unbearable. I didn’t want to talk.
I don’t know why I checked my voicemail while choosing apples. But when I heard the message, it was like an electric shock. My stomach turned to ice, despite my hot coffee, and my hands started shaking. I parked my cart and dialed the phone. Ashley picked up on first ring. And she told me about a little boy named Xiao-Jie.
I can’t remember if I’ve described the process for Chinese adoption, and I’m too lazy to go back and read all of my posts to see. So here’s the deal: Families can either find a child, or they can wait to be matched. We went the latter route. Our first match was for a special-focus child, a little boy who’d been on the Shared List for several months without a match. These children usually have significant or complicated special needs, and are the most vulnerable. For this little boy, we were given a month to make up our mind. Within that time, we requested (and received) medical updates that we then had reviewed by Dr. Julia Bledsoe at the University of Washington’s Center for Adoption Medicine.
Then, there’s the Shared List, maintained by the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption. The list is shared with many adoption agencies, who can all see the same children’s files at the same time. Adoption agencies “lock” a child’s file for review for a specific family on their wait list. We were shown four such files between August and Nov. 19, and we declined all of them.
The problem with the shared list is the time element. Families have 72 hours from the time of a file lock to make up their minds and send a letter of intent. So if you have questions about a child, it’s very unlikely you’ll have the answers you want in time to make this momentous decision. That’s why we said no to those four other little boys: We didn’t have enough information. And to be fair, the Chinese government wants to find homes for these children. I understand why they have hard-and-fast rules. It’s just hard to make a decision about the rest of your life when you have 18-month-old medical information on a 3-year-old child.
Xiao-Jie was 2 1/2 when we heard about him a year ago. He was born with a cleft palate, and another family in our agency had just said no to him. They were heartbroken, but their 72 hours were up, and they hadn’t received their requested medical update in time. But between the time that they declined his file and his next appearance on the Shared List, the orphanage had sent his update. So when Xia0-Jie popped up, WACAP locked his file again. And called us.
I gave Ashley permission to send us the password-protected file, and finished my grocery shopping. I was still shaking, and my heart was thudding like I’d just run a race, but I willed myself to continue my errand as normal. Just finish up, drive home, and be calm, I told myself.
Before I drove home, I texted Steve: We got a new referral. It sounds really promising. Steve’s response: Already? We just turned one down. Me: Let’s keep an open mind. Him: OK. Let’s see how it looks.
My determination to stay cool lasted about two blocks. As I drove down State Street and passed the Kirkland Transit Center, I started crying uncontrollably. “Come on God,” I yelled to my empty car. “Please let this be the one. We are good people, damn it! We are good parents! Please! Let him be the one!”
I opened the email from Ashley waited an interminable minute for the files to download. When I opened those first pictures, I knew — just as everyone said I would.
I’ve never had a biological child, but I imagine that moment when you see your new baby for the first time is not dissimilar to how it felt for me to see both of my children’s pictures for the first time. It’s such a specific mix of wonder, and awe, and trepidation, and exhilaration and so much fierce, wild love crashing like a wave. It took my breath away because I knew what it meant — I’d felt it once before, when I saw Bini’s picture for the first time. I saw his face and his eyes and I knew with absolute certainty that I loved him, and wanted him more than I’d ever wanted anything.
I scanned Xiao-Jie’s medical files with baited breath: Cleft palate, repaired at 9 months, height (small), weight (small), developmental milestones. I looked at pictures of the palate repair. And then I called Steve.
Steve sounded hopeful, but still wary. Once again, the clock was ticking: It was 11 a.m. on a Friday, and we had to make a choice by Sunday. We couldn’t make a choice without a medical consult, and those were $450 a pop. We had already paid for several consultations, only to end up saying no. How many more times were we going to do this? One more, we agreed.
I called the Center for Adoptive Medicine repeatedly, and got voice mail. I left two messages, and wrote an urgent email, but then, I remembered my reporter training. I found the cell number for Dr. Julian Davies, one of the other consulting docs at the Center for Adoption Medicine, and I called it.
Dr. Davies asked me to forward the file, and we set up a consult for 3:00 that day. I arranged for a friend to pick up Bini at school and keep him, and tried to go about my day. I couldn’t, though.
I spent two hours in front of the computer, looking at Xiao-Jie’s picture, checking his measurements on the World Health Organization’s website, and researching cleft palate. I called the Cleft Palate Foundation in Chapel Hill, N.C., and spoke at length with a very kind woman whose name now escapes me. I followed links and more links and ended up nearly in despair about the what ifs. I signed up for a Yahoo group on cleft lip and palate. I went crazy with the waiting.
At 3:05, my cell phone rang. Dr. Davies was cautiously optimistic about Xiao-Jie, but told us that cleft palate in isolation can signal brain abnormalities and other complications. He gave us a list of questions to have answered by the orphanage: Did Xiao-Jie have pain or weakness in the legs? Are bladder and bowel functions normal? Did he have any markings (fatty lump, a hemangioma, a dark spot or deep dimple) on his spine?
We submitted the questions to Ashley, who told us what we already suspected: It was unlikely that we would receive a reply within the allotted 72 hours. We could accept the referral, and if the update came back signifying additional needs that we didn’t feel equipped for, we could change our minds. It was frowned upon, obviously, but it was an option.
Steve and I had decided not to tell anyone about Xiao-Jie yet — even Bini. I’d made the mistake of showing him one of the previous little boys, and he was very upset when we declined that referral. My dog, Kona, seemed to be catching our keyed-up vibe, and relieved herself all over the upstairs hallway. In fact, I was on the phone with Ashley while blotting one of five urine spots. Steve and I were united in our nervy excitement. All weekend, we’d lock eyes and, without a word, ask and answer: Are we going to do this?
Ashley was out of town on Sunday, and we had instructions to call Lindsey, another adoption coordinator in the China program, to give her our answer. At 11 a.m., I asked Steve one more time: Are we doing this? And then I made the call. Yes, we wanted to accept the referral. Yes, we wanted Xiao-Jie.
The next week was Thanksgiving, but still, we told no one. We went to a friend’s house for a big Thanksgiving party, and everyone there knew that we were trying to adopt again. Everyone asked us how it was going, but we both kept mum. I already loved Xiao-Jie, and I felt protective. And I think Steve and I both wanted this one so bad that we didn’t want to jinx it by saying it out loud.
On Dec. 1, we got the update from China. Dr. Davies reviewed it, and sent back this response: “Thanks for this … nice update on his development, with typical speech for his situation, felt to be smart. They have not noted any associated congenital anomalies here, but are describing absence of symptoms and typical function – when he gets home we may choose to do some screening imaging tests.” When he gets home.
Last night, I didn’t sleep downstairs, even though I was on Eggs duty this morning. I didn’t mind if Xiao-Jie, who we now call Evan, woke me up at dawn. At 5:30 on the dot, he appeared at my bedside in his footed puppy pajamas and said, “Mama.” Even though I was exhausted, I let that word — that one little word — sit inside my heart for a moment. I sent up a silent thank you to God, for listening to my pleas one year ago, and for allowing me to be Xiao-Jie’s Mama.
When we left off, I was beside myself about hiring a babysitter. Remember that? I was sure that 12 hours a week would give me enough time to get going again on freelance work, get some time to myself, etc. It seems fitting, then, that I would end my three-month blog-writing drought with a post about how it all worked out.
It’s harder than I thought.
Babysitter is and was great. But by the time she got here, I was typically so behind schedule that I’d spend the first hour extricating myself from the kids and taking a shower. Then, I’d have three hours left to return emails, make phone calls and write. Still, there was always, always a hiccup of some sorts. I did not budget in time for hiccups, like the cat vomiting on the carpet, or that midday physical therapy appointment that I’d forgotten about or a clogged toilet or the lack of food in the refrigerator. I often feel, at the end of the day, like I’ve barely outrun a pack of wolves.
And don’t even get me started on sleep. That’s a whole other post. What I’ll say is that pre-Evan, I used to do a lot of writing in the evening. But now, because Evan strongly believes that 5:30 a.m. is “good morning time,” Steve and I both stagger to bed like zombies at around 10:30. We don’t sit downstairs and binge on Netflix shows anymore. We do chores and then I try to switch gears and work for an hour but I usually end up staring into space or folding laundry.
I didn’t do any freelance work from mid-March to June. And I’m glad I didn’t. I was physically and mentally drained by the end of each day, just trying to adjust to having two active boys. But once Bini got out of school and I hired our sitter, I started saying yes to things. Just one story assignment at first. Then two. Then, I had to start saying no to things. Right now, I’m juggling three assignments and one that’s due in early December that I don’t even consider a thing yet.
I could always say no to everything and go back to being totally focused on my boys. But I can’t. I have to work. I am fortunate that I don’t necessarily “have” to work, but I need to. I love being a mom. I also love being a professional and using the talents I worked so hard to develop. I won’t give up working. Not ever.
And so, that work/life balance remains elusive. As a freelancer, I fear that if I say no, the work will dry up. On the other hand, I’m stressed and snappish and I’m not as patient with my kids as I’d like. I’ve also agreed to be a room mother for Bini’s classroom. (Oh, shut up.) It’s been a tough year for him, with lots of changes, and I want to prove to him that I’ll be there. That I’ll show up.
I can’t cut back on anything, not right now. My work ethic demands that I finish the assignments I’ve agreed to. My maternal love demands that I put the time in with my kids — watching the martial arts classes and ferrying Evan to speech therapy and practicing spelling words with Bini. My OCD demands that my house be somewhat clean at the end of each day. My need for personal time demands that I do some sort of exercise. I haven’t budgeted in any time for relaxation. It’ll just have to wait.