Monthly Archives: April 2016

Taking a lesson about loving my neighbor from the Little Blue Truck

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Lydia used to love “Little Blue Truck.” When she was just learning to walk, she’d toddle over to the bookshelf, reach up to the top shelf where we keep it, pull it out, and, grasping it with both hands, pad over to us, sometimes even saying, “Eep, eep”. The story’s title character is a little blue pickup truck who beeps his way through the pages, his acknowledgement of all the farm animals he passes. Lydia loved the bigger blue letters of the “beeps” and hearing us read that word. However, some pages are filled with the animals’ greetings–nary a blue letter in sight. Lydia would hurriedly turn those pages. Which means we’d get through the story pretty quickly (it is a board book after all)…only for Lydia to turn the book over and start again.

I’ve read this book countless times. And as happens when you read a book again and again, you either read it by rote and stop paying attention…or you start analyzing the details and you notice things that aren’t apparent the first 100 times.

In case you have never heard of “Little Blue Truck”, in the story, “Blue” rolls along, greeting all the farm animals with a merry “beep, beep, beep”, a friend to everyone. Then a dump truck makes an appearance, proclaiming his importance and lack of time for such pleasantries. Soon enough, he gets in trouble — stuck in the mud — and cries for help…and is ignored by all the animals he didn’t have time for. The pickup responds and tries to help, but gets himself stuck in the process. He also cries for help — beep, beep, beep — and all the animals scramble to assist. Working together, they push both trucks out of the mud, and “Dump” goes on his way with a new appreciation for friendliness.

Friends are important. They make your day more enjoyable and they can help you out of difficult situations. That’s the main take-away from this little book. But a couple other lessons struck me as I was reading the rhymes for the 5,467th time. When the dump truck shows up, he mocks Blue’s greetings: “I haven’t got time to pass the day with every duck along the way!” Pass the day implies a leisurely conversation. It conjures images of sitting out on the front porch, maybe on a metal swing, sipping lemonade and telling stories. It suggests hours of investment (which true friendship does require, for the record). But that’s not what the pickup truck is doing: “Little Blue Truck came down the road. ‘Beep!’ said Blue to a big green toad. Toad said, ‘Croak!’ and winked an eye when Little Blue Truck went rolling by.” He offers his greetings as he’s on his way. He’s hardly passing the day. He’s not even stopping. It made me wonder, how often do I know what I should do, but I don’t want to do it, so I exaggerate — to myself and/or others — how much time it’ll take, and how I’m too busy?

And along these same lines: Blue isn’t offering any more than a hello, but look at the power of that acknowledgement. It establishes a relationship, forges a bond, and even inspires loyalty. I’ve heard friends who work with people experiencing homelessness say so many times that what matters to this vulnerable population, even more than the food and money they get begging, is being acknowledged. Most passers-by throw a “Sorry, man, I got nothin'” without breaking stride or even glancing their way– or ignore them completely. But those that make eye contact and smile, even if they don’t drop any coins in the cup, offer something almost more valuable: connection, acknowledgment of another’s existence.

After hearing that the first time, I’ve tried to make that simple connection when I’m out with the kids, channeling Blue, if you will. I may not give money, but I always have time for a warm smile and greeting.

Essential baby things

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We celebrated Lydia’s first birthday at the beginning of the month with a picnic on the Mall during the cherry blossom kite festival. We’ve enjoyed the festival since we moved to DC (although some years the rain kept us from staying long) and this year I was thrilled to see that it could coincide with Lydia’s birthday party. She LOVED the kites … and her birthday treats (we caught her more than once grabbing the strawberry shortcake cookies, but hey, it was her day). She also loved wandering around, pointing at flying animals and shapes, dogs lazing on picnic blankets, and her brother and his friends. And as Mike and I took turns tagging along after her, I was struck by how she’s not a baby anymore. She’s most assuredly a toddler.

So the last couple weeks, I’ve been clearing out baby equipment that we no longer need, the Ergo last week, the baby bullet, bundleme, and jumperoo this week. As one does when one is spring cleaning, I got reflective and thought back to the items we considered indispensable.  And since I know several people who are pregnant or recently had babies, I figured I’d share.

Ergo. I loved this baby carrier; Mike did not. But I think Mike was averse to baby carriers in general, not specifically this one. Because this one has great support. I tried a couple others, and none compared. We had the original version, not the 360, and I could wear each baby for hours at a time.

Footed pjs that zip. This is kind of a trivial one, but it is so much easier to zip pjs than button or snap them, especially in the middle of the night. I understand there are health reasons why snaps and buttons are practical, but absent those, zippers are the way to go.

Velcro miracle blanket. Another item that makes life in the wee hours of the morning a tad easier, this blanket offers a foolproof way to swaddle. You wrap it around your baby the same way every time and it’s secure. Little arms and legs can’t escape.

Noise machine. We are not brand loyal; in fact, we don’t love the one we’re using right now. (The weather sounds are not identifiable; they remind me more of static than rain or wind; however, the classical music is lovely.) And when we’re away from home, the noise app on our phones does the job. But music and nature sounds help both our kids get to sleep and stay asleep.

Playtex advanced ventaire bottles. We first tried Dr. Brown’s (a set was part of our buying spree the weekend after we got “the call” about Teddy), but we didn’t like the feel. So these were our second try, and we never looked back. We even saved them for Lydia, and when she finished with them (at the end of March), we gave them to a friend. We liked their angle and the gasket technology to prevent air from entering.

Dishwasher basket. And if you go with those bottles, you must have this basket. It makes cleaning said bottles a breeze. Otherwise, ensuring all those little parts are sanitized is such a hassle.

Jeep backpack diaper bag. We used a regular over-the-shoulder diaper bag for Teddy, but as someone that travels predominantly by bus and metro (including walking a lot), I hated it. It was so unwieldy. When we brought Lydia home, I searched online for a backpack option, and this is the one I decided on…and fell in love with. It’s fantastic. It has pockets for everything, and fits a ton. It’s perfect during the summer, when I’m carting around necessities for both kids. My only complaint is that the top crescent zipper sticks a lot, so I’m often unable to open that pocket one-handed. Small price to pay for an otherwise super convenient bag, though.

Brooklyn bamboo hooded baby towel. We received hooded towels as gifts when we brought Teddy home, but not when we brought Lydia home, so I purchased a three-pack of terry cloth towels. And quickly discovered again that you get what you pay for. They’re so thin, they don’t provide much warmth once they’ve absorbed the bath water. So back online I went in search of a plusher towel. This one had great reviews, and we concur. It’s thick and warm and long, so it’ll last a while. And I will probably order more for baby shower gifts.

Travel bath lily. I never liked the baby wash cloths or the animal mitts for washing. I never felt like I could get a good grip with them. But a mini bath lily, you can grasp without it scrunching up in your hand. And they suds up delightfully. Teddy, 4 1/2, can use it himself now to wash up. We did have to teach both children not to pull the fabric with their teeth, though.

LED nightlights. These are the best. They cast a soft glow, but it’s strong enough to see what you’re doing.

Formula dispenser. This is perfect for on-the-go. Pops into the diaper bag and pours out easily. We’ve made a bottle everywhere: in the car, on the bus, on the metro, in the middle of the sidewalk. The only tricky part is remembering how much formula you put in each compartment, if you’re switching from 4 oz to 6 oz.

Snack caterpillar. This particular one is much nicer than the one we have, but it works the same. Also, I’m seeing now that it’s called a “snack-a-pillar” — and we thought we were so clever with our nickname. It fits a decent amount of three kinds of snacks. Anything works, but dry foods maintain their texture/temperature best. We take this everywhere.

Noni cuddles bibs. Amazon suggested these to me as I was searching for a bib. And I decided to try them because they were listed as $15 — marked down from $40! Currently, they’re $14, so even cheaper. I have no idea if they actually retail elsewhere for $40 (I don’t know how Amazon works that way), but I figured for $15 for two, it couldn’t hurt to try. And I’m so glad I did. We love these bibs. They’re silicon and they clean so easily. The best part is there are no seams to catch crumbs or grow mold, which happened too often with the bibs we used with Teddy. My only complaint is that they could be wider, to offer more coverage.

Mesh for the crib. I was inspired to search for this because Lydia kept getting her legs stuck between the crib slats and waking up crying. This mesh took care of that. And it’s breathable, so no worrying about suffocation.

 

 

Adoption and preschool

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Last summer, before Teddy started full-time preschool, the teacher whose classroom he was assigned to made home visits. He (he! Teddy got one of the few male early education teacher in the district!) graciously carved time out of his schedule to meet with each of his future students’ families and brought along his aide. We were thrilled at the opportunity to chat and hear about his vision for the year…and what would compel someone to voluntarily hang out with 4-year-olds all day. I had lots of questions, but one thing we wanted to talk about was that Teddy was adopted. We’re an adoptive family.

It’s pretty obvious, since our kids are black and we’re white, but we had no idea how it would play out at school. I even wrote a blog post about it for another site. Would Teddy get peppered with questions about why his skin was dark and ours was light? Why he looked nothing like us? Would we? We were prepared for it, but we hadn’t really discussed with Teddy how to respond.

The teacher was unfazed. He didn’t anticipate it being a problem, but Teddy would be his first adopted student, so he didn’t really know what to expect.

We’re now three-quarters of the way through the school year, and all our concerns appear to be unfounded. I have no idea whether my other blog post was necessary, whether the other kids in Teddy’s class went home that first day and wondered aloud at the dinner table about our family and Teddy’s skin color. But Teddy has not reported being interrogated or singled out.

In a class of four white students and 16 black students, Teddy has befriended three of the four white children and a couple of the black children. Which means nothing except that children don’t care about color.

In an interesting twist, one day at pickup, Teddy pointed out to a black friend that his sister Lydia had dark skin like himself and the friend. The friend kind of cocked his head, as if to say, who cares? But evidently it was something Teddy had thought about.

I know Teddy will get questions as he continues in his school career, because I get them all the time from older children. But it seems we have some time before that happens.

Trusting God to guide us

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For the last several months, my husband has been searching in earnest for a new job. He’s a political appointee, which means he’s out of work come Inauguration Day 2017–no matter which party is elected into office. He knew that going into the job five years ago. And honestly, no one knows where they’ll be in five years nowadays.

The job hunt is frustrating. He’s spent countless evenings poring over online job listings, modifying cover letters to fit each job description, and emailing second and third connections on Linked In in the hopes of finding an in with a sought after company, and then many lunch breaks meeting with said connections.

Our church has a motto that our pastor recites frequently: “Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God.” And while we’re praying people anyway, we’ve latched onto that, to remind ourselves that certain life events require even more prayer. We have prayed so many prayers, me, simply asking the Lord to guide Mike to his next job; Mike requesting specifically a job doing digital strategy for a clean energy company in Denver, Colorado (but two of the three would suffice).

He’s had interviews, over the phone and in person, but to no end. It’s been so frustrating to have no reward for Mike’s work and seemingly no answer to our prayers.

The other day, I was waiting at a bus stop with Lydia, who’s been walking for about a month and, like anyone with a new skill, wants to practice all the time. Of course, at a bus stop near a busy intersection, I can’t just let her walk around and watch from the bench in the shelter. I have to follow her around, keep her corralled within a safe zone, turn her around when she gets too close to the curb, pull her away from the trash can, help her up when she loses her balances and tumbles down on the wet pavement, pick garbage out of her clenched fist before she tastes it…or fish it out of her mouth. Most of this guidance she doesn’t appreciate. In fact, it’s met with screeching and flailing. She wants to go wherever and eat whatever. She doesn’t know I’m steering her from danger and doing my best to prevent illness. She just knows I’m halting her fun exploration.

And it occurred to me, our actions toward God are similar. Anytime we’re striving toward something and praying hard the whole time, we grumble and complain when he says, “no” or “not yet”, when our efforts seem to lead only to dead ends. But in fact, maybe He’s ensuring we don’t stumble into oncoming traffic or swallow something that isn’t good for us.

With the real life visual of keeping my daughter from getting hit by a car, I will trust the Lord’s timing as I continue to pray that the He guides Mike to his next job, and with every failed lead, I will choose gratitude instead of frustration, having faith that the Lord is working on our behalf.

 

I finally said good-bye to the Ergo

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The day after we brought Teddy home, after a crazy weekend of buying baby essentials, I put together a baby registry (we did zero prep work prior to getting “the call”), and one of the first things I added to it was the Ergo. Best baby carrier on the market, I was told. And I was fully prepared to carry my bundle of joy everywhere. Bonding with your child is crucial in that first year, sets the stage for the rest of his life, so we learned in our adoption training classes, and wearing him is one of the ways to accomplish that.

We ended up using gift cards to purchase the carrier, and I did indeed go about my day-to-day with Teddy strapped to me the first few months. I even got the insert so he’d be safe even as a tiny baby. (Without it, the Ergo is so roomy, newborns aren’t properly supported.) Once his neck muscles strengthened and he could look around, he made it clear he didn’t like it anymore, though. And this was before the Ergo 360, which allows you to carry your baby facing forward. In ours, the original version, Teddy had to face my chest, and he was much more inclined to see the world. We tried it a couple times as a hiking pack, and then decided Teddy really was done with it, so we stored it away. We planned to adopt a second child, and I wanted to use it for her as well.

When we brought Lydia home, I commenced the practice of strapping her in and heading out. She would sleep for hours nestled against me. I did not hate a moment of it. And our training the second time around spelled out for us the importance of connection for adoptive parents. The child spends the first nine months of her life, in utero, learning one voice and then, upon placement, suddenly encounters a strange voice. Lydia didn’t know us from Adam, but the carrier helped her learn our voices. Well, my voice, to begin with. Mike hated the Ergo. He would wear it on the weekends, if he was solo, but he found it uncomfortable and, especially with Lydia, whom we brought home in the spring, sweaty and hot. And his hands were full playing with Teddy. So if I was around, since I enjoyed the snuggling and didn’t mind the weight and heat, I wore her. She got to know my voice really well. We were inseparable. It was wonderful.

And then one day we realized that while Lydia had connected so well to me, she had not formed a strong bond with her daddy. I would leave the room, and she would cry. And not settle down until I returned. At first, we took the easy route. I simply took her back when she started crying. But we realized this was not sustainable. Mike needed to strengthen his bond with her.

The problem resolved itself one weekend when I got sick and was stuck in bed for two days. Mike was solo parent that Saturday and Sunday and dutifully wore his daughter for the duration. Come Monday morning, Lydia was as sad to see him return to work as she was happy to return to me.

From then on, I was still the predominant baby wearer, but Lydia was equally happy to snuggle with both of us.

Lydia slept soundly in the Ergo for several months. And then, suddenly, she didn’t anymore. I kept at it a few weeks longer, in the hope she’d return to snoozing for hours at a time, but alas, after one hour, then 30 minutes, and then no more than 20 minutes, her eyes would pop open and she’d wriggle until I’d free her. And then I’d be stuck carrying her because I’d have optimistically left the stroller at home.

Then one day, I finally admitted we were done. It was time to give away that precious ergonomic bundle of belted cloth. I knew I could sell it, but we were given so much for our two adoptions that I’ve made a practice of giving away everything we don’t need anymore. But I didn’t want to relinquish it to just anybody. I considered giving it to the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, where undoubtedly it would’ve found a deserving home. But then I read about the refugee crisis, and the need for baby carriers, and I thought, that’s it.  I would send it to an organization distributing baby carriers to refugees.

But I never got around to it. And then, this week, a friend posted on Facebook that she and a team from our church were going on a mission trip to Greece to serve refugees. I immediately pinged her and asked if the team would want to take along my Ergo. She said they would love to.

My heart was so full as I dropped it off. I pray that carrier that served me so well in loving my babies and helped facilitate my transition to being their mommy provides a warm, loving perch for a little one whose mama or papa is sacrificing so much to provide them a better life.

 

We love our @#$% village

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I love our village. I am so grateful that we have a circle of friends that are incredibly supportive, listen to us vent, impart our values, and love our children. And I truly appreciate that my children are a bridge to the village of our local black community. That particular village, however, has no hesitation in calling me out for some parenting failure — usually related to my kids’ attire — even as they are quick to let me know how gorgeous my munchkins are.

We have a BOB stroller and an umbrella stroller and we’ve never purchased a rain cover for either of them. The BOB was our primary mode of transport for our eldest when he was a baby, so I’ve had more than one occasion over the last several years to regret not outfitting it with rain gear (although never enough to remedy the situation). Most every time we’re caught in inclement weather, some kind soul points out to me that the baby is going to catch cold (regardless of how many layers I’ve pulled over her chubby arms and legs, or the fact that the rain does not actually spread viruses).

The other day, I ventured out in the rain with Lydia in the umbrella stroller to pick up Teddy from school and then run a couple errands. Clad in a hooded parka, happily munching some goldfish grahams, Teddy waited patiently with me at the corner for the light to change so we could cross. Lydia also was quite content, watching with us the numbers count down. Unfortunately, the crossing guard did not see two happy children; she saw two targets for precipitation-borne illness.

“You need a cover for that stroller!” She informed me, looking meaningfully at my daughter, who was obviously getting drenched and probably already had pneumonia. I didn’t bother telling her that where I come from, this weather didn’t even qualify as rain. We’d likely dismiss it as sprinkling, not even worthy of a rain jacket. I just shrugged my shoulders and acknowledged that I did lack additional weather protection for the umbrella stroller.

Then she turned her attention to Teddy. I was curious what she’d take issue with there since his hood was covering his head. “You should secure that strap, young man,” she said, walking over to Teddy, zipping his jacket to his chin and attaching the Velcro of his hood herself. Teddy, finding himself unable to continue consuming his snack now that his mouth was practically blocked, grimaced, but, sweet boy, didn’t complain. He waited until the kind lady resumed her position to mutter under his breath so only I could hear, “I don’t like it like this, Mommy.” “I know, sweetie,” I whispered back, equally sotto voce. “You just need to keep it that way until we cross the street.”

The light changed, the guard ushered us across, no doubt only half satisfied since she couldn’t provide a blanket to keep the rain off the stroller, and we continued on our way. I incorporated a stop for hot chocolate into our outing, in the hopes of redeeming myself for subjecting my children unprepared to the ravages of Mother Nature.

I was messaging Mike about it later that day, and he wrote, “Gotta love our @#$%& village.” The statement captured my sentiments perfectly. I really do appreciate this village that my children have allowed me access to. I may not always take their unsolicited advice well — in fact, it may make me stew with annoyance for several city blocks — but I’m grateful that they’re willing to cross racial lines to give it. They have my kids’ best interests at heart, and you can never have too many people who do.

Things I’m loving right now

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Chatbooks. This is an app a friend told me about. I have long struggled with regularly connecting with my grandmother. She lives in Washington state, and phone conversations are difficult. She doesn’t hear very well, so often answers a question I didn’t ask, which I then just go with, but she knows she’s missing something, and she’ll usually bid me adieu–Sara, it’s so nice to hear your voice; I’d better let you go!–within two point five seconds. For a while, I tried to remember emailing her pictures, but more often than not didn’t… But then my friend turned me on to Chatbooks. And it’s perfect. This app connects to your instagram account and once you hit 60 photos, automatically prints them, binds them into a little photobook, and sends it to whomever you’ve designated as the recipient. I imagine most people have it sent to themselves, to have a record of all those beautiful snaps. But I have it sent to my grandmother! Now, when I first signed up, I thought that the app would compile my archive of photos, 60 at a time, into photobooks and send them monthly to my grandmother, concurrently  with the latest 60 pics. I figured she’d get two books a month until the archive had been exhausted. I was wrong. For several months, she was receiving only the archived photos. We had just brought Lydia home when I started this, so my grandma was wondering why she wasn’t seeing any pics of her newest grandchild. Each book was full of pic after pic of her grandson’s smiling mug, starting around age 1. Once I realized this was the case (she calls me upon receipt of each book; it’s a great connection, even if it lasts only two point five seconds), I corrected my subscription and had all the archived photos sent to her at once. How surprised was she to get 11 photobooks in the mail one day! Her bingo ladies I’m sure got an eyeful. But now she’s getting pics of both her grandkids.

She Reads Truth. This is an online community of women who are reading the Bible together every day. A group of women put together study plans available for purchase through the eponymous app or paper study books (which are full of beautiful art–and are higher priced). Each day includes the Bible reading and a blog post written by a well known Christian woman. I bought the book for the Lent study and really enjoyed it, and now I’m using the app for the current study (which includes an image for sharing on Instagram, so my grandma gets to follow along with my reading plan) and awaiting delivery of the next study guide, which will cover the life of Moses.

Vi Bella jewelry. This Lent, I gave up Facebook…which just meant I scrolled through my Instagram feed more…but through that increased exploration I came across Vi Bella, a company that provides work for poor women in Haiti, Mexico, and even the US. Their jewelry is beautiful. I bought one necklace/bracelet set and got another as a gift for my birthday. I love finding jewelry I like that supports a good cause. And each piece comes with a card bearing the name of its maker.

My preschooler reading to my toddler. I wish I had a picture of this, because it just melts my heart. But it only happens when I’m sitting with them, which makes documentation hard. Lydia is finally able to sit still for a book, and Teddy can read her books now. It’s priceless.

Wunderlist. Because I’m all about these apps, ’bout these apps, not paper. And this app is way better than paper. It allows you to make a list for anything, and I currently have 19 going, several for the different grocery stores I shop at. It also allows you to share with someone else, so my hubby can add things to our shared lists. I really don’t have an excuse to ever forget anything…unless I forget to add it to the appropriate list :/

Mason jar salads. Another friend recently introduced me to these. She even organized a little mason jar salad party, where three of us brought ingredients and we each made enough salads for the week. I discovered a delicious new recipe for a roasted cauliflower salad with a spiced vinaigrette.