Monday, June 30, 2008

Sleeping with Socks

The other day while putting my son Kai down for his nap, he asked for his “s-AH-k on!” (Socks on). It was a hot day, but Kai tends to get cold, and especially when he is sleeping, likes to be covered up. He pops his thumb into his mouth and curls up into himself, like a bear gracefully slipping into a long winter’s hibernation. He pushes himself deep under the covers even on the warmest days. There have been times when I come home from a late night of working, when Josh has put him to bed, and I’ll find Kai peacefully sleeping away zipped up into his flannel footy pajamas, under a sea of covers, while his hair and face remains slick with sweat. Anything less, and he’ll complain about being cold. Still, I cannot help but change him into a pair of lighter pajamas and try to peal at least one blanket off.

Kai has been a part of our family and in our home since August of 2007, which means 10 months. He hasn’t asked for his socks or for that matter his shoes while sleeping in a long time. When we first got Kai in China, he refused to sleep with his shoes off. That first night, when I took them off for bedtime he screamed bloody murder until I secured them back onto his feet. The white sandals looked brand new but too small for his square-ish feet. Certainly they were saved for this day when the orphanage staff would bring him to meet us for the very first time. We tried a couple of other times to get him to sleep without his shoes, thinking it couldn’t be comfortable, but each time he wailed in distress, like I had ripped off an actual part of his foot, so we gave up the effort. I don’t’know how long it took, a few weeks maybe, but soon enough, the day came when he went to bed without his shoes strapped to his feet. I added it to the list of small victories, proof that he was adjusting to our family and trusting us and his life here more and more.

So, it surprised me, the other day, when he wanted his socks. I wondered if the next step would be his shoes. While shoes and clothes remain important to Kai, he hasn’t requested them for sleeping in months. In my mind, as all mothers do, I question myself. Does that mean he is regressing? Or is he feeling a bit insecure today? Or is he just cold and feels like socks on this particular nap and now has the English speaking skills to ask for them? I don’t know that answer.

What I do know is that there are days that I am wracked with uncertainty and guilt in regards to my parenting ability with Kai. We adopted Kai at an older age in terms of adoption. He was 2 and a half, the likely hood of a child getting adopted either internationally or domestically after the age of 2 drops significantly. As a result, there just doesn’t seem to be much information about toddler adoption available. The few books out there, I have read already. Yet, like so many things in life, there is no formula for parenting children adopted as toddlers, especially from another country, it all comes down to your personal child and his or her personality and background. Would a Chinese mother parent him better than I can? Do I expect too much of Kai? He did spend the first 2 and a half years of his life in an orphanage. Am I being developmentally appropriate in my parenting approaches? There is no magical dinger to mark my parenting decisions. No alarm sounds when I make mistakes. A cheesy game show host does not inform me, “Oh, Kate, I am sorry, but the correct answer was, “Bend down at this level and speak gently, NOT sigh in exasperation and then demand he listen to you and when he refuses send him to time out.”

So, I put the socks on Kai’s thick, muscular feet. His feet are smooth, warm and clean, just like the rest of his body, anything but frail. I give the pad of his foot a little tickle with my finger and he smiles his killer 1,000 watt smile, revealing his deep dimples. I give him a kiss “night-night”, and he’s off to sleep. As I walk out of his room, I try to silence the endless questions in my mind. I turn in the door way and look at his little curled up body one more time. Already asleep, he is stunningly beautiful. I love him fiercely and have already learned so much from him. I decide to take it one moment at a time. This moment he is sleeping. Socks on or not, he is my son, that is the moment, and that is enough.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I spend a fair amount of time in women’s locker rooms right now. I swim 3 to 4 days a week at a local workout facility. I do my running, bicycling and lifting at a different gym. I rarely shower at that particular gym because the locker room is so small. There really isn’t anywhere to get read. But when I swim, it just makes sense to shower and get ready for the day at the gym.
There is a wonderful woman, named Shirley who seems to swim around the same times as I do. Shirley is about 65 years old I would guess. Shirley and I talk a lot in the locker room while we get ready, mostly small talk. Like, she is upset that they did not open up the outdoor pool for lap swimming this summer. She loves to swim outside and just cannot believe she won’t be able to do so this summer. And do I know if they may switch that policy soon? She asks me about this policy change each time I see her, as if she believes that I possess a secret magical power that will force the pool management to succumb to my every demand. She keeps putting notes in the comment box at the front desk asking for outdoor open swim. I suggest maybe she could give the pool manager a call. She thinks she just might do that.

Here is the interesting thing about Shirley. She talks to me without a shred of self consciousness while she is buck naked. Yep, she will not have a stitch of clothing on and will walk around like it is nothing at all. Shirley is a little bit on the heavy side and her body is that an aging woman. Her stomach and thighs are full and dimpled. Her breasts are not those of the surgery enhanced woman. She wears no makeup; and her idea of doing her hair is to run a comb through it after her shower. At first, this I found the whole naked- talk-deal a little disconcerting. I don’t often stand around chatting with naked women after all. What is the conversational etiquette in that situation?. The things is, Shirley is so talkative and friendly; I knew I needed to get used to her locker room habits or find a different place to swim. Because I liked Shirley and the pool, I decided to make peace with it.

As the days passed, I started to notice the behavior of the other women in the locker room. I saw a set of two forty something women take all of their things into the bathroom stalls to ensure their privacy while they changed. The teenage girls pranced around in their bikini’s outside by the pool; yet when changing back into their street clothes they turned themselves into the wall, curved their backs, and slid their outfits back on with measured haste. I notice that I would always try to just get dressed and undressed as quickly as possible with the least amount of people seeing me, still feeling like the chubby girl I was in junior high, just dying to cover myself up again. Interestingly enough, I discovered that another group of people shares Shirley’s ease with her body. Little kids. The little kiddos ran laps around their mothers, happy as anything to be free for a few moments from their clothes, while the mothers tirelessly wrestled their children’s Gumby limbs into a swimsuit. Out of all the people I observed in the locker room, the happiest by far were the kids and Shirley.

Shirley doesn’t know it, but she has reminded me how important it is to feel good about my body and all it does for me each day, as well as how empowering it is to model self-love and appreciation for the benefit of myself and others. The simple act of her own self acceptance promoted my own self acceptance. I won’t be running naked down the streets of my neighborhood anytime soon, or joining a nudist colony, but I do appreciate the miraculous cellular development of my body and all that it does for me each day. Thanks Shirley.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My first day of swimming lessons

Right now, I am training for my first triathlon, which essentially means, I force myself to hop into a pool three days a week to practice swimming. So far, swimming has proved to be the bane of my existence, the neglected step child compared to the bicycling and running siblings. This lack of enthusiasm for swimming traces all the way back to the first frayed threads of childhood memory. As a little tow-headed girl, I refused to get into the water unless my mother securely placed me on her hip, my pale summer legs wrapped around her body, looking to fuse my skin with hers in the name of safety. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was with these adults and other children. They remained obsessed with the idea of my submersion into the clear blue pool water. Personally, I felt completely at ease watching the sun bounce off of the ripples in the water from my perch on the edge of the pool. I enjoyed swinging my feet in large arches under the water, focusing all of my attention on the top of my feet and how the water slipped right through my toes. Why mess with a good thing? Still, by the time I reached the age of 5 or 6, my mom decided enough was enough and broached the subject of swimming lessons with me. She masked her surprise well, as if she had expected such fluid acquiescence all along, when I immediately shrugged my shoulders agreed to go.
The lessons were to take place at our neighbor’s house in their backyard pool. Mom gathered up all of the necessary supplies, towel, sun block, etc., placing each item into the canary yellow beach tote with a sense of pride for attacking this little quirk of mine head on, no more messing around with the constant coaxing at pool parties. We were about to get down to business. I put on my swimsuit with little fanfare. We walked together around the block, mother and daughter in picture-perfect summertime mode, passing neatly clipped lawns and bright summer flower beds. When we approached the neighbor’s big brown house, we followed the shaded path along the side of the garage which led around to the back of the house. The pool sat in the middle of the back yard, huge oak trees looming gracefully above, filtering the sunlight through their leaves. I looked up to the bright blue sky and filled my lungs with excited anticipation. I can remember thinking, “This is going to be neat.” I have a tendency to let my surroundings and their perceived beauty sweep me away in imaginative story lines. This particular story featured me sitting on a chair, cross-legged, chatting with a new best friend in the sunshine while we flipped through our new books together and checked out each other's swim suits. While I daydreamed, the rest of the students and mothers waited on the porch as last minute sun block applications filled the air with coconut and banana breezes.
When the instructor/friendly neighbor emerged from her walk out basement door and introduced herself, I was flabbergasted when she chirped, “Ok, let’s all get in the pool!”
WHAT! I whipped my head around and locked eyes with my mom. We have to get in the pool I silently screamed at her! Alarm bells clanged, sending vibrating waves of panic across my body. That is not what I agreed to. I said I would go to swimming LESSONS, not swim-ing. “You didn’t tell me I would have to get in the water!” I screeched indignantly. Confused, she patiently bent down and in a soft voice and explained that when you take swimming lessons you do, in fact, need to get in to the water. “How did you think you were going to learn to swim?” she asked me gently, knowing all had gone too smoothly before.
“I thought we’d get out a book!” I cried. This seemed so obvious to me, like the sky being blue and Gina Samson from school being mean, and like my mom keeping me, her youngest daughter safe. At age 6, I believed, you want to learn something, you crack a book. I mean, didn’t this woman, my mother, teach me that exact lesson again and again, like that annoying top 20 song on the radio that you end up humming to yourself all day long? Want to learn how to sew? Get a book and follow a pattern. What to bake a triple layer German Chocolate cake? Get a book and whip one up. Need to figure out how to fix that leaky faucet in your bathroom? Head to the library find the home repair manual, then hit the hardware store and get that darn thing fixed. Why should swimming be any different? Shouldn’t we at least start out with some diagrams or something? Hopping right in without first cracking a book seemed as reckless as jumping out of a plane without first double checking the rip cord on your parachute.
After some persuading, I did get into the pool that day. I must have slipped into that water in a haze of bewilderment, wondering what shifted in my little world to produce this situation. The belief that all can be learned from a book is still with me today, for better or worse. That is precisely how I am learning to swim for this triathlon. I checked out a book, followed the diagrams and got in the pool. I still can’t decide if I like it too much, but the book says to stick with it for at least 4 months, so I will, because that is what my mom would do.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My generic looks

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” or “Have we met before?” These two questions are often tossed my way in the catch and throw game of introductions. People all over, for as long as I can remember, at least since my high school years, feel that they know me. They are just sure they know me, and if I just give them a minute they will figure it out. Did I date someone from Carmel High School? Am I related to Bud Johnson? Weren’t you at Susan’s wine and cheese fund raiser last month? No, no, and no.

The last example comes from a tall gentleman with classic distinguished grey hair, who literally ran up to me at the local library a couple of months ago. “Hey there!” He bellowed, transparently delighted to see me/person he thinks is me.

I said Hi back in that friendly noncommittal way, not wanting to embarrass him, just waiting for him to realize I am not who he hopes I am. “Oh,” he says, his face falls just a hair, “Aren’t you Mary from Susan’s house?” I tell him no and his face flushes red. Who is this Mary I think? And what kind of great conversation did they get going at that little event? He goes on to explain that not many people wear the type of hat I had on that day, a red suede newsboy cap, and don’t I sure look a lot like Mary. I reassured him that this happens all the time; people always think they know me. Then he went on his way, an invisible cloak of disappointment causing his shoulders to droop.

There are times when being myself leaves those people feeling deflated. They really wanted me to be that other person. Other times, despite my assurances that we do not in fact know each other, the person secretly believes we do. Like the time I was pulled over for speeding in a school zone. The burly young police officer marched up to my car and asked for my license and registration. Upon checking my driver’s license picture against my actual face, the officer performed an exaggerated double take. Before my mind could sink into worries about forgotten parking tickets or a mistaken warrant out for my arrest, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Don’t I know you?” And with that, it was amazing how quickly his demeanor switched from, “You are so busted lady, just hand over those documents and let me get this ticket taken care of” to “I think one of my buddies may have dated this girl at some time. Was he a jerk to her? Or is she the one who helped Dad with his physical therapy after his stroke?” I’ve learned to wait patiently while strangers run through their own catalogs of people and names, trying to find a match.

Despite my repeated claims that I had never met him before, the uncomfortable idea of giving a possible friend or an acquaintance a ticket proved to be too strong. So he politely asked that I pay attention to the school zone signs and gave me a verbal warning. There are days when I try to figure out what it is about me that people believe they know. Am I generic? Do I represent just a basic physical mold and personal style that many people know someone so similar to me? I don’t know. It is what it is. It makes life a little more interesting at least. And anything that can get you out of a ticket can not be that bad!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Teapot Lifters

Every work out facility across the nation houses at least one Teapot Lifter. You know the song, it goes something like this, “I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here is my handle. Here is my spout. When I get all fired up hear me shout, Tip me over and pour me out.”

Teapot lifters push themselves and the veins in their foreheads to the limit while curling, squatting and pulling massive amounts of weight with a focused and often loud determination. I have more than once been startled by a forceful “Yeee-AHHHH” exploding from the poor man’s diaphragm. I try to give these guys the benefit of a surprised glance. I am well aware of the scripted weight room dance. The teapot is ready, the weight has been lifted and someone needs to take immediate notice of this feat. Once eye contact is made via workout mirror, TP (teapot lifter) will let the weights slip from his hands, as if in slow motion, like the Incredible Hulk during his shirt ripping transformation. Such brute strength can not be maintained for long. In the moment it takes to shift my eyes back to my own bicep curls, the teapot’s dumb bells crash to the floor beneath the sign from management which politely whispers, “Please do not drop weights on the floor. Thank you.” Despite my best efforts this annoys me and often makes me jump, even though I know the quake is coming. Outside of the mirror distraction they pose to completing my own workouts, I find these men fascinating to watch and observe.

One day while working out at my local gym, I caught sight of a possible TP lifter. Seated on the leg extension machine, I turned to watch his thick legs, twice the size of my own legs, but perhaps half the length, raise the leg extension bar away from his body. The concentrated effort kept his gaze focused. His quadriceps dutifully flexed and bulged while his knees seemed to beg for mercy. I waited a moment to see if the joint would hold or spring free with a rebellious pop, walking out on such an abusive relationship. He made it to the last two reps which were followed by the characteristic “UHHHH-ahhhh”. Smiling, I smugly announced to myself, “Tea time!” then continued with my given workout for the day. When I finished I made my way to the mats for some stretching to cool down.
I move through a series of yoga poses as part of my cool down. About half way through my routine, TP pulled up an exercise ball and struck up a conversation.
“So, do you do yoga?” He asked, bouncing slightly on the huge red ball. His east coast accent served as an immediate notification that he was not born and bred in the Midwest.

“ I do.” I answered, surprised he knew the poses were yoga ones.

“Yeah,” he continued, leaning back on the ball to commence his ab crunching, “I recognized a few of the poses you were doing there as the same ones I used to do in my yoga class.”

My brain attempted to reconcile the conflicting images of this stout mustached man stretched out on a yoga mat, moving gracefully through a series of poses with the one I had just witnessed. Just a few moments ago, he could have been the poster boy for testosterone, forcefully pumping iron with vein popping effort. He did not seem to notice my confusion and rattled off the names of the poses he knew and liked.

“Do you take classes anywhere around here?” He continued, “because I just moved here and I’d really like to find somewhere to go.”

“I don’t actually,” I admitted, “most of what I know is just self taught.” My shock quickly morphed into delight as I tried to casually study this man. This dark haired man, wearing black shorts, a black tee-shirt and a black baseball cap with bright read lettered on it, finds yoga interesting and enjoyable. Somehow yoga poses opened up a door of common ground between this man and myself, whom, just moments earlier I had mentally stuffed into an ill-fitting stereotypical box. He moved with ease through a series of ab exercises. He seemed to posses no desire to prove his masculinity or make a flirtatious remark. As far as I could tell, this man simply wanted to find a new yoga studio to call home and thought I might possess that knowledge.

We finished up our conversation. I suggested a couple of studios that I heard were good. He thanked me and after a few crunches, he hopped off of the ball and went on his way. I haven’t seen him again, but I like to think that he found a yoga-home and is peacefully practicing his Triangle pose with the guidance of a loving, gentle-voiced instructor. What do I know after all? The tea pot lifter in your local gym could be a quilter for all I know, a dedicated rose gardener! How unexpected and amazingly wonderful is that!

The Kissing Picture

I sit here in the quiet corner of our master bedroom, my pink laptop resting upon my cleanly shaven legs. My hair remains wet and tangled following my post workout shower. This wing-backed chair in our bedroom is where I like to write. There are days when this feels like the only quiet corner in the house. The rain taps away on the roof just outside our window and both children are currently occupied. Kai is down for his afternoon nap, and Elizabeth is engrossed in a project in her room. My mug of green tea steams to my left, right in front of the picture Josh gave me for Christmas in 2006. We often forsake gifts in an effort to spend that money on “experiences” instead. He presented me with this “surprise” gift in our bedroom on Christmas Eve after our guests and kids had gone to bed. He wanted to be sure no one else was around.

When I opened it, I found a mated picture of us kissing in front of a waterfall in Colorado. We took the trip in late September to visit his brother and somehow I decided that we needed a picture of Josh and I kissing. His brother took various shots trying to get it right. Unfortunately, kissing for a picture sounds a lot easier than it is. We kept laughing. His brother would take one and it would be just the side of my face, or the angle looked odd, all noses and ears. We tried many times to get it right without much luck. In this picture, the best of the group, my lips form a tightly puckered “o”, while Josh’s lips press together in a restrained smile, the muscles in his jaw tensed to hold back the laughter. He totally humored me with the “kissing project”, good naturedly going along with it , even if it seemed pretty silly at the time.

Below the picture, on the open space of the mated area Josh hand wrote these words in fine black ink:

Dear Kate,

Thank you for everything you do…

Thank you for everything you are.

You bring absolute joy to every aspect of my life.

I love you more than words or images can express!



I wake up to that photo and letter each day. I am trying my best to stay with this writing. It challenges me. Each time I write I shake off the negative thoughts encouraging me to give up, telling me that it is all just crap. At times, I think starting the blog or any other aspiring writing projects are a really bad idea, and like the picture, maybe just a silly project. And yet, that picture proved to be the one of the best gifts I have ever received. Today, while I may not find the right words or confidence to express myself, I sit here, so thankful that on Christmas Eve, 2006 my husband did.