Insult to Injury

While I have absolutely no idea how the time has passed so frighteningly quickly, there’s really no denying that years and, ahem, decades have gone by. So, when I took the oldest shopping for her first real makeup, I also bought my first wrinkle cream.

And it made me break out.

Leaving me with laugh lines (such a prettier name than crow’s feet) and pimples.

I’m not sure I like life’s sense of humor.

One Year Ago…

One year ago today I first saw this sweet face in person. IMG_7835

Oh what a difference a year makes! IMG_7673I cannot imagine life without her. Today she told me she remembers that day in China. She said it was scary. She also said she does not want to go back to China, she wants to stay with Mama and Baba. No problem Little One! You aren’t going anywhere– at least not without your Mama.

Adventures in Parking Structures

Every week (alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays) the little one and I venture off to the children’s hospital for OT or PT. Every week I fight for a parking space on the massive campus that contains the children’s hospital, the “regular” hospital, the VA hospital, etc. etc. The idea that, if the patients cannot exit their cars, these institutions will not remain profitable doesn’t seem to influence decisions in regard to allocation of patient parking. Naturally, the little one needed the bathroom.

Today, I failed to get a spot in my usual places. Over the holidays they removed all patient parking from the parking structure that used to be my backup plan. I recognize that the hospital would much prefer we take public transit, but public transit would take multiple hours– each way– when the drive is 15 minutes on a good day.

So I got a parking pass from the nice parking lady at the top of the ramp to the children’s hospital. Then I drove back down the ramp, around the corner– you get the idea– to the parking garage that still has some patient parking. I was told I could park on levels 1, 2, or 4. Nothing on 1. On 2 I got lucky as someone was backing out of a spot. Since we’d spent a good ten minutes driving around trying to find a parking space since the first request for a bathroom, I was pretty focused on getting the child to a bathroom. So we got out of the car and I saw a sign for the elevator and we headed in that direction.

It was a surprisingly long, and twisty walk to the parking structure elevator but we made it. There was caution tape across the elevator alcove window, but the door was fine. We got on the elevator. When we got off at what was marked as the appropriate floor to get into the hospital we were in a long corridor filled with pipes. But there was a sign pointing the way to the hospital. So off we went. Down the hall filled with really big pipes. Lots of them. And around through another long, pipe filled corridor. To another elevator– near the elevator some men who looked like they were doing some sort of construction work stopped to stare at us. Yeah, it felt like a great place to be with a three year old in desperate need of a bathroom.

When we got off that elevator there was a restroom. Thank goodness. But we were in some sort of surgical ward. Definitely not where we needed to be. I asked a doctor and he seemed quite surprised to be asked, but he directed us to another bank of elevators which got us to the appropriate floor to take the sky bridge from that hospital (the “regular” hospital) to the children’s hospital. But when we came out of the sky bridge I was a bit turned around.

By then the little one needed the bathroom again (truly, this is the abridged version of our trek) so we took care of that. Then a woman came out of a room and asked if we needed help. I was trying to get myself oriented and completely blanked on the floor we were looking for. I told her where we were trying to go and she insisted I needed to go back the way I’d come (as if that was even possible– all those corridors and different banks of elevators) and go outside and cross the street and go to a different building. And she was really insistent. I knew I was in the right building (every week for months and months now– I can at least identify the building). I tried to go on my way but she didn’t like that plan.

Luckily a man appeared who told me exactly how to get where I needed to be. I only had to walk down four flights of stairs to get there. We were 15 minutes late for the appointment. We arrived on campus 15 minutes early.

But then the fun began all over again. We had to get back to the car. I retraced my steps as far as the last (now the first) bank of elevators… only to discover there were two banks of elevators in almost the same spot but that went to different places. Which one had I taken? Oops. I hadn’t had much hope of being able to retrace my steps through the corridor mazes and pipes, but I figured there had to be a few signs for the parking garage. Now I realized I had no hope of getting back to the corridor.

So I went to the desk and they gave me a map and asked me which parking structure I had parked in. Who knew there were multiples structures attached to the same building? I made my best guess and they started giving instructions on how to get there. As I was trying to sort that out (and hold onto Little One who wanted to explore and was not interested in standing still while Mama got directions) a sweet young volunteer materialized at my side and asked if she could escort me to my car to be sure I found it.

Of course it is ridiculous for a grown woman to need assistance finding her car. I was about to assure the sweet young volunteer that I was fine when a vision of the pipe-filled corridor flashed through my mind, along with one of my older kids home alone. So I said thank you very much and she led the way. Not, I will note, in the direction the woman at the desk had indicated.

We got in the elevator for the parking garage and discovered the elevator had no button for the 2nd floor. Or for anything below the 7th floor. At this point the volunteer wondered if I had the wrong garage. Perhaps I had parked at the VA hospital. She also explained that at all times there are two volunteers on duty for the sole purpose of helping people find their cars. She said two aren’t nearly enough at the end of the day.

Finally, I decided to leave the building and walk to my car along the path I had driven. The volunteer insisted on joining me and felt it would be best for us to leave from the children’s hospital. So back we went, down the hall, across the sky bridge, to yet another bank of elevators to the lobby, to the next elevator, to street level… and right there across the street was the parking garage. And pretty much directly across from us was a walkway to get into the parking garage. I knew I was on level 2 in spot 38, so it was now just a matter of time before I reached my car.

I thanked the sweet young volunteer, assured her we would be fine, and crossed the street. And even before I was in the garage I could see my car. Yep, right there, right by the walkway to the children’s hospital. Had I turned to my left instead of following the signs to the elevator I would have been on time for the appointment (I wouldn’t have gotten in a mile walk, but I would have been on time). Why, why, why are there no signs in the parking garage for the children’s hospital?

You would think, at the point one recognizes the need for multiple people to assist clients in finding their way back to their vehicles one would suck it up and pony up for some decent signage.

This is not how I wanted to parent

Emphatically not the way I wanted to parent. I believe in family dinner. I want to be one of those families that plays boardgames together after dinner and read books aloud. Take family vacations to interesting, educational, fun places. I used to be horribly critical of over-scheduled kids deprived of the free-play time necessary to build imagination and independence. My children would never be like those poor kids who spend every waking hour in organized activities. We used to be the sort of family I envisioned. It worked for me. Then my second child came along. We held it together for a while, but my second child is a force of nature. She’s sweet, loving, caring, helpful, curious, brilliant, and probably the most fiercely driven person I’ve ever known. On an off day she possesses the energy of three children.

Before she was two years old she was asking for tap lessons. Every day. For a year. Every. Single. Day. Let’s be clear– no one, absolutely no one– in their right mind teaches tap to two year olds. She started out in combo classes– ballet, tap, gymnastics. She moved up to tap, jazz, ballet combos. In the middle of class, when the teacher would pull out the box of pompoms and scarves and wands and let the kids dance around the room, my three year old would have none of it. She’d stand in the corner and watch (refusing to take a pompom even when other children tried to thrust them in her hand) or she’d do cartwheels while she waited to get back to “real” dance class. She was not there to play, she was there to learn.

So here we are, 6 years later. She is currently taking 11 dance classes a week. 12 and a quarter hours at three different studios. Most weekends my husband drives three hours each way (more now– snow makes crossing the mountains fun) for her to work with her very most favorite dance teacher who moved a year and a half ago. That’s another 2.5-3 hours of dance. This time of year– dance season– there are also weekend conventions and intensives with competition and classes. Generally these start Friday evening and end late Sunday afternoon. Before Christmas, Saturdays were filled with Nutcracker rehearsals and in a couple months they will again be filled with ballet rehearsals, this time for the spring performance.

This is patently absurd. It takes entirely too much time. It puts too much of a strain on the rest of the family. She eats dinner at the studio one day a week and has dinner after the rest of the family, when she gets home, another. The closest studio is a 15 minute drive (on a good day) and the farthest is 45 minutes (40 on a really good day). My youngest’s naps have to be carefully  coordinated with the dance schedule and my oldest watches her younger sister get umpteen times the extracurriculars she gets. Ridiculous. Except that she loves it. And I don’t mean she loves it the way my oldest loves music. I mean, it is her passion, her driving force, her sense of self. She is a dancer. Thoroughly, utterly, completely.

Last summer she went to a two week dance intensive– classes 6-8 hours, 6 days a week. It was for ages 11 and up. She was 8. Since then, she has spent exactly $3.75 to replace a hair accessory she lost and needs for dance. Every other penny she has gotten– all her birthday money from grandparents, allowance, Christmas gifts, every penny– has gone into her savings to go back to that intensive. We go someplace, her sister brings money and picks out a trinket to buy and she’ll pick something out. She’ll walk around with it in her hand. She’ll talk about why she’s going to get it, what she’s going to do with it, how much she likes it– and every single time she puts it back and says she’d rather have dance.

When she was five, she had a dance competition that conflicted with her best friend’s birthday party. She missed the party. Same thing the next year. By the third year, best friend had stopped inviting her. She misses her friend, but she still says she wouldn’t change the choice she made.

But it’s not how I want to parent. This past June we went on our first vacation as a family of five– to Nationals for dance. Our youngest had been home 4 months. The following month my husband was gone for two weeks, taking middle child to the summer dance intensive. Gone for two weeks, five months into bonding with a child dealing with post-institutionalization and trying to learn what family is– as we struggled to let her know that family is forever. Only an adoptive parent will truly understand how hard that was for both of them.

It’s not what I want, but parenting isn’t about me. On multiple occasions one or both of us has sat down with our oldest and discussed it– how much dance costs all of us (in terms of time, energy, finances, focus…) and every time our oldest has said we can’t stop because, while it isn’t fair to her or to the rest of the family, it wouldn’t be right to take it away from her sister. (My oldest rocks, too, in case you couldn’t tell.) So here we are. Trying to strike some sort of balance that allows the child to pursue her dreams and reach her full potential and be who she is, while also maintaining some semblance of normal life.

For my oldest, structured activities after school every day would be over-scheduled. And performing a solo on stage in a crowded hotel ballroom would be a pretty severe punishment (this is generational progress as it would be torture for me). But she loves to watch her sister perform and she’s a big fan of hotel pools. For my youngest, dance is a part of her sense of family and when her beloved Jie Jie (big sister) practices she must also have a jazz, ballet, or tap shoe on so she can dance with her.

I can’t be the parent I wanted to be because that’s not the parent my child needs. Sucks for me sometimes. Forces me to work harder to find the rituals that sustain a sense of family and make all my kids feel connected, loved, valued. Forces both my husband and I to push past our innate homebodiness and deal with hotels, crowded ballrooms, and way more car time than any of us would like. Forced my husband to learn to do a bun that can stay in place through 8  hours of dance. Forces me to redefine my concept of what being a good parent means. Forces me to let go of stereotypes, rash judgements, and pop psychology and look at the specifics of the individuals in question.