Friday, March 19, 2010

With thanks to my readers

I want to extend both thanks as well as an apology to the many wonderful loyal readers who've stayed with this blog since it's inception last March.  Between the intensity of a family crisis (friends remind me I'm now officially a member of the sandwich generation) and the job hunt, I've had less and less time to write about life in our little corner of the world.  I must confess, I miss it greatly.  I catch myself late at night writing long winded emails with humorous asides and self-deprecating anecdotes to family and friends.  I've come to the realization, in one form or another, despite myself.... I'm a sharer... (ew....) or, casting a better light on it... a story teller.  There are just too many things in life that hit me as either piercingly sad, or poignant -- or downright funny. 

That said, as much as I've enjoyed sharing, I have to recognize, as my daughter matures and becomes more computer savvy that, out of respect for her, it may be time to take this blog private.  I can't promise regular updates, but if any of you out there in the ether are interested in staying connected, please do let me know and I'll add you to the blog's member list and offer you access.  You can email me, Lisa, at:

And thanks again to everyone for the comments, the support, and shared stories.  This blog has been one of the more fun adventures I've had the pleasure of experiencing.  And believe me... I've had a lot of great adventures.  But those are stories for another time...

With best wishes and hopes for happy travels to each of you in your own special pack,


Monday, December 7, 2009

Gingerbread Envy

Sometimes it really does seem as though the gods are trying to tell me something.

Last Tuesday, I wrote and posted a piece about true mother love and the lengths we sometimes go to.  It was a piece about my Herculean battle to construct a basic, pre-cooked, pre-packaged, gingerbread house for my daughter to decorate.  Over the weekend, my cousin (who doesn't follow my blog) happened to post a photo on Facebook highlighting his two sons' recent efforts . 

They didn't just design, bake, and build a Gingerbread house from scratch.  Oh no...  They built Westminster Abbey!

Think I'm kidding? 

Check it out:

Humbling.  Very, very humbling.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gingerbread Love

(Note:  Often I write about adoption issues.  I write about life as an adoptive parent, life as a single parent, and sometimes, simply parenting -- and the lengths we go to.  This is one of those times.)

The turkey’s bones are barely cold, but already my daughter is thinking ahead to Christmas. She wants to do another gingerbread house. I laugh thinking back to last year's debacle. How did I ever get in so deep?

* * * * *

We were standing before a Christmas display at the local grocery store and my daughter was looking at me with Bambi eyes. In less time than it takes to utter a merry "Ho! Ho! Ho!" I knew I was sunk.

We'd just come from the hospital. Another third grader had drop-kicked a ball on the playground and my daughter had stopped it at close range. With her face. I'd received the call from school explaining: a bloody nose, a gusher going strong after 20 minutes. The woman recommended a trip to the hospital. I was in the middle of a big project I'd been hoping to finish that day so, for a split second, I thought, Okay. Sure. Where do I sign? After a brief, awkward silence, I realized the woman’s point was that I was supposed to come and retrieve my daughter.

"Oh! Of course!" I replied. "I'll be right there!"

I arrived at the school office to see my sweet daughter rise from her seat clutching an enormous, bloodied wad of paper towel tight about her nose. With her eyes barely visible, she greeted me with a brave, if somewhat nasal, sheepish, "Hi Mo-b." Sure, I was worried -- but by the time we got a chance to see the doctor at the hospital, it was clear she was bruised, but unbowed. I figured she could handle a stop at the grocery store on our way home.

So there we were, only a few steps in, beyond the sliding doors, when I heard her gasp "Oh! Mom!" I turned and saw her staring at the pre-packaged gingerbread house kits with longing. My little craft-challenged heart tightened. My first reaction was not one I'm proud of:

Drat! It's that time of year again.

Now, I love Christmas. But while I can decorate our plastic, plug-in tree, deck the holly, and hang a wreath faster than you can say "Santa," the gingerbread house is, has always been, my nemesis. My sitter started this tradition with my daughter. But my sitter was gone and now it was up to me.

My daughter stood before me, hands clasped together with rapture. "Please Mom... Couldn't we please get a gingerbread house?"

She'd been such a good sport. And I had to admit I was grateful she was okay.  I crumbled.

"Sure honey. You were a trooper today."

She jumped up and down with elation.  This made me nervous.

"Now wait." I warned. "I can't promise you I can start on this tonight." I was thinking about my project. I still hoped to get back to it and make some headway after she was in bed. "You'll have to be patient."

"Oh Mom! That's okay. I can be patient. Maybe we could work on it this weekend?!"

"You'll have to be patient." I repeated as I picked out one of the sparkly, cellophane packages. It was surprisingly heavy. "The first step is to glue the walls together. Then you have to add the roof. It’s tricky. It all has to dry and harden -- or it will collapse."

"I know! I can be patient, Mom. I can be patient."

Yeah. Yeah. I thought.

We got home and unloaded the groceries. I noticed her eyes danced, her feet tapped, her body twitched, every time she looked at the package. It sat there on the counter, beckoning her, taunting me.

I softened again. Once we ate dinner, I cleared the dishes off by the sink, pulled out a large cookie sheet, spread aluminum foil across the bottom, and broke open the kit.

My daughter practically scaled the counter, leaning halfway across it in eager anticipation.

I held up my hands as if to ward off a tidal wave. "Let me glue it first." I said. "It's delicate."

"I know Mom. I know. Here's the glue!" she said, pulling out the bag of pre-mixed confectioners' sugar and water.

Pre-mixed, huh? It seemed watery. That should have been my first clue. But I figured the folks making these kits surely knew what they were doing.

I started with two sides of the house and applied the "glue" along the edges. Then I pressed two wall edges together.

"Now we wait." I said to my daughter.

"How long?" she asked.

"I don't know. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes." Ha. The optimism of the un-initiated.

I finished the dishes, then we checked our handiwork. The two walls held steady. So I took a gamble and glued the third side. My daughter noticed the problem first.

"Uh... Mom... Something's wrong ..."

I turned and saw all three walls listing to one side.

"Uuuurgh!" I mumbled.

I applied more glue. But this only seemed to make the whole thing more slick. My fingers were now a white, goo-ey mess. The walls fell over. "Shit!" I mumbled.

"What, Mom?"

"Don't talk to me now." I muttered.

"You shouldn't swear Mom!"

"Look! I'm trying to get this stupid Gingerbread house to stand up! Don't push me!"

"Sorry Mom. ....Can I help?"


She retreated. "Maybe this was a bad idea...."

"No, no, no..." I tried reassuring her. "It's okay. Really. Just give me a moment."

I looked up. The look of wonder and joy that once suffused her face had vanished, replaced with a wall of worry. My heart sank.

I suck… I thought.

I took a deep breath and re-grouped. "It's okay honey. Mom's just frustrated. I'll get it. You'll see. Then you can decorate it however you want."

She was quiet. Bambi eyes.

I struggled some more and swore -- very quietly -- beneath my breath. Finally, finally, using all the glue left in the bag and props that included drinking glasses, salt and pepper shakers, and the mustard, I got all four walls standing. There was still the roof, the two heaviest pieces. But for now, I had four walls glued and standing and that was progress.

As we climbed the stairs for my daughter to get ready for bed, I promised once the walls were dry, I'd set the roof.  We were close I told her. Really close. And maybe, just maybe, I thought to myself, with the roof glued, I'll have time to get to my project!

My daughter washed up, then brushed her teeth and hair.  I tucked her into bed and sat down beside her. I told her I was glad her nose was okay. That I was proud of how she'd handled herself. That she might consider ducking next time. We chuckled together, then I kissed her good night and headed downstairs  renewed, recharged, ready for battle.

The four walls were still standing!  Gaining confidence, I threw together a quick homegrown mix of confectioners sugar and a teaspoon of water.  I glued on the roof.


Sponging down the counters, my thoughts turned with relish to the final details of my project. I turned to admire my handiwork and, as if to punish my hubris, as if the gods were lying in wait, as if in slow motion, the walls, the roof, all six pieces in tandem, at will, folded in on themselves.

I wanted to cry.

But I remembered my daughter's face and I thought, If it takes me all night, if I only get four walls standing, I will do this.

Going in to battle was clearly the wrong metaphor. I reset my expectations and assumed a Zen-like posture.  Oooohhhhhhm....

I turned on the tv, selected a reality show, and slowly, carefully rebuilt our storybook structure. By the time I finished, my neck and shoulders hurt, my feet, my back, my whole body, ached. But the walls were up and the roof was in place. I turned the kitchen lights out and retreated beaten and bruised to the living room.

Wow... I thought. I'm a wreck. Over a gingerbread house? I'll just sit and chill for a bit.

I thought back to my daughter's face in the grocery store. The joy, the anticipation when I gave her the nod. My mind wandered. She was safe. I was grateful... How I loved that kid...

Through the blur of my thoughts, I heard something in the kitchen. A faint: "Tink. Tink... tink."

What next?  I thought blearily.  Mice perhaps?

I was too tired to check. But then the phone rang so, reluctantly, I rose. I returned to the kitchen, flicked on the lights, and answered the call, a friend checking in.

"How are you?" he asked.

I stood there mute, staring in disbelief at the gingerbread house. All six pieces, the roof, the walls, lay flat -- in a single, sugary heap -- in the center of my tin foil covered cookie sheet.

I let out a slow: "Merry $#%*&! Christmas!"

I tried to explain I was in the midst of a crisis, enduring a new, totally original form of torture: death by gingerbread. Soon though I was laughing through my tears as I explained how things had gone from bad to worse. Mice? What was I thinking?! 

I vowed I'd never eat gingerbread anything, ever again.

I hung up the phone, and -- fleetingly -- pined for plumbers' cement. I fantasized about super glue and industrial strength epoxy. But, lacking any of these, I returned with stoic resolve. Pulling the last of the confectioners' sugar from the shelf, I added the tiniest amount of water, drop by drop.

I was up past midnight. But, by the following morning, lo and behold, my daughter had her gingerbread house. We celebrated, brainstorming all the ways she might decorate. Her face, once again, was suffused with joy.

So this year, my daughter is asking, "Can we do another gingerbread house, Mom?!"

I smile knowingly. All I can think is, Ho, ho, ho....

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Daughter from China Ponders the Question: "Where Were You Born?"

My daughter's innocence recedes with each passing day. 

It seems only a short while ago she and I were riding about town in the family wagon, talking about the trip we would someday take to China.  At the thought of it, she'd thrown up her arms and burst out:

"Everyone will be there to greet me!"  

She is, most certainly, surrounded with love and affirmation in our protected little pocket of life here in the U.S.  So it wasn't totally surprising she'd developed a rather optimistic view both of life, and herself.  But though I loved the ebullience of her outlook and her expectations, I knew too her view of China had become a bit... inflated.

This is no longer the case, in part, because I have worked to help her develop a more balanced, more complete view, not only of our country, but of her birth country.  Certainly, no place is perfect.  After confronting the hard facts of her abandonment last spring and grieving her losses, she knows this.  But she appears to have weathered the worst of it -- and come out the other side.  The result?  My nine year old has developed a sense of humor tinged with irony.

Driving home together from school last Thursday, she mentioned one of her friends had been born at a local, neighborhood hospital.  The topic had come up at school and friends had launched into a full discussion of who was born at which hospital.  Inevitably, the question was posed to my daughter.  As I drove the last few blocks to our house, she relayed the ensuing exchange in a punchy, sassy tone with an implied sub-text:  Were y'all raised in a barn? Don't you know families struggled in China?

"They asked me which hospital I was born at, Mom.  I said, 'What do you mean which hospital?!  Where was I born?  I don't know!  I probably wasn't born in a hospital.  I was probably born... on the floor!'"

Her timing was so keen, her phrasing so pithy, I burst out laughing. 

I meant to follow-up and check in with her, but we pulled in front of the house and groceries, dinner, the dog, the demands of homework, and the flow of a busy weeknight evening carried us straight through to bedtime.  Of course, as with most unfinished business, it all came back to me the next morning -- at 2am.  The conversation echoed in my brain and I wondered if I'd missed my cue and been hugely insensitive, if this was something eating at her self-esteem.  I made a mental note to check in with her in a quiet moment the next day, when we could sit face to face, when I could see her expression.

"Remember the conversation you shared with me about your friends, about where you were born?" I ask.  "Were you upset about this?  Was it bothering you?" I pause, then wince a little, "Should I not have laughed?"

She looks straight at me and an enormous grin spreads over her face. 

"I was joking Mom." 

She was having fun with them.  She was having fun with me. 

It's patently clear she's in command of her story and how she will frame it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity in Adoption"

It's interesting timing given my focus in recent weeks and my post from this afternoon, (I wish I could claim to be clairvoyant but that would be pushing it) but there's very interesting news, just out today, for the entire adoption community.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute just released a new, ground-breaking study entitled, "Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity in Adoption." According to the authors, the study offers the most extensive look to-date at identity development in adoptees. It incorporates decades of research while also drawing on extensive interviews with "White" as well as transracial (primarily Korean American) adult adoptees. The study explores and identifies experiences and strategies that promote positive identity development in adoptees.

Here are highlights or the "central findings," as cited in the study's Executive Summary:

(1) Adoption is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for adopted people as they age, and remains so even when they are adults.

(2) Race/ethnicity is an increasingly significant aspect of identity for those adopted across color and culture.

(3) Coping with discrimination is an important aspect of coming to terms with racial/ethnic identity for adoptees of color.

(4) Discrimination based on adoption is a reality, but more so for White adoptees – who also report being somewhat less comfortable with their adoptive identity as adults than do their Korean counterparts.

(5) Most transracial adoptees considered themselves White or wanted to be White as children.

(6) Positive racial/ethnic identity development is most effectively facilitated by “lived” experiences, such as travel to a native country, attending racially diverse schools, and having role models of their own race/ethnicity.

(7) Contact with birth relatives, according to the White respondents, is the most helpful factor in achieving a positive adoptive identity.

(8) Different factors predict comfort with adoptive and racial/ethnic identity for
Korean and White adoptees.

The findings and publication of this study is very good news for our community -- assuming it helps foster further discussion and thinking as to how we, as parents, can best help our children develop a stronger, more positive sense of themselves.

I don't know about you, but I need all the help I can get.

Transracial Adoption: Identity & Images in the Media

My daughter clears her dinner dish and skips over to the fruit bowl to pick out a banana. Cracking the tip, she slowly draws back the peel, section by section, then stops to study the flowering banana. She looks up at me and an impish smile spreads across her face. Lifting a dangling piece of peel between thumb and forefinger, she holds it out . Turning her head to one side, tilting her nose up, she commences to waltz about the kitchen – with her banana.

She can’t not dance.

She’s in constant motion these days. Everything seems a cause for celebration. She’s testing her wings, discovering new gifts in every direction.

She loves school, math, science, humanities, art, music and of course, best of all, recess, and friends. Last year she joined her school soccer team but merely danced and bobbed at a healthy distance away from the ball while her teammates scrambled. But this year, she’s scrambling, scrimmaging, kicking, and scoring. She also plays goalie. Two weeks ago, an attacker broke free and raced down the field. My daughter calmly planted her feet and stared at the girl. When the shot came, it hit my daughter square in the chest. Her arms wrapped reflexively about the ball. She looked stunned, but then broke into a grin, rocked back on her heels, and drummed the ball with her fingers as if to say, No worries my pretty. She then proceeded to strut up and back in front of the goal, cradling her prize, pumping her fist.

The ref had to remind her to throw the ball back in play.

She’s developing a sense of herself, her power, her abilities. She’s feeling good and yet, I know, challenges await.

Since viewing Adopted, I’ve been reading. I read Helen Zia’s Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, and Yell-Oh Girls by Vickie Nam. I’ve begun following blogs like AdoptionTalk, Adopt-a-tude, Harlow’s Monkey, Anti-Racist Parent, and Angry Asian Man.

I understand all too well now there will be those who will try to write my daughter’s narrative for her, pegging her as the smart minority, the geeky minority, the exotic female, the unwanted daughter, the perpetual foreigner, or worse, the spy. I’ve read the stories. I’ve heard the comments.

My goal now is to equip my daughter as best as I can. To bolster her self esteem. To give her a strong -- dare I say, rock solid? -- sense of herself and her rightful place in the world.

It’s not enough to connect her with her heritage through books, holidays, language, art, and dance. She needs to connect and identify with other Asian American (as well as Euro-American) friends, kids, adoptees, and adults. She needs healthy role models. She also needs positive images reflected back at her from the mix of media around her.

I conduct a silent audit.

We live in a city with a relatively healthy Asian American population. We’re surrounded by numerous, varied, highly accomplished Asian Americans, civic leaders, journalists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, academics, legislators, and politicians. 20% of my daughter’s 4th grade class is Asian American. Within a quarter mile radius of our home, we know no less than 6 Chinese daughters, born in China, adopted and growing up here, full-fledged American citizens. Our city enjoys a thriving, active, organized group of Families with Children from China. My daughter’s best neighborhood friend – through pure serendipity – is Japanese American. The girl's parents are distinguished physicians and academics. My daughter's dentist, orthodontist, one of her teachers, one of her coaches, are or, have also been, of Asian descent. It’s not something I’ve focused on falsely or deliberately, but we also know and are friends with a number of mixed race families, some by marriage, some by adoption, some by both.

At least in our friendships, our community, and the broader world in which we circulate, my girl has a relatively varied view before her. But, what about images in the media? In the books we read? In the films we watch?

When she was a toddler, we had a wealth of picture books to draw from that reflected our world, her heritage, or parts of our story.

But now, my daughter’s at a different age, with different needs. She needs youthful heroines she can relate to. She reads a lot and we watch the occasional movie, though she’s always been highly sensitive. So much so, that most of Hollywood’s fare has proven too violent. Over the years, we’ve taken refuge in the "classics." The books I grew up with. But, how well do these classics reflect a healthy reality for her? I survey my daughter’s bookcase along with our video and DVD collection.

It's a wake-up call.

How many white, English, blond, or red-headed heroines can my daughter take? You know.. the girls with the alabaster skin, apple-colored cheeks, lush golden, or auburn colored curls, or worse, the stereotypically large, round eyes, that blaze blue as sapphires? There’s a brunette in there but, please... how many of us look like Elizabeth Taylor?

The results of my audit propel me to action. I scour Blockbuster for a movie with a young Asian heroine -- but find nothing. I find a small, retro, independent rental store with a broader, deeper selection of American as well as foreign and old movies. It takes me 40 minutes to find a single reason to hope. I vaguely remember seeing Not One Less from my pre-parenting days. I sign it out and take it home.

Not One Less is the story of a 13 year old girl from China’s countryside who’s recruited to serve as a substitute teacher in a crude one room classroom. When one of her many unruly charges is sent to the big city to earn a wage for his family, she goes to heroic lengths to rescue him off the streets. The scenery is breath-taking. The characters, inspiring.

My daughter doesn’t even balk at the sub-titles. Instead, she exclaims, “I can make out some of the Chinese words, Mom!”

More noticeable still is her chatty, open reaction to the characters.

"Look Mom! Isn't she beautiful?!"
"Isn’t she pretty?!” "Oh! The kids are so cute!"
“Wow, she’s really determined. I can be determined like that.”
"I love this film, Mom. Can we do more movies like this?"

As I shut off the DVD player, I direct my daughter to head upstairs and get ready for bed while I finish up in the kitchen. When I turn to make my ascent up the stairs, I find my daughter waiting for me, standing at the top of the landing.

“That movie was a TEN, Mom!”

Wow. I think. Note to self... I need to find more movies like this one.

I go to bed with a small sense of victory. The next day, I sign up for Netflix and spend time digging about for movies like Not One Less.

A few days later my daughter arrives home from school and I show her the red envelope containing: The Road Home.

She gushes. “Oh Mom! If it’s a Chinese film, it’s got to be good!”

She can’t wait to watch it and indeed the movie proves beautiful. Epic, allegorical, and tragic -- in a gentle, romantic, kind of way -- it's the story of a country girl who falls deeply in love with a newly arrived young teacher. Accused of "Rightest" tendencies, he is summoned away to the city. The country girl waits stoically in the freezing cold snow, hour after hour, day after day, anticipating his return. But he is detained and she falls desperately ill. Word reaches the teacher and he sneaks back to be by her side only to be punished by the authorities. The two must wait several more years while he is further detained in the city.

The movie stars the luminous Zhang Ziyi, and the strikingly handsome Zheng Hao, and it's all shot against a backdrop of sweeping mountain scenery, deep in the Chinese hinterland.
My daughter loves it.

Next we try The King of Masks, a story of poverty and struggle from the 1930’s. An old magician street performer bemoans his fate in having no son to whom he can pass on his ancient art. He buys a child on the black market. But the child is a girl disguised as a boy. The man and girl develop a bond, but her secret is exposed and there are tragic results. The characters face loss, destitution, abuse, and a brush with death before finally realizing they can make a life together.

The story is difficult. Too difficult. I press the mute button a lot but we’re both unsettled and in tears over the heart wrenching drama. I apologize. Together, we agree the choice wasn't the best.


I scan the Chinese section in Netflix once more but there are so many films filled with martial arts, swords, daggers, and bloodshed. And then there’s the porn. Lots of porn, portraying Asian women as exotic …er… um… play things.

Time for a documentary, maybe?

My efforts here prove fruitful. I discover the BBC’s 2008 production, Wild China. The two disk series offers more than 6 hours of National Geographic-like footage of China. It’s an incredible survey of China’s vast, unique landscapes, it's remote mountains, rivers, flood plains, and deserts. It features some of China’s most amazing, most unusual wildlife, and includes the story of several local peoples, traditions, and cultures.

The documentary is a hit. We share several nights curled up under a blanket “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over China’s riches.

Now, when we’re not viewing an installment of Wild China, my daughter and I curl up together to read and enjoy another new favorite: “Tales of a Chinese Grandmother,” a book I found rummaging about our local Chinatown. In the meantime, our “Netflix Queue” has grown. It now includes not only tales and documentaries from China, but children’s stories from around the world.

Are my efforts making a difference? I think so. I hope so.

A few months ago, we discovered my daughter is lactose intolerant. The other day, as she helped entertain a friend and serve up some lunch, she offered, “Sorry. We don’t have milk at our house any more. Would you like some water?” Her friend was unfazed by the news, but my daughter seemed eager to explain: “I’m lactose intolerant.”

It sounded like she was boasting -- which puzzled me. Until she added:

“It’s really a common thing you know. Among Asians. I’m Asian.”

Got any film or book recommendations to share?  I'd love it if you shared them.  Just click on the "comments" link below.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Adoption Reunion: Aliens in America

I've been thinking a lot and reading a lot lately about the issues Jen Fero raised in the documentary film Adopted which I wrote about recently. As a parent in general but also, as an adoptive parent, I feel a responsibility to learn and do all I can, to pay attention, to stay attuned, and help my Chinese born daughter feel at home in her adopted home, culture, and country. At the same time, I know the risk: it's easy to become hyper-vigilant, to second guess every exchange, and make oneself just a teeny bit ...stir crazy.

I'm thinking back to an exchange I had with my daughter this past summer.

It was the last weekend in August and my 9 year old daughter and I drove 3 hours south to join the annual reunion of 10 or so adoptive families who traveled together and bonded, 8 long years ago, on our journey to China to adopt our beloved daughters.

This year was the first time, since making this trek, since my daughter understood the significance of this gathering, since she'd struggled with the losses in her story this past spring, that my daughter was excited to go.

The reunion is typically hosted at one very generous family's home. We all contribute different dishes and share in a potluck dinner. We visit. We feast. We celebrate.

As parents, it's our hope our girls will develop and share a life-long bond. As parents, we already share a special bond, remembering that singular morning we gathered together in the lobby of the Liang hotel in Wuhan to meet our toddlers, each and every child looking pale, worried, tearful, and uncertain. We share the bond too of knowing, in a crazy-making-kind-of-way, that any one of our daughters -- the lanky girl running across the garden, the stocky girl sneaking an extra helping of noodles, the girl seated shyly at the table -- could just as easily have been our daughter. None of us will ever know, or be able to divine, the thinking (or even if there was much thinking) that went into the effort to match each girl with each family. It happened thousands of miles away, in a small sterile office, at the China Center for Adoption Affairs, in Beijing. The end result? No music, no fanfare. Just a letter and a crude photo mailed, special delivery, to homes across the US, a single envelope that would change the trajectory of each of our lives.

With the start of the reunion this year, the girls took a little time to warm to each other. But soon enough they embraced each other and the traditional party-like atmosphere. In prior years, one of the dad's had rigged a hose to a giant, jerry-rigged slip'n slide. Another year, the girls had partied on an enormous outdoor trampoline. This year the girls piled like puppies on to a hammock, swinging and tumbling. Then they disappeared to the basement to test their skills at Wii Karaoke and some kind of rock band fantasy. But the big hit, by the end of the evening, was an improvised i-spy, hide and seek game staged in and out of the garden and throughout the house.

It was stunning to see the difference the years have made. The girls seemed especially happy, as if they'd come into their own. They were healthy, strong, boisterous, sassy, and happy, hanging on us parents with an easy sense of entitlement. We might as well have been door posts planted for their pleasure. They rammed, tugged, poked, pulled, and punched at us playfully. We smiled back, caressing a head, stroking an arm, patting a bottom, exercising a parent's prerogative.

It was late in the evening by the time we said our good byes and thanked everyone. My daughter had been running non-stop, laughing, popping in and out of our host's house, clustered together with the gang of girls. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks flushed. She was either coming down with swine flu -- or she'd had a good time. On the drive back to our hotel, I checked in:

"Did you enjoy the reunion?"

"Yeah Mom. It was great. It was awesome!"

"Awesome, huh? Well, that's good news. I'm glad we came."

"Yeah. Me too. And, guess what Mom?" She whispered: "I'm not supposed to tell you this -- so don't say a word to the other parents -- but I just have to tell you --"

(What mom doesn't love this?)

"What's that honey?"

"We were aliens! We decided to pretend all the Chinese girls were aliens. And, we were hiding and spying on the parents!"

"Nooo way. Too funny."

We talked on, sharing impressions of the night. Nostalgia got the better of me and I shared a confession, dead certain the other moms felt exactly the same way -- and would have felt the same way again, even if the match between girls and parents had somehow played out differently.

"You know honey... I love each and every one of you girls. We're all family in a sense. Our lives are connected. But I feel blessed cause somehow I had the amazing good fortune of becoming your mom. I love being your mom."

She was quiet a moment. "But you know.... you're not my mom."

My heart lurched and froze for a nanosecond. Did the reunion trigger something? Were we headed back to the exchanges of last spring?

"No..?" I asked weakly. I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw her raising her palms upward. She looked at me -- like I was slow.

"I just TOLD you! I'm an ALIEN!"

I laughed. Apologized. And resumed breathing.

Sometimes, just sometimes, an alien is just an alien.