Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The rain has been relentless. It's gray and cold and late in the day and we’re driving home from Chinese class. My daughter reminds me I promised to buy her a book from her favorite series, The Warriors. I joke about being a softie, then pull into the parking lot by the grocery store. The bookstore lies across the way. As I turn the key in the ignition, the car grows quiet except for the slow, steady tap of the rain. My daughter confides:

Mom, I worry you’re not really who you say you are.

This is the second time she’s offered this. The first time we talked was three nights ago, in my bed. She asked if I had any secrets, if I was hiding things from her. If maybe I’d locked her birth mother away in a cabinet.

I'd paused. Stroked her arm. Asked questions. I tried to explain – gently -- that I never met her birth mother. That I didn’t come along till later. She arrived at the orphanage a 7 day old baby and was placed in her foster mother’s care. I arrived a year and a half later. We went into her room and I pulled Kids Like Me in China by Ying Ying Frye from her book shelf and asked if she’d seen it. If she wanted to see it. She wanted to. So I scootched in behind my daughter on her bed and held her as she turned the pages, reading, studying every picture. The photos of the children are sweet, but they’re sobering. The room fell unnaturally quiet. My heart throbbed in my throat. We talked a little more but she was subdued and I knew I shouldn’t push. So I tucked her into bed, kissed her, hugged her, and told her I loved her.

I hated she had to face that.

For the next three days it felt as though my stomach had flipped and couldn’t quite right itself. It rattled me to think my daughter could think me evil or possibly hurtful. That she might lose her sense of trust. That she might be afraid. Of me.

This is a child who’s watched me gingerly capture lady bugs and bees in glass jars in our house so we could free them from her window.

My first reaction was to second guess myself. She is so very sensitive. I try incredibly hard to be patient, to communicate, to be logical, loving, and fair. But I’m a parent. I get frustrated, and I get testy. Her radar is so acute. She takes it all to heart. It doesn’t leave a lot of room to be human.

Was I really that awful? That scary?

A part of me wanted to ask her more questions, to reason with her, yes, even argue with her. I wanted to defend myself. Then, a small voice in my head whispered: This is not about you.

I stepped back and tried to ponder if there might be another reason for her to think this. Perhaps she’s not thinking evil or scary. She knows I love her. We have our own little mutual adoration society. Maybe… maybe she saw me as …desperate? A single mom so wanting a child she might steal from another…?

I struggled but knew I had to hold off, to be patient and offer quiet hints of support. And wait. I had to make it safe for her to talk and let her choose her moment.

The rain drums harder on the roof of the car now. I twist round and look back at my daughter on the seat. I feel, I hope, if I am still, very still, perhaps she will tell me more.

You worry I’m not who I say I am?

Yes. I worry Mom.

Tell me more, honey.

I worry you’re just being nice to me but that… maybe you might hurt me…

My heart feels almost too big for my chest. My child thinks I want to hurt her. It’s beyond imagining. I wonder if the world as I’ve known it may be slowly breaking apart.

Oh honey… do you really think I could ever hurt you?

Well… not you maybe… but that maybe you might hire someone…

But… why…? How could I ever hurt you? I love you, honey.

Its hard to breathe. I need to breathe. And be still. And listen. Closely.

Well… I wonder if maybe you locked my birth mother in a cabinet somewhere…

But… that would truly be a horrible thing to do, wouldn’t it?

She nods sadly, agreeing. Her eyes fill. A lone tear drops onto her cheek.

Do you really think I could do that to another mother? I ask this gently. That would be just awful. Wouldn’t it?

She nods and agrees again. More tears drop down, dotting her cheek. She leans forward to rest her elbows on the compartment between the two front seats.

Do I really scare you?

She nods a weak no. A few more tears escape. She lowers her face in her arms as if she is weary. I feel sick. Heartbroken. I ask, almost beg, her to come and sit with me in the front. I want to gather her in my arms. She nods her head weakly again, no.

I ask if it's okay then if I might come back and sit beside her. She nods her assent. But when I do, she leans forward, away from me, hiding her face and her tears in her arms. She seems so conflicted.

I place my palm on her back and rub, gently. Very gently.

We are quiet. Together.

Then… a thought …

Do you think.. that maybe.. you worry about this because it’s just too hard to believe you could have been born to one mother, half a world away, but now, you’re here with me?

A bigger nod, yes. She is only half facing me but I see a fresh well of tears surge up. They fill her eyes and course down her cheeks.

I pause.

Do you think… maybe…. it might be easier to believe I could be evil than to imagine your birth mother could have ever actually… let you go?

She lifts her head and finally turns to look at me directly. Her face puckers and breaks with emotion and I reach to draw her gently toward me, into my lap. She lets me. Drawing her knees in close, she sobs openly, releasing the sadness.

Oh honey. It hurts doesn’t it? I’m so sorry.

I stroke her arm and we cry together.

Minutes pass. Then she sits up and wipes her face clean and takes a deep breath.

Okay Mom. Another sigh. Let’s go get that book now.

I try to pull it together even though my insides are jelly.

Okay. How do I look?

She manages a small smile and shakes her head.

You’re a mess, Mom. A mess.

We pull on our hoods and climb out of the car. She takes tight hold of my hand and we dodge through the rain together.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How Has Adoption Touched Your Life?

I’m a crier. Always have been. Always will be. It only seems to get worse with age. Yup. I’m the grown woman at the back of the theater sobbing uncontrollably over… Simba. Or Pumba. You get the idea. Already, at nine, my daughter rolls her eyes and shakes her head.

Mom. You’re a mess.

I know, honey. I know.

Life has its challenges but it’s also replete with humorous moments so, when these occur, I relish them. I started this blog two weeks ago with the simple thought of sharing my story and, yes, to be honest, a chuckle or two. The response has been wonderful and I can’t thank the people enough who called or emailed to share their enthusiasm and encouragement. And, risky though I know it is, it set me thinking…

I struggled with whether this blog was a good idea, whether I might be overstepping in sharing parts of my daughter’s story, inevitably part of my story. At the same time, I know while sometimes she feels alone, she is not alone. I know too there are ways to protect our anonymity. So I thought,

What if I could use my blog to bring people together, to share their stories, their questions, ideas, thoughts, and concerns?

How powerful would that be?

I dug around for a few credible statistics and the results were surprising. Roughly one in two Americans is touched by adoption. Maybe you, a family member, or a close friend was adopted. Maybe you're a birth parent. Or an adoptive parent. Or you’re thinking about adopting. Wouldn’t it be something if we could all share bits of our story in the interest of helping each other?

I get so many questions from friends, family, and strangers alike.

What’s it like to be a single mom?
How did you decide to adopt?
What’s it like to be an adoptive mom?
How do you deal with the daddy issue?
How do you deal with the issue of being a mixed race family?

As a Caucasian, how do you raise a child of Asian descent, and connect her with her heritage?

For all the questions I get, I sense there are as many, if not more times when people wonder – but are too polite to ask. I don’t mind the questions, but my daughter gets them too. I chose this path. She didn’t.

I’m no expert. I learn as I go and make lots of mistakes. There are nights my head hits the pillow and I wrestle with the evidence of the day:

Okay, so today was a textbook example of how NOT to handle that issue. What will I do tomorrow?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could help each other answer that question?

So, here are a few for you:

How has adoption touched your life?
What questions or lessons has it raised for you?

Do you have favorite books or authors you'd recommend?

I invite you to click on the “comments” link below this post -- or any other post -- and share your thoughts. But please remember to safeguard your privacy as this is a public forum.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How I Came to My Decision

Every time I thought about the idea of adopting a child from China, a dozen different fears leapt forward and crowded in close around me like a horde of hungry pigeons at the park. You know, the kind that attack the pedestrians with the peanuts. They hover. They sense what’s coming and they’re poised and ready to strike.

I had so many questions, so many concerns. They stalked me.

How would I do it alone? What would I do if she got sick? Could I afford a child? Would other families accept us? What if my family wouldn’t accept her? What if we didn’t like each other? What if I couldn’t handle it?

It was overwhelming to think about it and I didn’t know how to think about it. So I pushed the decision away. At the back of my mind, there was still that glimmer of hope the right man would arrive (complete with armor and dashing steed) making the question irrelevant.

My life continued and followed a reliable rhythm. I tended to my dog. We went on long walks each day and he gave me great joy. I consulted. I wrote. I took dance classes, and I dated. But the relationships didn’t gel for me and one day I stopped to study my face in the mirror. My 40th birthday was not all that far off and I wondered if my life, in the end, would be nothing more than the sum of a string of broken relationships. Then, it struck me. What if avoiding the decision to adopt, became in effect, by default, a decision not to adopt? A non-decision kind of decision. I didn’t want to wake up when I was 45 or 50 -- in a panic -- with regrets. The question presented itself:

Did I really want to go through life without the chance to love and raise a child?

I wish I could say I grabbed my sword and shield and swashbuckled my way (complete with bandana and eye-patch) aboard a ship bound for China. The truth is: I sat down at my desk, grabbed a pen, a blank sheet of paper, and sketched out a list.

A list? you might ask.

Yes. I know it sounds terribly clinical and logical and I hate to disappoint. But it started with that list. Not that everything else flowed clearly and smoothly from that point forward. Hardly. But I’m jumping ahead...

I scribbled down all the questions and concerns that for months had circled relentlessly along well worn paths in my brain. It was cathartic to get it down on paper, to release it, and look at it. Suddenly, the demons didn’t look quite so daunting. I sat back and looked at the first question -- and realized there were ways to address it.

Before I knew it, I’d created a second column on the page (Be still, my little linear heart!) I worked through the questions, one by one. I scratched out some numbers, rough figures, and a few calculations. Then I paused and stared. For each question there was a practical solution or answer. It hit me:

I could do this.

My mouth went dry and my hands felt cold. This was do-able. I had flexible work hours and was financially secure. There were innumerable local and community resources for me to draw upon. Most importantly, I had a strong support network and loving family I could, most likely, bring round. It hit me again:

I could do this.

Then something odd happened. A well of sadness surged up within of me. I broke down and wept.

For all my logical, practical thinking, there was something I hadn’t yet reconciled. Taking this step meant giving the nod, giving in, letting go: facing the death of a dream. We grow up with this dream and we take it for granted. It’s the dream of sharing the journey.

I’m not ready.

I tucked the paper away.

Max and I walked two, even three miles a day, by a nearby lake, through a beautiful arboretum. We walked rain or shine, though it mostly rained. It was early spring and we walked under gray clouds and gray skies through gray drizzle along gray gravelly paths down by the water’s edge.

My feelings didn’t shift overnight. Our walks continued and I let myself feel sad. New shoots of grass sprouted by the shoreline and the cattails and pussy willows opened. Fresh shades of green overtook the gray and the birds grew noisy. One day the sun poked through the thick canopy of clouds and I stopped to watch a swallow dart, swerve, and flirt with his reflection in the water. A light white feather, a puff of cotton, floated by on a current of air. The swallow swooped and grabbed the cottony puff tight in his bill. He flew with it -- then released it. It hung suspended, right where he left it. The swallow turned, darted, swooped, dove, and caught it again. I laughed. When I turned to resume my walk, I noticed a man in the distance walking with a child strapped onto his back. I flashed on an image of myself, walking with my daughter packed snug and close to my body.

I felt no sadness. Only a twinge of excitement.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Single Mom

Most of the time, I am surpremely organized. I keep our home neat and clean and file away our papers and bills. I track our family obligations using a paper planner and Outlook and schedule little pop-up reminders with sweet sounding bells that go ding! several days in advance. I keep our endlessly variable summer calendar in a separate Excel spreadsheet (yes, I blush to admit) complete with color coding. Still, every once in a while, fate intervenes to remind me: I am not in control.

I enrolled in a class this past January to bring my skills and resume up to date. The class meets all day for the first Friday and Saturday of each month for six months. Those days are a scramble as they require changes in our carpool schedule (involving as many as 5 moms), our after-school schedule, our Saturday morning schedule, and our Chinese carpool and class schedule. I call a neighbor lady to help relieve and walk the dog. Max is twelve. He’s older now, a little more mellow, a little more fragile.

I thought I had it all under control.

So when I drove home one Friday from class, I was feeling quite pleased with myself. My daughter was off on a play date and I had a whole extra hour. I was thinking how nice it would be to use that hour to do a few things for my class, in my office, at my computer, stringing whole thoughts together, uninterrupted, before retrieving my girl. That was before I opened the front door. Max greeted me with his normal wiggle and wag, but then --

Sniff. Sniff, sniff.

Something was wrong. I followed the scent and found the source. Max had eaten something that didn’t agree -- and required a full-scale evacuation. Whether it was a case of shame or sibling rivalry, he’d retreated upstairs to my daughter’s room. And crapped all over her carpet.

Pffft! So much for that peaceful hour, quietly composing my thoughts.

I took Max outside to be sure there was nothing left, then grabbed the poop bucket, the spatula (yes, when you have a dog with a sensitive stomach, you keep one of these in reserve, clearly labeled), along with rags, and the Spot Off. I threw open the windows, changed my clothes, and spent the next hour furiously scooping and scrubbing the rug, emptying the bucket thinking:

Maybe I can get it all up... Maybe it won’t smell so bad with a little more air. Maybe she won’t notice…!

I knew my daughter. If she got worked up about this, it could potentially sink us both. She wouldn’t sleep. I wouldn’t sleep. We’d be a mess in the morning. There was even the risk I’d miss my class. I needed this class.

I threw the rags in the washer, changed my clothes (again), and hopped in the car to fetch my daughter. Her friend’s mom had sent an email that afternoon, inviting me and another mom to join her for a drink. I’m not a drinker. Truth is, I’m a total light weight. But it was Friday night and I thought: What the heck. I’ve earned this! The girls will be happy and I could use the company and conversation.

When the mom brought out the tequila, I was honest. I put up my hand and said, Oh, no... I’m just not that much of a drinker. But the moms poo-poo’d me and I didn’t exactly argue, so we sat back and started talking. And you know what? I like sucking on those cute little lime wedges, I like salt, and I like Tequilla!

Before we knew it, it was 10 o’clock. I looked at my watch, jumped up, thanked the mom, extracted my daughter, and drove -- carefully -- home. I thought: If we move quickly, I can tuck my girl into bed, get that hour of classwork done, and still get some decent shut-eye. Woo-hoo! I’m a single mom and I do have a life!

We pulled up to the house and parked. Then I remembered,

Oooh… I wonder if she’ll notice..

Mom. Look. There’s a note on the door.

That’s funny
, I thought. Must be a promotion.

We walked to the door and I pulled out the note wedged in the handle.

Oh no…!

Mom? What is it?

Oh my God!

What, Mom?

Uh… Remember that lovely new piano teacher we finally tracked down and booked? She came. Tonight. For your lesson. And she waited. Oh my gosh…. How could I?

We opened the door. I was sick at the thought of that nice lady standing on our doorstep, waiting. And waiting. This was bad, really bad—

Huh? (Sniff. Sniff, sniff.)

The odor was stronger this time –- no, fresher.

Mom? What’s that smell?


I bolted upstairs. He’d done it again! All across the exact same area where, on my hands and knees, for close to an hour, I’d scooped and scrubbed.

I looked up. Max stood in the hall, cheerfully wagging his tail. My daughter stood in the doorway, wailing. He did it in my rooooooom!

Time for damage control. I grabbed the dog and shut him in the bathroom. I grabbed my daughter by the shoulders trying to prevent a descent into the abyss.

Come on kiddo. Don’t lose it now. You’re tired. I’ll take care of it. Trust me. Work with me. Hold it together.

It occurred to me I was begging.

But I can’t sleep in here!

I know you can’t. Don’t worry. Hang on. Look! I’ll set you up in the den!

Now, I was bargaining. I stepped into the den and started frantically pulling cushions off the couch. But then –-

Sniff. Sniff, sniff.

I wheeled around and couldn’t believe my eyes. The dog was a flippin’ poop machine!

My daughter started up again: He did it in here too! Now I really don’t have anywhere to sleep!

I took her by the shoulders again.

Honey! Its okay. You can sleep in my bed!

Full scale capitulation. But it worked. She perked up.


She never gets to sleep in my bed. She loves my bed.

But where will you sleep?

Don’t worry. I’ll figure it out. Just go brush your teeth and get in your jammies.

Twenty mintues later, I was tucking her into my bed. She kissed me good night, her face a broad, happy smile.

I spent another hour and a half scrubbing the upstairs, fifteen bleary-eyed minutes on my classwork, and finally, ten more minutes on an abject apology to the piano teacher.

Then I slept downstairs. With the dog.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Adoption Paradox

I’m realizing blogging may actually help me gain a better understanding of my daughter and our story. After my first blog, I felt quite vulnerable. Vulnerable, not only having put our struggle into words, but also out there in the ether. But then it also sank in how important it is for me, not only to accept my daughter’s feelings, but to let her know I honor them. If she learns or feels she has to deny her feelings at home in order to protect my feelings, how will she ever learn to hang on to her feelings beyond home -- at school, on the playground, or in future relationships?

Sunday night, we were talking again about feelings. She’s wrestling with a lot right now. Not only with feelings around her adoption story – but around some girl dynamics at school. She’s in third grade and it’s a time of heightened awareness. Some kids handle this better than others. Some try to dominate. Some try to please. My daughter is not a doormat -- but she will sometimes compromise her own feelings to keep the peace, to make others happy, or avoid confrontation.

How many of us do that, at our own expense, even as adults?

Sunday night, in the midst of fixing dinner, in the midst of our conversation about third grade girls, I got down on my knees, and looked my daughter in the eye.

You know. I’m not always great about acknowledging your feelings. You need to know you have a right to your feelings. They’re important. You are important. No one else can tell you what’s going on inside of you.

Several weeks ago I noticed she had discovered The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions which is part of the American Girl series on The Care and Keeping of You. (I love this series!) I’d buried it on her book shelf. (If I try to recommend a book and place it in her hands, she is unlikely to give it a second glance. If I bury it on her book shelf, she will find it and read it when she’s ready.)

Oh. You’re reading The Feelings Book. What do you think?

It’s good Mom. Its really good. You should read it.

Oh? Perhaps we could look at it together sometime? You could show me the parts you like.

Yeah. That’s a great idea Mom. Let’s do that.

Sunday night, after dinner, after she’d washed up and brushed her teeth, I suggested she grab The Feelings Book and bring it into my room. We often read in my bed together before lights out. (Max is up there too, wedged in between us, his chin on her stomach or mine.)

We read a few pages together from The Feelings Book, taking turns. Then my daughter flipped to the page titled, Grieving. The page talked about what it feels like to miss a loved one who has died or moved away.

This is how I feel sometimes, Mom.

When you think of your birth mom?


Do you like their suggestions?


Maybe we should try them out.

We talked about lighting a candle, about journaling. She wasn’t teary. Just quiet. Thoughtful.

When it was time for bed, she skipped off happily.

Good night Mom! I love you.

I love you too.

See you in the morning!

See you in the morning.

The next day, she woke exuberant. She walked and danced about the kitchen fixing her breakfast, full of hugs and happy chatter.

Monday night, homework, talk of the school day, and dinner were all punctuated with more hugs. She couldn't hug me often enough or hard enough. In the midst of dinner, she walked over and confided:

You know, sometimes this doesn’t feel like my house.

We have lived here together since she came home from China. I asked her to say more about what this felt like for her.

Its like… I’m living in a strange house!

Do you think maybe that’s cause it feels strange... to think you were born in China, to another family, but you ended up here? Like you’re supposed to be somewhere else, with another family and another home, back in China?


I nodded. That makes sense.

She was thoughtful. Then she hugged me again. I gave her a small kiss on the top of her head. (I’m no longer allowed to give her big wet ones on her cheeks – as much as I’d love to.) She bopped back to her seat.

After dinner, her eyes lit up with expectation. I knew what was coming.

Do you think we could have a cuddle on the guest room bed?!

Of course!

This is one of our rituals. We charged into the guest room together. First we helped Max up. He’s twelve now and needs help with his hindquarters. Then the two of us leapt up onto the bed together and jockeyed for space. I settled in on my side and my daughter moved in quickly, curling up close in the crook of my body – her back up against my belly. Max settled in below – nestled in the crook of my legs. He draped his chin over my thigh to make sure he wasn't forgotten.

My daughter smiled and laughed and babbled on, sharing surprises and triumphs from her day, jumping from one reflection to the next. She grew quiet. The three of us lay there, breathing almost as one.

It occurred to me that the more I make room in my heart for the dissonance she feels -- for whatever may be separate or broken or lost -- the more she can then accept us -- and take us wholly into her heart.

Puppy Tales

In the spirit of offering a little more on the founding of our pack (following my March 16th post), I offer a few choice puppy tales…

I named my new puppy Max. I figured a guy with a poofy hair-do and curls needed a macho, manly name.

I raved about Max and Portuguese Water Dogs to my friends. They’re smart, they don’t shed, they’re good natured, they’re funny! And -- they’re eager to please! The response?

Wow… you should marry him!

Max grew -- and so did his tail. It got to be a good 7 or 8 inches long and he wagged it with ever greater enthusiasm. It dragged half his butt along for the ride. One day, it caught his attention. He chased it round and round till he finally caught it. He gave it a good, strong tug (Take THAT you fiend!) and pulled his hind feet right out from under him.

I woke one morning to a loud crashing noise. The bed shook and I heard something heavy tumble to the floor like a sack of potatoes. He’d already tried to wake me once that morning and I’d mumbled, No, Max. Not yet. I’d rolled away from the wet nose poking over the edge of my bed. But now, having felt the whole bed rattle, I raised my head, opened my eyes, and looked out. He had tried to jump up onto the bed -- and missed. He lay there legs splayed out over the floor like a pinwheel. Unphased, undaunted, he looked up at me, eagerly thumping his tail. Wanna play?? It was 6am.

Once I was up, he followed me everywhere. He perched on the edge of the tub each morning, poked his head round the curtain, and lapped at the shower spray. Washed and ready with Max fed, walked, and watered, I settled in at my desk to get the day‘s work done. Max snoozed but then awoke and wanted attention.

He’d sit quietly by the gate gazing up at me with an expectant look, wagging his tail as if to say, I'm ready to play now! One day he pulled all the toys out of his crate, climbed in and sat there, waiting for me to notice. When I cracked up, he realized it was an excellent ploy and used it whenever he could.

It was hard to ignore his eyes boring into my back. If it was early in the day and I had more work to do, I tried hard not to meet his gaze, to avoid body language of any kind that offered the slightest encouragement. He’d exit and try again. (Maybe she just missed me that time...) He’d stroll away and return, sitting once more at attention. Nothing? He’d try a quiet, low Mmmmm... (Pardon me... Over here!) Still nothing? He’d try a second, slightly louder Mmmmmmm. (Yoo-hooo! I’m WAY…. ting!) If more decisive communication was called for, he’d call: Rrrrr-uppp! (HEY THERE! Let's PLAY!!)

One day, as I sat frozen, eyes glued to my computer screen, trapped by my dog, afraid to move, I thought: This is ridiculous. I'm spoiling this dog. Just that day I'd shared the rest of my lunch with him: vegetable soup with broccoli, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Suddenly, a low, quick stuttered shot of air fired behind me, interrupting my thoughts. I wheeled round and looked at Max in surprise, scarcely able to believe my dog just …. farted? Apparently Max couldn’t believe it either. He was jumping about in a state of confusion, circling and sniffing the spot where he’d been seated moments before. Where is it? Where is it?! He stopped his investigation, looked up at me, and searched my face for answers. Did you see that? Did YOU see that?! Something just BIT me!! I cracked up. No more vegetable soup for you, dude!

His tastes were all-inclusive and often, less than discriminating. One night, as I undressed for bed, he sniffed eagerly at the sweaty sock on my foot. I thought, What the hell…. let him have it. I pulled it off and tossed it high in the air. He leapt at it with gusto -- and caught it. He shook his head furiously back and forth then tossed the sock back up high in the air. It flew, then fell. He pounced! Shake, shake, shake! Wheeee! flew the sock. Thwonk! He pounced again. DIE sock! Munch, munch, munch. Mmmmm!! Yummy sock! I wriggled my nose in disgust, Oh Max! How could you? But soon I was down on the floor beside him. He shook and tossed the sock again. It landed. I grabbed it. He froze – eyes glued to the sock, body poised to strike. He pounced. But the sock jerked away. He pounced again. It danced and jerked away again. Soon, he was jumping pouncing, prancing, dancing and jousting with my sock.

My ever present companion, Max could turn the most romantic of evenings into a family affair. Late one night, stretched out on the couch with a date, neither of us noticed Max inch his way over. When the man lifted his head and opened his mouth to share a tender thought, Max appeared -- as if out of nowhere -- and licked the man on the lips. (I like you too! Can I play?)

In our first year together Max greeted me each morning, wagging his large, rudder-like tail, up, down, left, right, every which way, at crazy, odd, cock-eyed angles. He crashed, bounced, rolled, stood up, and trotted on to the next thing. He piddled and pooped on the floor, chewed his way through newspapers, recycled papers, packages, chairs, carpets, good socks, old socks and most of my laundry. He brought the mailman my bra.

For better or worse, he became an integral part of my life. We grew together, a happy pack of two.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Shifting Gears: how I got from there to here

I was at Microsoft in my early to mid thirties. I worked ten, twelve, sixteen, even nineteen hour days. I wrote business plans, marketing plans, product plans, strategic initiatives, management memos, marketing memos and punchy Powerpoint presentations. The point, if you were good at it, was to be strategic and not lose yourself in the everyday details. I was a master strategist when it came to my work -- a disaster at the details when it came to my life.

While my desk overflowed with memos and papers, my house lay littered with unread newspapers, aging bills, outdated coupons, an unmade bed, and two weeks of laundry. My garden out front was a jungle, the rest of my yard, forbidding. House plants withered and stood like straw corpses on my mantle. My fridge held a stale carton of milk, a container of blue-green cottage cheese and two mealy apples. I lived on dry bagels, cream cheese, and cereal. A stranger to my neighbors, I was short-tempered, short on sleep, short on time. I squeezed friends, family, and relationships in like bathroom breaks at a commercial.

It wasn’t the life I wanted.

I left Microsoft and decided to consult. I’d left the company -- but not the work. I did the same thing on my own while I told myself I’d broken free. I was like a well trained dog that knows only one trick and does it over and over again. By the mid 1990's, I was thirty six and I'd had enough. I went to a career counselor, showed him my resume, then blurted out a confession: I want to get off this bus! My words echoed back at me in his chrome and glass, too clean, too white, downtown office. Six sessions and several hundred dollars later, the man suggested I start my own Internet company.

Is everyone crazy? I thought. Thanks -- but no thanks.

I turned off the spigot, declining new projects and clients. White space appeared in my planner and then, for a time, it actually went blank. It was like jumping off the White Cliffs of Dover, a beautiful, liberating, sailing, swooping, swan dive -- into sheer nothingness. For the first time in my life I had no plan and didn’t care. I followed a stranger friends called instinct. I took time off and met a man and thought my life would finally settle into place. I wanted roots, a dog, a family. Then, two years later, at thirty eight, it all came undone. The man didn’t want to break up. He just didn’t want to commit. I waited and waited, then walked away broken-hearted. I grieved… for the man I loved, for the life we imagined, for the family I'd hoped for. I wondered if life would always feel empty. Then I woke up one morning and thought,

Damn… Why am I waiting for someone else to start living the life I want?

A dog seemed the easiest, simplest place to start.

I found a breeder with an eight week old litter of Portuguese Water Dogs and corraled my brother to help me. On a cold, wet day in November, we drove to the woman’s house. She opened the door and five Portuguese Water dogs converged around us, barking and wiggling about, excited at the prospect of company. In the background, we heard the chirp and squeak of puppies in the kitchen. When I walked over to look through the gate, a stocky, square little pup hopped and wobbled over to greet me. The breeder reached down and lifted him up in the palm of her hand, holding him out for inspection. This one is yours.

He had jet black curly hair, soft as chenille. Two round, chocolate brown eyes and a curious face peered out at me. The breeder directed me to place him down on the carpet. He wriggled away and took off, sniffing at furniture, hiding behind chairs only to scamper free seconds later. He was into everything, his tiny tail fluttered in frenzied excitement. I tried to catch him -- but he dashed off again, nose down, legs out, looping about two armchairs as if barrel racing at a rodeo. I looked up at the woman. I’m in trouble. Aren’t I?

Yup, she replied. Big trouble.

My brother drove us home and I held him snug in my arms. That night, alone with this tiny new stranger camped out on my dining room floor, I soaked in the details of his small furry body. He lay fast asleep but his paws jerked and twitched as he dreamed. I wondered who or what he was chasing. A small pit formed in the bottom of my stomach. But my heart swelled with love and a strangely powerful, protective instinct washed over me.

What have I done? I wondered.

I felt his presence fill my home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why a "Pack?"

I meant to start this blog two weeks ago. No, the dog didn't eat my homework. But as luck would have it, my daughter, nine, came down with a horrible case of the flu and we were in lock-down mode for eight straight days. (Aaaaaugh!) It's a scary thing to watch a normally exuberant, even ebullient child, grow feverish and listless. I found myself running endless laps about the house, washing sheets, towels, my hands, pajamas, my hands, dishes, my hands, cough medicine cups, and yes, my hands, again.

I bear raw, chapped knuckles like a badge of courage.

When it all migrated to her head, neither of us slept. She went through five or more boxes of tissue. Then I ran laps supplying tissue, Sudafed, emptying trash, supplying more tissue, more Sudafed, more tissue, etc.

She recovered (finally... whew...) and bounced off to school while I looked in the mirror and saw ...a train wreck. I tried to clean up, dig out, and get my bearings. And begin this blog. Which, appropriately enough, is about the life of a single mom (me,) my daughter who was born in China in 2001, and Max, our Portuguese Water Dog (he was born here.)

How did I come to choose the name Pack of Three?

We're a family. A happy, loving, boisterous family. At least that's how I think of us. And my daughter, obviously a key part of this equation, is also happy, loving, and boisterous. At least most of the time. The truth is, she also struggles with the facts of her adoption, with the loss of her birth family.

She's always been proud of the fact she's Chinese. (Yes, I've tried to instill that and encourage it.) But she's sensitive and perceptive. Over the years, she's begun to process the loss in her story at a deeper level. And so, sometimes, in the middle of dinner, in the car on the way home from school, or even at bedtime as I lean down to kiss her, she'll pause and say:

Sometimes, I think you're just the babysitter.

I miss my real mom.

Sometimes I wonder if you stole me from my birth parents...

Now, I should be clear. I adopted my daughter legally. I am not an abusive parent. If anything, I am at times an overly attentive parent. A worrier. Perhaps, even, an overachieving parent. Most of the time, my daughter writes me poems, love notes, "you rock" notes, you're the "awesomest mom ever" notes. She draws pictures of hearts and flowers and happy children. We laugh. We cry. We love each other.

It pains me to hear her say these things. To know she struggles. To know there is only so much I can do to help her resolve these losses. At the same time, I'm human. Having turned my life over to her most every need for the past 7 1/2 years, I have to admit the first time she called me the babysitter.... a voice in my head nearly screamed:

Are you kidding?? I'm sleep deprived, cranky, fat, and frazzled, trying to keep three steps ahead of you. The sitter?! I could be on a beach in Bermuda right now! I'm your mother damnit!

Of course I realize I'm supposed to be the adult in this relationship. So when she said this the first time and asked, Does that hurt your feelings? I denied my first reaction and offered the empathy I also genuinely felt, offering her the validation she needed, the opportunity to express her feelings.

But I've had other moments since. Where I've slipped. Where I thought she was only mad at me for not getting what she wanted, when I thought she was trying to play the 'other mommy' card.

How do you compete against a phantom mommy, a mommy who never says no? So yes, there have been those moments when I have fought for the title of mommy, arguing...

Who's there when you go to bed each night? Who's keeps you safe? Who's there when you wake each morning? Who's there at 2am when you have nightmares? Who's there when you get a bloody nose on the playground? Who's there when you're sick with a fever of 103? And who nags you to eat your vegetables, to watch for that mug of boiling hot chocolate, to watch for the car in the street?

Then, one day, in a more enlightened moment, I let it all go. I thought,

Who cares what we call this? A family? A tribe? A pack? I know what we are and I know I'm in it till I draw my last breath. That's what counts. Someday, whatever she calls it, acknowledging the depth of her losses, my daughter will also see what we have -- in all its beautiful, complicated glory.

Welcome to our blog. Our stories. Our little Pack of Three.