Couldn't resist!

Flynn has been sporting her Hot Wheels t-shirt today. Having had a male best friend for many of my toddler years, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Hot Wheels. I still get a little tingle of acquisitiveness in my fingertips when I walk down the aisle of tiny hot rods at Tarjay. So when I saw this shirt, I knew she had to have it.

As for the car, faithful readers may remember how much M. and I loved the movie Speed Racer. While the actual Japanese cartoon was mostly off my radar during its heyday, M. was a big fan. So we were thrilled to find that we both loved the movie version. And yes, when the promo items came out in stores, we totally caved. We got a Speed Racer helmet (complete with built-in sound effects) for our nephew Harrison...and although it was still early days, and we figured she'd probably want nothing to do with it when she came home, we also bought Flynn this car (also with built-in sound effects). OK, ok...so we bought it for ourselves, with Flynn as a feeble excuse. We were pretty sure that she'd turn out to want a stuffed unicorn or a doll or a tutu instead. We were even more embarrassed when my mother picked it up and glared in consternation at the loud sound of squealing tires and Speed Racer dialog it makes when you move it. OK, maybe not the best choice of toy for our blushing flower of a daughter...

So it was to my great surprise when I found that Flynn L-O-V-E-S the Speed Racer car. She can play with it for hours. She loves to set it racing across the floor, watch it crash with a tremendous, dramatic screeching of tires, and start all over again.
Well...my mum predicted even before we left for China that Flynn would be a daredevil, and when she met her, she felt the evidence supported her theory. Our early experiences with her also backed it up. At first, as you know, we were concerned that her "fearlessness" was really a form of detachment engendered by her institutionalization. As she has relaxed and come into her own, however, it has turned out to be just that: fearlessness. She is a mover and a shaker, up for anything and phased by nothing (well, except for her short-lived fear of baseball hats. But that's over now.) She has no motion sickness and enjoys car rides, plane rides, and anything that involves a new horizon or a fresh experience. She is always on the go, and if you let her she would go head-first off the edge of every chair, couch and swingset. It is a neat trick these days keeping her on the changing table long enough to get a fresh diaper on her, since she is both strong and in constant motion.
We were wondering what her nickname would be, and, while "Flynn" doesn't necessarily beg for a nickname, I think we have it:
"Speed" just seems to suit her!
I'll have to see what M. thinks of it when he gets home.
btw, that Hot Wheels t-shirt reads "Built for Speed" on the bottom.

And just to emphasize the point...here's my blushing flower exhibiting one of her signature moves. This one always makes me think of John Travolta on the dancefloor in Saturday Night Fever. It never fails to crack me up. Oh, Flynn, how I adore you!
(PS - if M. doesn't like "Speed" for a nickname, I think "Racer X" would be a good runner up. If we had a second one, we might call her Trixie.)

Our beauty, our love

Being tickled by daddy. Nobody does it better!

The intensity with which I love this kid is kind of amazing.

For the love of ducks

Here are those quacking pictures I promised...

I thought it was important to sell Flynn on the ducks as early as possible. I need an ally in my ongoing infatuation.

Look at her unconsciously imitating my hand gesture in this one, closing her finger and thumb.


Late summer gold

A few images from our last evening walk with my mum around Berkeley Lake.

A wandering duck.

Have you ever seen a water rat? We spotted this one and it spotted us at the same moment. There it sat, among the reeds, minding its own business.

Unfortunately, we had a dog, and the rat did not sit long enough for me to focus properly. But I'm glad I snapped these shots. I haven't ever seen a water rat before, outside the Wind in the Willows! A very mysterious creature!

And sunset descends over the lake.

This is the move I call her "excited clench". I got a good shot of it here.

She finishes with a little full-body shudder of anticipation. What's she excited about here? Ducks. It took some work on my part, folks, but I managed to get her hooked on ducks. I think it was my constant quacking that finally won her over. Mike got some pictures of me quacking, in case you're wondering what that looks like. I'll post them later.

Oh, that color. The older I get, the more I appreciate the subtleties of all the varied seasons. The gold of late summer is one I'm just noticing this year - gold in the light, gold in the sunsets, gold in the flowers, gold in the fruits on the trees, gold in the meadows - even before the trees begin to turn with their own shade of gold. How is it that I never noticed this particular symphony of nature before?

Sittin' on the dock of the bay.


Tomorrow, we head up to Vail for our "last hurrah" before M. has to start school again. It's our last chance to show our old stomping grounds to Flynn before the new season sets in, and things get busy again. Also our last chance to do some hiking with the Kelty backpack that M's parents gave us, weather permitting! I'm hoping to have some good photos to post when we get back. We are beyond excited to introduce QQ to our beloved mountains, I have to tell you!



I can't believe we've only been home with Flynn for three weeks...it feels like we have all been through so much growth and change! We have come to be so much more at ease as a family, and it's hard to pinpoint when that happened. We have gone from stunned strangers thrown together in foreign lands to exhausted strangers just trying to survive from hour to hour with one another to...abruptly, or so it seems...a family, waking and sleeping, laughing and moving through our days together as if (really, almost as if) we were like that from the start.

In our first days with QQ, I didn't know - I couldn't imagine - how we would make the leap from complete strangers to family. I wondered how it felt to give birth to a child, how different it might be, what I was missing. I wondered whether that creature that lived for nine months inside you could feel like a stranger at first, too. I wondered how I would know, when I would feel that we had meshed, when we would be familiar to one another. I wondered when I would feel like her mother. Because, folks, here's the thing: the reality is that in the beginning...you don't. You feel like a fraud, a stand-in, an understudy. Which isn't to say that it isn't amazing, that there isn't joy in it. But in the beginning you are going through the motions, running blind. No matter how prepared, no matter how educated, you "do" what a mother does, but in the beginning you are just reading lines off a page. It is very, very strange.

I wish I could tell you the moment when I felt like her mother, when she felt like my daughter, when we became at ease with one another. Honestly, I'm surprised it happened so quickly. Yes, we still have a long way to go. But we have that ease, that comfort level, and I think it's something I expected to struggle much harder to achieve.
I read about mothers who just could not bond with their children - for whom that "alien" feeling went on far, far longer before something broke and the floodgates opened. I heard of children who reject their parents time and again, whose parents had to fight a long uphill battle, sometimes for years, in order to earn the love and trust of their child.
Don't get me wrong, I know that there will still be times when we lose ground, when our progress seems to go into reverse gear, when she tests us more rigorously than she has yet tested us, when she doubts and resents us. But for all the good faith that she has given us so far, so quickly, I am so, so very grateful.

Here are the some of the changes that we have gone through thus far:

- Flynn has begun in recent days to act much more like a "normal kid". In the beginning, as a first-time parent and an only child myself, I had no benchmark for what a normal 11-month-old should act like. I didn't have a clue how to tell what was her personality, and what was the result of her circumstances. Some things seemed as if they might be behavioral ticks engendered by the orphanage. Occasionally, she seemed disconnected or unnaturally blasé in a way that made me think she was reacting to being very, very overwhelmed. But she is such a trooper, such a survivor and such a good spirit that nothing seemed terribly pronounced - nothing felt horribly wrong. So the lines were a bit blurry. But as time goes on, I can see her relaxing on a daily basis. I can feel the ease wash over her. I can see her smiles get broader and looser, her cheeks brighter, her joy more intense. I can see her reserve giving way, her barriers crumbling. As this process goes on, I can see the restrictions of her institutionalization melt away one by one. In her laughter, in her responses, in the way she watches us and picks things up, I can see the normal, ordinary kid come out in her, and it makes me glad.

- She sleeps through the night more often than not now. And she still has never woken in a terror. It amazes me that she hasn't. She wakes happy and smiling unless we wake her by force when she hasn't had her fill of rest (like when we have to interrupt a nap) but even then, she seems more put-out than really upset. She seems to be saying, "Seriously? How dare you. The nerve!" But there is no glassy terror, no lack of recognition. She knows where she is, who we are, who she is and what her rights are. She is well and truly grounded in her reality.

- She has learned to play on her own for good stretches of time. This is a HUGE breakthrough. As soon as we got home, and she began to realize she could command our attention at will, she could not be left alone for more than a few moments at a time. She did not need to be held constantly - she would play with us sitting next to her - but if we walked away more than a few feet, she would complain almost immediately, and would not be appeased until we returned and focused our full attention on her. She wanted our constant presence, proximity, and undivided focus. Even if I sat right next to her on the floor and tried to do something else (like write thank-you cards for our shower gifts or, say, blow my nose) she noticed that my attention was not on her, and she complained bitterly until I turned my eyes back to her.

What made the difference? It was really quite simple. We bought a pack-and-play. I thought that it might allow me to do things like laundry and dishes once my mum was gone and M. was back in school. My mother doubted that it would work, since she remembers me objecting strongly to a "play pen" when I was a toddler - I did not like to be fenced in. But Flynn took to it immediately. Suddenly, she was content to play quietly on her own, cooing to herself, even smiling magnanimously at us when we walk by. Suddenly, we could walk away from her, cook a meal, do dishes, use the bathroom, even take a shower. My theory is that, after spending no less than eleven months almost entirely in a crib except for feeding time, she is not comfortable without some form of physical boundary. Maybe being left on her own in some area of the house, even if she's within sight of us, she did not feel entirely at ease. Maybe it just felt wrong to her. The pack-and-play has enough space for her to play freely and move about, but enough of limits that she feels safe. That's my guess, for what it's worth. In any case, we are extremely glad that we tried it! For an SAHM, there is nothing like solid periods of quiet play to keep one's level of sanity intact!

- And then there's that ease between us that I mentioned. It's difficult to define, but I see it in the way she falls back into my lap without looking, in the way she wraps her arms or legs around my limbs quite casually when we're playing. I see it in her quick and easy smiles, in her more and more frequent eye contact, and in the way she begins to imitate me. I see it in the facial "play" she instigates with me when I'm feeding her: she still eats reclining in the crook of my arm, and for the first part of the bottle she just focuses intently on the food. But by the time her stomach begins to fill, those bright-black eyes turn directly to me and I see the mischief begin to sparkle there. She'll scrunch her nose, smile broadly around the nipple of her bottle to make sure I'm paying attention, and then go through her entire litany of expressions: Groucho-Marx-style eyebrow waggles, wacky, squinchy winks, wide-eyed looks of faux-astonishment...the works. If I make faces back, this game can go on for fifteen minutes or longer.
Another very good sign is that she now reaches up her arms for me if I offer to pick her up. In the beginning she was very passive - she would fuss and cry in order to be picked up, but she would not reach out for us. The most recent addition to her pattern of relating to me is that, while in her "quiet play" mode, she will suddenly turn to me and reach an arm out. I'll then reach my arm out in return, and she'll place the flat of her hand on my palm. This accomplished, she'll give me a huge, melting grin... and then go back to her private game. I love this.

- She has developed a real, hearty laugh, which she uses with me, but even more frequently with M. I can hardly blame her - he's by far the better comedian. I think that M's process of bonding with her has been different than mine. I can't speak for him, but what I see is that he has always been at ease with kids. As the eldest child in a big family, he has always been comfortable around little ones, and he takes nothing personally. His comfort and pleasure in the presence of children doesn't depend on their reaction to or approbation of him - he is just at ease, and that in turn puts them at ease. For me, it was different. I needed to see her reaction to me before I could really open up and be myself. So my progress with her was more cautious, more tentative, more watchful. When I saw that she trusted me, that she was willing and ready to have fun with me, when she not only allowed but actually began to seek out my affection, that's when my relationship with her really opened up and bloomed.

- Also, M and I have finally hit our stride as co-parents. In the beginning, there was an edginess, a tendency toward oversensitivity...not so much with her, but between he and I. We were each afraid that the other was judging our parenting style and finding it wanting. That made us quick to snap at one another, quick to take offense. There was also - and this is a big, big thing - the fear that we would lose what we had had as a couple. Suddenly, we were like those proverbial ships that pass in the night. He had night shift and I had morning shift, and since neither of us was getting enough sleep, we only saw eachother for a few harried, pale, grim-faced minutes during "the hand off".
Again, I can't speak for M, but for me it was frightening, like the rug had been yanked out from under me. I was afraid we'd never really be together again. We are very "together" people in our relationship, and suddenly all that was snatched out from under us. In my imagination, I had pictured us as a happy family of three - with Flynn exponentially increasing our collective happiness. Instead, it felt like we were a family of two and two, never meeting in the middle. It was a brief but painful time, and I am infinitely relieved to find us falling into the happy threesome that I had imagined. More at ease in our routines with her, we are no longer so sensitive, and we don't challenge one another the way we did in the beginning. Our dance of parenthood is much more smooth and seamless. We know when to expect the rough times, and they no longer threaten us the way they did in the beginning. This is when the real sharing begins, and the real pleasure in ourselves as a family.

- Finally, let me address that grieving for my former life that I admitted to a while back: I'm happy to report that it's gone. Again, I'm surprised that it passed so quickly. When I try to recall it, it seems like a night shadow - a figment conjured by stress, sickness and lack of sleep. It's venom has been drawn, and it's nothing but a husk now - an empty shell of a silly, outdated fear. The closet door has been opened, the light switched on, and I can plainly see that there is no monster concealed within. What has replaced it, in the daylight of my new maternal happiness, is a titillating sense of fresh and unexpected adventures to come. Where I once mourned my time on the road with my beloved dog as a sidekick, now I see on the horizon adventures that I will have with Flynn...just her and me. Of course, we will also have adventures as a family (when time allows...this will be a busy year, but we will have more leisure in the future). But when I see what a good traveler she is, when I see how easy it actually is to pack up my diaper bag, put her in the car seat and hit the road, I begin to really look forward to the adventures that she and I will share. She is a good and worthy companion for me - fearless, unsqueamish, and always up for a new horizon. I have nothing to mourn...I have much to anticipate!
Life. Is. Good.

House of love

While we were making breakfast on her last morning at our house, my mum made the observation that ours is a house of love...we love eachother, we love our daughter, we love our dogs. I think our house does give off that feeling. It may not be the neatest, or the most organized, or the most lavish. It isn't expensively furnished or elaborately landscaped. But I think our house does radiate the sense of a happy life.

Add to my mother's observation that we love our LaoLao. I love that M. enjoys his time with her so much, that he thrives in her company and loves to do things for her, that he truly, heartily appreciates her personality.

I have said it before, but really I can't say it enough: we are lucky, lucky people.

If it looks like we are closely meshed, that's because we are. We are a cohesive unit, and we work well together. I know (because not all the relationships in my life have been so easy) that this is not something to be taken for granted.

The addition of this happy girl to the network of our happy family was a fortuitous one. She fits in like clockwork. She is perfect for us and I can only hope we are perfect for her.

She certainly looks happy, and the joy on her face doubles and trebles our joy every day.

I don't know how I can every repay my mum for the help she has given us during our transition to a family of three. Because of our circumstances during our first weeks home, I literally don't know how we would have functioned without her. It's a debt I can probably never repay. I can only hope that the experience did her good, as well. We will miss her presence in our happy family and look forward to bringing Flynn to visit her (and revisit some of the memories of my own early years) in Woodstock.


Coming back to life

I'm not sure if it was my illness, or my distaste for crowds, or a combination of the two...but up until now I have been eager to keep my distance from the DNC. Today, however, was my mum's last day in Denver, and she wanted to get out and DO something! I can hardly blame her - like I said, we all have a pretty serious case of cabin fever after long weeks of illness and sleep deprivation. I realized I was going to have to cave on my avoidance tactics. I also realized, suddenly, that this was something that I didn't want to miss. I mean, how often does an event like this occur in our little Western city?
M. has spent much of the week in the thick of the action, working a seven-day work week covering the convention. Much of that time he has spent at the Pepsi Center, in the booth next to Bill Clinton, and I guess that his excited description of the goings-on finally got to me.
I wanted a piece of the action!
Today, M. didn't have to go in to work until three, so the four of us hopped in the car and spent a few hours wandering the streets of LoDo.

As it would happen, it was the perfect day for it. The weather (which heated up a bit more than was comfortable during the past few days) had turned cool again, with a brilliant sun and dappled shade. With attention moving from downtown to Invesco Field for the final day of the convention and Obama's acceptance speech, even the police were in a relaxed mood, taking photos with civilians and kicking back a bit after their tense and vigilant week.

We're a horse family, so of course the first thing we came across was the alley housing the mounted police. I love seeing all the muscled, shiny horses, dressed for duty.

My mum, my husband and my daughter...can you tell they get along? I'm lucky like that.

This guy had an interesting little one-man campaign going. He certainly had a big sign.

A typical corner of the 16th Street walking mall.

I like this picture of mum and me.

QQ, as you can see, was completely unconscious. She missed the entire first half of our tour of the historic Denver DNC. Oh well. At least we have the pictures to show her, many years in the future when she becomes interested in politics.

This gallery had an interesting show: a combination of Obama and Dr. Seuss.

After much consideration and weighing of evidence, this was Flynn's candidate of choice.
She was adamant.

...and can you blame her?

...I mean, his platform is really unassailable.

She had her dad convinced. He was on the fence in the beginning, but she made him into a convert.

Who doesn't love the lorax?

...they DO speak for the trees!!!!

This little gallery dog had all sorts of patriotism going on!
...he was campaigning for Seuss as well, I believe.

Family on a beautiful afternoon.

Flynn wanted to meet the patriotic bear outside the chocolate factory.

Grandmother and granddaughter.

The pink army. They had cool bikes.

Another dog with a political opinion.

Even as security was relaxed around the mall, police presence was still in play.

Those cops in riding gear are lookin' good!

The last of the perimeter patrols, looking a bit more laid back than they did three days ago.

After M. went into work and everyone else in town gravitated toward Invesco Field, Mum, QQ and I went for icecream at the newest joint in town, Little Man's Creamery, for pistachio gelato. Verdict: two thumbs up!

Well, except for QQ. She's still protesting icecream.

She'll change her tune. Sooner or later.
(Notice how she's keeping the cone not only at arm's length, but at leg's length too? And the suspicious look of consternation on her face. )

Trying to remove mommy's hat. You know the one thing she likes even less than icecream? Hats.
Those hats are bad news. T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

Outside the creamery. This place has definitely livened up the neighborhood.
We approve!