Me and my shadow

With the weather so beautiful, QQ and I have been trying to head out for our run a little earlier than usual, so as to catch the last of the beautiful fall light before sunset. When we first came home, she wasn't used to being outdoors, and the grass bothered her - I don't think she liked the way it tickled. She would frown and scowl and pull her feet in. She's over it now, however, and I think it makes a nice, padded, fragrant surface on which to practice her balance.

Sam goes with us sometimes too. He's been a little wan since Max's disappearance. They were very different sorts of dogs, but they had a certain companionship, and I think Sam's world seems a little out of balance ever since. He's been turning to QQ a bit for companionship, which is sweet to see (in spite of her unfortunate poke-iness).

They seem content together, as long as QQ isn't tugging on an ear or a tail.

I love this picture. Although I can see the first signs of "Mom, I don't know how much longer I can hold this smile...my cheeks are starting to hurt!"

Every now and then, something just makes her laugh out of the blue. Life's funny that way.

Still working on petting "nicely". She gets it right more often these days. Those big bat ears are still a temptation, however. Heck, sometimes I want to tug on them myself.

But you can see she's grown fond of her furry friend.

On to other matters....let's see what's edible around here. This leaf looks nice and crunchy.

Hmmmmmmmm.........yup, it's got a crinkle to it...kind feels good on the gums....

...uh, hang on a sec....

....no, no, this actually tastes terrible!

Blech! I won't try that kind of leaf again! I may have been born at night, but it wasn't last night!

Let's see....OK, this one looks muuuuch better.

Hmmmm...oaky with a hint of blackberries, a whisper of pencil shavings.....rolling it around on the tongue....

...yes, yes.....it's a bit young, but I think this one has promise...let's try another... little... nibble.....

...oh. Oh, no.
Mom, these leaves don't taste good at all!
They're dreadful!
Why didn't you tell me so I didn't waste my precious time?


Gift wrapped

Why do I take so many pictures of Flynn? Usually, for no reason except that she is so ridiculously...astoundingly....
Uhm, you know, I think they need to invent a new superlative to describe the Flynn. "Cute" just doesn't cut it anymore.

I have another, more private motivation for my bazillions of photos as well. This may be a futile endeavor (I know how I cringe at the sight of my own baby pictures), but I would like her to someday understand how absolutely beyond compare she was just exactly as she was born - perfect in every way.

I don't honestly know if other people see what I see when I look at her. I remember when I first started researching cleft palate, looking at the before and after pictures on the Operation Smile site, LWB, and others. I remember cringing a little, thinking how fortunate those kids were to be selected for the surgery missions, thinking how sad it was that they had to go so long without the surgery. And it is difficult for them, of course. It's naive not to think so. In some cultures, a cleft is even worse than a stigma - in some cultures it's considered a type of curse. So some of these kids were certainly ostracized in their society. In addition to that, if they grow to school age with the cleft, they have trouble communicating, making themselves understood. I know that. I still know that.
But here's the thing - what I see when I look at Flynn QiuQiu is not a child with a "birth defect". I see perfection. Absolute, joyful, gorgeous perfection.

As a rational person, I realize that I'm programmed to see my child as the most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on. It's human nature. Whether by blood or by choice, I am programmed to protect this little creature with my life. I have to be willing to throw myself in front of a bus for her, take a bullet for her, give up my food for her if need be. She is my charge, my raison d'etre, mine to protect above all else, so that she will have a chance to grow, healthy and strong, to adulthood.
So I know that there is the possibility that not everyone sees my child the way I see her. I know that intellectually. But I don't know it in my heart. In my heart what I know is that she is the most beautiful, perfect creature that ever walked the earth. Flawless. Exactly as she was created.

I want her to know, when she's older and looking back on her early life, that I saw her that way. I know that, at the moment, she sees herself as lovely. I love her natural lack of self-consciousness, the way she lights up when she sees her image in the mirror or on film. I think she's lucky to feel that way now. But I know that as she grows, and comes to understand the societal concepts of beauty and "normality", that she will most likely become self-conscious about her cleft. That pains me deeply. I also know that each and every one of us see ourselves as flawed. Even the most beautiful of us (OK, well, maybe not the Paris Hiltons of the world...who knows what they see) cringe at what we see as our imperfections. Those of us born with no definable "defects" still see things to criticize and to be ashamed of in ourselves, at least from adolescence on. And that's as it should be - we certainly don't need a nation of arrogant, infallible human beings.
I want Flynn to be humble. I want her to be self-critical when need be. I want her to strive for something greater in her spirit and her heart, and in what she gives back to society. But I don't want her ever to think of herself as less than perfect the way she was made. I don't want her to ever feel shame in the way she was born. So I want her to see, through my eyes, the unparalleled, innocent, joyful, affectionate beauty that she has now.

When we take her for that first surgery, in just a couple of weeks, I know that I'm going to cry for the loss of the face I have known and loved since the first time I saw her referral picture. I realize that her spirit, her joy and her personality will not be taken away with that surgery. These things are inside her, and they will always be. But she will look different, and that's a thought that I can't support right now. I'll get used to it, and so will she - although it may shock her the first time she looks in the mirror again. She will forget the pain, and she will benefit from the miracles of modern surgery, from the internal workings of her mouth - the freedom to learn to talk, to eat solid food. She is now understanding plenty of words in English, and she will be glad of the ability to learn to express herself in words. Later, she will be glad of the cosmetic changes. But at the moment I need the time to grieve for this face - the first face, the one I first grew to love so wildly and deeply and unconditionally.

Those people who are not used to the sight of open clefts may find it difficult to see in perspective the face of a child who, at the age of a year, has not yet had any surgery. As I said, there was a time that it looked painful to me. By the time we got her referral pictures, I had done a great deal of research, seen a great many pictures and films and slide shows, so I was already quite accustomed to it. I don't know whether it's my ease with the medical condition, or simply her undeniable beauty and spirit - but what I see when I look at her...it's hard to explain.
The American Indians and the Persians (and quite possibly other cultures that I don't know about...and please don't put this on Wikipedia, because my expertise is profoundly limited) had a tradition of crafting a flaw into their legendary and artfully woven rugs. I only know the superficial history, but I believe the Indians wove in a flaw so that any evil spirits that might become trapped in the rug would have a means of escape. The Persians, as I understand it, felt that only God was capable of creating a perfect thing, and that man should not presume to be able to create anything as perfect. They wove in a flaw so as not to pretend to the same creative perfection as God. I think that is how I see our daughter...she has the inherent flaw that makes her a masterpiece. Or, conversely, she is perfection by the nature of her creation.

Another traditional phrase that comes to mind when I look at these pictures is, "It takes a village..."

I love that, in every picture, she is surrounded by and clad in the things that have been given to her by a virtual village of well-wishers.

She came into our lives welcomed by so many, with gifts hand-made, or handed-down, or chosen with love and care.

Nearly everything that she is wearing, playing with or lying on in any of these pictures was a loving contribution from someone who was eager to welcome her into our family.

While I love the Chinese tradition of the 1oo good wishes quilt, I did not make a quilt for her. I'm just not that talented, or wealthy in free time. But the various and lovely fabrics that were sent to me I made into a number of hand-sewn stuffed animals that now reside in her crib and around her room. Beyond that, she has blankets, clothing, toys, even bottles that were given or handed down from caring friends and relatives.

I can't help but think that in some way she can feel the cumulative power of all that love and support.

Maybe that is what has bolstered her, swaddled her, wrapped her in trust and comfort, and given her the freedom to be such a joyful, easy, trusting and confident little girl.

M. and I will never be able to thank you all for the love, the good will, and the treasures with which you have showered the arrival of our daughter. It warms our hearts and, I am quite certain, hers. You have only to look at her face to know it's true.


All dressed up and no place to go

Jennie made Flynn this beautiful blanket, and I had to find an appropriate way to show it off. It's too elegant for crib shots, and so I thought I'd get Flynn a bit dressed up and do something a little more feminine than we've been doing lately.

Besides, it's the last of the summer weather, it's been gorgeous out, and this will probably be her last chance to wear all these beautiful summer dresses that people gave her! Sigh. I think this one was from Hayley.

This was the closest to posing she was willing to do.

The barrette stayed in her hair juuust long enough for the photo shoot. She still doesn't quite have enough hair for ornamentation!

There's that smile.

At this point, she was busy pulling up grass. Her attention span for photo shoots is not long.

QQ has been home for just about seven weeks, and is now 12-and-a-half months old. It's been a week of many new skills for her. She is crawling all over the place on all fours now, which makes me glad. I needn't have worried that she'd skip that step. She even came crawling to mommy when I called her last night for the first time. She's just discovered "sharing", and never tires of handing things to me, having my thank her, and then asking for them back again. She loves to have her hair brushed while mommy also brushes her hair....she also has a terrific sense of humor and laughs fit to bust if mommy brushes her teeth with the hairbrush. She lives for her bed-time puppet show (which I perform with a very realistic hand puppet of a hedgehog) and has learned to lift each of her cheeks in turn for a kiss when the "hedgehog" asks for it. But her very most favorite thing is still standing upright. She will now stand for long periods of time while holding on to the outside of her exersaucer, or the side of the coffeetable, and playing with things. She is pushing me away more and more and wanting to do it without help - which resulted in her falling straight over backward twice today. But she only cries briefly, and then immediately wants to try again, so I give her props for that! Walking with assistance, her steps are becoming much more even, rhythmic and directional. She likes to move between one object and the next, so I set up little obstacle courses for her, with me as one of the obstacles so that I can spot her. I think it's good for her to learn to turn and reach for something behind her without falling over her own feet. I've also caught her trying to haul herself up on things lately. Usually she picks the most difficult things to haul herself up on...like the sheer side of the play pen, which has nothing to grasp onto. But again, I have to give her A for effort. Our ped told us that it's usually about a month between the first effort to let go and stand without assistance and full-on walking. At the rate she's going, though, I wouldn't be surprised if she beats that average. She is nothing if not motivated! That's my girl.



Yeah, me. I am unaccountably lucky. Good fortune, blessings, whatever you like to call it...I landed on my feet in this world, not with a silver spoon in my mouth, but definitely with someone smiling on me.

I don't know what I did to deserve all this, but it must have been something special.

We went to C@stc* this morning. Yup. Nothing special, you'd think. Just another big box. I've been shopping at the local Sunflower Farmer's Market (it's within walking distance, and I can just throw QQ in the stroller...makes me feel better about my resource consumption), and it has been months since we've done a big C run. But staples were running low, so this morning, on a bright, crisp, fragrant early fall morning, we took the opportunity to go as a family before M. had to head to work.

I'm not sure how to explain the feeling of joy that comes with just going grocery shopping with my husband and our daughter. It really is the most astonishing feeling...just pure happiness. For no reason. Just because. Gratuitous. For free.

I remember having that feeling when M. and I were first dating - even a trip to W@lmart or a slice of pizza for dinner felt like a vacation in Biarritz. Being together just made everything sparkle that way.

And that's been my experience with QQ as well, since...well, at least since I recovered from my run-in with the parasites. It was hard to sparkle during that little episode! But these days, with her in my life, everything just glows a little brighter...the flowers in the garden, the tomatoes ripening on our vines, the lights in our windows when we're returning home from a run with the Chariot around the lake. Because of her, when I go to bed at night, I actually look forward eagerly, with a little shiver of contentment, to waking up the next morning and lifting her compact little body out of the crib.
And....those cheeks. I mean, those cheeks! Need I say more?

These things are such tremendous, inestimable gifts. I don't quite know how to repay them, or to deserve them, or to appreciate them in a manner that befits the magnitude of my fortune.

We are not wealthy - neither of us. We're more secure than some, but far, far humbler than many. Our house is small, and we have no money for home improvement. I don't know what we will do when the roof needs retiling. M. drives a car so decrepit that I'm afraid the wheels are going to come flying off every time I get in it, and the hefty student loans he's shouldering will prevent him from getting a newer one anytime soon. QQ has many surgeries ahead of her. And as for me...I have two words for you: Freelance. Illustrator.
I make less money than most kindergarten teachers. Heck I probably make less than the popcorn vendor at the local amusement park.
But even there, I am incredibly fortunate. I chose to be in the arts because that's what I love, pure and simple. It's what I thrive on. And, for someone in the arts, I am doing quite a brisk business these days. I actually have more work than I can handle. There is, of course, virtually no potential for any real profit, given the nature of my business (and the fact that there's only one of me), but here's the thing:
Every morning I get to hug my husband goodbye, set my daughter down on a quilt on the studio floor with a few things to keep her occupied, and sit down at my drawing table and.....
deep sigh.......draw.
How many people in the world are that lucky?

We have a garden that is (mysteriously) full of vegetables. OK, we did plant them, but, I mean, we never expected them to actually produce!
We have (so far) an insurance policy that was good enough to allow us to adopt this amazing, incredible child through the Waiting Child program, and help her get the surgery she will need. And for the rest...we get by. We have nothing to complain about and nothing to argue over. We are happy. We are a great comfort and a great joy to one another. We laugh a lot. A lot. We have a loving family and a warm and nurturing home.

I mean, seriously. How many people have all of that? I wouldn't trade with the richest man in Christendom.