Happy New Year

It's New Year's Eve, and I'm sitting here in our cozy house, with its windows glowing warm under a dusky sky full of crystalline stars. My daughter is playing quietly in her crib, winding down toward slumber. M is at work, finishing the evening news. We will have a quiet New Year's this year. I have no desire for parties...last year, we had a wonderful one with our family amid glittering lights and champagne toasts - and it was lovely. But life is different this year, and joy comes from a different place. When I think of the New Year, I see it as bright in the light of our daughter's beautiful smile, her husky laugh, impulsive acts of affection, and delighted gaze. A bright new year in her bright, new life. In spite of her unknown and certainly traumatic beginnings, in spite of the serious and prolonged pain of her first surgery, there is no darkness in her. She may discover voids, dark spots, difficult memories, as time goes on. But for now, she is a being of light and laughter. She greets each day with a smile and a small, delighted giggle at the sight of our faces. She roars with laughter when we count her fingers and toes. She stops frequently in her constant perambulations to hug our knees and turn her bright face up to us with a passing smile.
There are bumps and bruises, of course. She is new to this walking thing, and though she has learned with ferocious speed, she has no fear and no natural caution, so when she goes down, she goes down hard. Even then, startled by a moment of pain, an unexpected bruise, her wails last only seconds, and before the tears have even fallen from her lashes, her smile is shining through again. She greets every new experience with an eager face, and even when her routine is disturbed, even when her days have been too long and her head droops with exhaustion, she never grows cranky or fussy. The rare times that I have ever seen her melt down always have to do with restraint. She does not like to be held down, and if she is strapped into a car seat or stroller for long stretches, she sometimes can be driven to a crying jag.
But she does not brood, she does not linger over pain or injustice, she does not hold grudges. I have never seen her in a dark or glum mood.
What some have seen as "temper" in her photos (the scrunched face, the fierce brows) is usually just exuberance. She has what I think of as her Billy Idol Rebel Yell face, but it's playfulness, not temper - a flash of spirit in between grins. I have not, in fact, known her to have a temper, though this does not mean she is a shrinking violet. Quite the opposite. She is very much her own person, and makes her wants and needs known. She is a force of nature, without being in the least temperamental. She has, above all, a pure, laser-bright confidence, and that confidence makes it unnecessary for her to whine or sob or rail against the world.
I think that a great deal of her happiness lies in that steady, healthy, unflagging confidence of hers. She trusts us, and she expects joy from the world around her. She does not expect to be denied or harmed. She is open, eager and expressive, and she knows the power of her own charm. She is fortunate in this - not all of us are so gifted.
She is not at all like me, and yet she is such a perfect fit for us both...I'm not sure why that is. I think that our personalities, while so very different, compliment one another. Where I am an internal person, she is an external person. Where I am a loner, she is social and makes friends with ease. I think that if she were like me, we would run the risk of turning in on ourselves and remaining in our little cocoon. She brings me out of my shell and enhances my better qualities. Her natural sunny nature meshes perfectly with my innate and eternal optimism.
It will be interesting to see how our relationship evolves, as she becomes more independent, as she learns to talk and express herself in words. I know I am lucky. I am lucky that we meshed so quickly and so firmly. I am lucky for the joy she brings to our household every day. I am lucky that we found our path to adoption at just the right moment to find one another. I could so easily have decided to remain childless. And I am lucky that those few initial moments of panic when we returned from China, when I wondered what I had done, and whether my life would ever be "the same", are just a distant memory now. I remember that I had those feelings, but I cannot recall them viscerally. My life now is so much richer, I walk so much more lightly on the earth, the sun shines so much more steadily on my world with her in it...though I loved my life before, and thought it was a good life, I would never go back now. A new door has been opened for me, a new world exposed, and as the year turns over into 2009, I walk with happy anticipation into that new world, thrilled to find what more unexpected delights it holds.
Happy New Year to one and all, and in these complicated times, may it bring joys of a less material, more meaningful kind.
QQ's social holidays continued last night as M and I welcomed a surprise visit from our some old friends from our days in the mountains, on their way back north after spending the holidays in Austin. Mike made my favorite winter dish - a hearty spaghetti made with olives, capers, hardboiled eggs and spicy sausage. Here, QQ watches him whipping up a batch of avocado and tomatillo dressing, a light, spicy recipe from a cookbook my mum gave him for Christmas.
E and G playing with QQ's cat piano. There's something so sweet about watching brothers play together.
Here's my question about this photo: who left the laundry room door open, literally exposing all our dirty laundry? And why did we not manage to put the vacuum cleaner away?
The arrival of boys in our household meant the unearthing of all sorts of dangerous toys we didn't even know we posessed (along with a lot of uneaten candy...no one in this house eats candy, and it's embarrassing how much of it ends up stashed in little corners of the house, left by well-meaning guests or left over from halloween. Since Q has no interest in candy, we never even notice until someone else's children begin to unearth it). The toy rifle that G is holding was not purchased for a child. It was a joke present for a Bonnie-and-Clyde themed Christmas, long before we even thought about adoption or parenthood. One of those Western-themed toys that have occupied the racks of truckstops and gas stations across the southwest since the 1970s (or earlier, for all I know!). I can't believe it has traveled with us through at least three moves, only to be found, inevitably, by someone else's child! Ah, well.


Can you tell this is my favorite outfit on Q? I am currently hoping that my mum will find us another tie-dyed shirt to replace this one when it wears out...because it is very close to "loved to death" at this point. It has a tear at the back of the neck and is fraying at the edges by the day. I never have been a tie-dye person myself (the damage wrought by being born in Woodstock in the mid-sixties) and I never would have thought to buy her something like this of my own accord. But it was passed down to us by our friends Maia and FangFang, and was an instant hit. It just looks fabulous on her. I put it on her as often as I can get away with....and of course it's comfortable to boot, so she loves it. I've never seen anyone who can wear bright colors quite as well as our Q.

By way of a quick update (we're still entertaining friends by the hour, and we have a social worker visit tonight...so I've got some scrambling to do!) QQ is walking like a champ these days. Once she started, the progress was very swift. She's quite facile, and the only thing she has yet to do is figure out how to watch for obstacles. She just doesn't notice when there are things underfoot. A couple of mornings ago, on a particularly spring-like day, she walked all the way down our block to the park, all on her own (though she has learned to reach up for my hand when she sees an uneven spot in the sidewalk...a positive side effect of that big pavement rash she has right in the middle of her forehead!)

She is more vocal and responsive by the day. She has a curious pavlovian response to the sight or sound of "shoes", "socks" and "hairbrush", and will either hold her foot in the air or mime brushing her hair with both hands accordingly. It's so cute that we take a bit too much advantage. She is very affectionate these days and her latest thing is to put her hand to our cheeks and turn our faces to force us to make direct eye contact with her. She does this sometimes when we're talking to other people and she wants the attention for herself, or if we're focusing on another task, or sometimes, it seems, when she just wants to study our faces and ascertain what we're thinking.

She still wants nothing to do with solid food, but we've made progress in that department as well. She will open her mouth for a spoon, and has even bitten on a teething biscuit once or twice (though she still much prefers the taste of post-it notes). She now lets me put my fingers in her mouth and rub her gums when she's teething, which I think is a big sign of how much more relaxed she's becoming about her mouth in general. She doesn't guard it the way she used to. Poor kid has at least FIVE molars coming in at once on top, and her mouth looks so painful it hurts me. But it has not affected her cheerful mood, and though I can hear her whimpering in her sleep sometimes, she is surprisingly good-tempered about it.

Yesterday, in a particularly huggy mood, in between throwing her arms around my neck and pressing her cheek to mine, she gave me a "love bite" on the tip of my shoulder. She has never done that before. I absolutely loved it...but I wonder, does this mean she's going to be a "biter"? I know what a liability that can be in preschool...
I've finally got around to scanning the photos from Susan's photo shoot with all seven kiddos that currently make up our family circle. Amazing how much we've expanded in the past couple of years!
As you can imagine, it's no mean trick getting seven little ones to sit tight and smile at the camera. I was not there on this particular morning, so I can only recount what I heard, and imagine the teenage employees of the photo studio furiously waving toys and making silly faces in an attempt to distract all and sundry.
Most of the group complied, but for some reason the twins found the photo studio to be unaccountably terrifying, and reacted accordingly...for the entirety of the sitting.
There are so many things that crack me up about this photo...the effort on Victoria's face as she, the eldest, attempts to hold the group together and maintain her "photo face" at the same time, Harrison's frozen smile and numb cheeks as he tries to hold his position - priceless. Poor tiny Holland, who is very even-tempered normally, found the twins' stress contagious, it seems. But my absolute favorites are Isacah's down-turned look of quiet disapproval, and QiuQiu's undisguised look of disdain, as if to say, "Dude, are you kidding me? What is your problem?"
Sans twins, Vic, Harrison and Q look quite a bit more relaxed. I love the way Q crosses her legs at the ankle. She has always done this, ever since our first week together in China.
The two youngest, Q and baby Holland. How sweet is this?
This I think is the most relaxed picture in the bunch - you can see that the girls are at ease with eachother. And I love Isacah's sweet little smile...so prim and feminine. QQ seems to have taken the whole thing in stride. She doesn't smile for the camera - this serious face is rare at home, reserved for photographers and other strangers, but she looks quite at ease and not at all alarmed. I'm constantly amazed by what a trooper she is (though I understand that she absolutely refused to wear the Santa hats that Susan bought for the group...and I knew that was a lost cause. Getting Q to wear a hat is a lot like trying to lassoo a mongoose, I imagine).

btw we have Chrissie and Susan to thank for all the beautiful Matilda Jane outfits! Pretty spiffy, no? I can't wait for Q to grow into the rest of hers!


Hayley was one of my very first friends in the adoption sphere, early on in our adoption process, when she had only Piper and was yet to get her referral for little Paisley. Hayley and I have been "virtual friends" ever since, exchanging e-mails and packages, but never meeting face to face, since she (who once, like me, lived in the Vail Valley) now lives in Minnesota.
I met her in person for the first time this week at Jennie's party, and today had the additional pleasure of entertaining her and her family at our (messy, post-holiday) home.
QQ, although at first hiding between my legs (which is her wont these days) decided very quickly that Hayley was a-OK, and before long climbed into Hayley's lap and snuggled in close. I was consoled before long by a hug from Hayley's youngest, Paisley, with her gentle eyes and cute whale-spout of hair...and that made it all up to me. I'm a sucker for whale-spout hair-dos!
After an initial struggle over the fine points of sharing and what belongs to whom, Piper and QQ found common ground and got along just fine.
This is Paisley saying "cheese". She really tries hard, with the photos, and I appreciate that because my camera can be slow, and many people lack the patience.
QQ doesn't mind sharing her '70s Fisher Price toys, but she has specific rules about sharing, and sometimes it's hard for her to communicate the precise terms of those rules. btw, the scab in the middle of her forehead is from a recent walking practice on the sidewalk outdoors. We live in an old neighborhood, and the sidewalk is less than flat. The bell around her neck is her beloved Christmas "reindeer bell" necklace, which she loves to wear. No, we don't let her wear it when she's out of our sight.
Lucky me, Hayley and Mike's girls conceeded to sit in my lap for a photo op. Nothing sweeter than a couple armfuls of smiling girls.
Me and Hayley, together at last. This photo was a long time coming!
Paisley wanted to ride Lucky Luciano the Lion before she left...and was reluctant to let him go. Lucky seems to be a kid-magnet, which is exactly why we got him in the first place!
My sister-in-law always finds us the most beautiful clothes. Some of you may remember the six diaper bags she gave me last Christmas, while we were waiting for QQ!...and I Always have to show them off. This year was the year for jackets. She always gets my style just right!
Love the trench coat. I am definitely a trench-coat girl!
As for QQ, it isn't Burberry...it's from Guangzhou. They only had one size for little ones and it was wa-a-ay too big for her when we were in China. But I'd seen two little girls in an icecream shop window in Nanjing, both wearing these dresses, and they were so adorable that I had to have one for Q. I can't believe it almost fits her now!! Next year she can probably wear it out and about.
M's family also bought her several gorgeous Matilda Jane pieces, including that knot-dress I've been coveting! But they are all sized for next year (fortunately, since that's about when we'll start running out of all the cute hand-me-downs we've been sent!), so the pictures will have to wait!


Christmas in Vail

We arrived in Vail a couple of days before Christmas for the second part of our extended family holiday...ten adults and seven children is a great deal for one mountain condo, but Susan somehow managed to pull it off with grace.
Cousin Isacah was very solicitous of QQ. So sweet!
QQ with Aunt Colleen, in from Minnesota.
Chrissie and her newest progeny, little Holland, just four months old.
Holland is a love, and I can't resist any chance to hold her!
Or, uhm, kiss her on the face! Yes, I'm a baby kisser. I can't help it.
Susan's tree...bare of ornaments on the bottom half, in anticipation of a roomfull of toddlers! Smart.
QQ, feeling comfortable at last in the hands of her beloved cousin Victoria, lets loose with a huge QQ grin. This is what she looks like most of the time...but most people don't see it, since she is a bit cautious around strangers these days.
Our lovely daughter. I can't even tell you how completely, madly in love with her I am. She brightens my every hour. She fills me with joy. She is fully mobile these days...not just walking, but backing up, turning on a dime. Even the mitered "steps" that mark changes in elevation in our old old wood floor are manageable of late. The only thing she has not learned is to look where she's putting her feet, so that if there's a toy or piece of clothing on the floor, she often trips over it.
Isacah opening a gift...look at the sheer glee on her face!
Isacah has taken to imitating my constant photojournalism. If she can get her hands on a camera, she lifts it as high as she can (there were a lot of photos of the carpet...cameras are heavy for a two-year-old!) and snaps away, proclaiming, "Look! I'm like Maia!" This is one she took of her mommy, her little sister, and her grandma.
M. attempting to teach QQ how to be gentle with the baby. Q has not entirely digested the concept of "gentle" yet. We're working on it.
We drove to Vail through a serious snowstorm, and by our first morning, the valley was blanketed in fresh powder.
A perfect winter wonderland...almost makes me wish I still lived there.
M., the pied piper of toddlers, amidst his admirers. Look at the smile on Q's face. That is the joy that shines out of her every minute of every day...the happy energy that illuminates our lives these days. We are so, so fortunate.
QQ enjoying the attentions of her grandparents and cousins.
Susan enjoying her second-oldest granddaughter.
Harrison took this lovely shot of his mother and baby sister.

Isacah and her "pincess" pajamas.
Does she not remind you of Cindy Lou Who?
She simply could not be cuter.
With the cold weather closing down the heated pool, we filled the tub and allowed the little ones a long, bubbly bathtime indoors.
Is there anything cuter than a tubfull of lovely toddlers?
Aunt Chrissie with our QQ.

Heaps of snow decorating Arrowhead's bridges.
The bottom of the Arrowhead trails.

My dog Sam revelling in the champagne powder. Look how happy he is!

Our cousin Kim, as photographed by an adoring Harrison.
Me and my beautiful family.
Basking in the joy of loving toddlers. Q is OK with my cradling the cousins, as long as she can be a part of the action.

Sunlight breaking through the storm.
Visiting Vail Village on our second day in town. It was colder than it looked. And yes, it was hard for us to have time neither to ski nor hike in all that wonderful snow. But somtimes family takes precedence.
Q and me in front of the Lionshead tree.
Daddy loves his Q.
Abstract signposts.
A typical Vail scene.

Kim's adorable dog, Roxy.
Kim, Vernon, M, Q and Colleen, in the thick of it all.
Our dogs, meeting and greeting.
QQ digs into Daddy's wallet...
...and gets a little too excited about the credit cards!
On our way back down to Denver...Q passes out cold mid-meal, exhausted after two days of staying up much too late.