Friday, January 14, 2011

New Year Resolutions

Yup, I've got 'em. I don't usually, but something came over me this year. Mainly I am trying to be good to myself. We canceled cable, and beloved bought me a Kindle for Christmas. This is helping me accomplish two of my goals, which are to spend less time melting my brain watching TV, and replace that activity with more reading. The second prong of that resolution is to get more sleep, which is also accomplished by turning off the TV and reading, which promptly puts me to sleep. I need a tether so I don't drop my Kindle.

Another two prong resolution is to get moving more, and eat less crap. This is a bit more tricky, as I HATE to exercise, and I do love me some crap-food, especially after 10 PM. I decided I would try and be moving enough to run/walk the 5K we are planning in Orlando. I've been out running/walking five times since I began. I am aiming for three times a week, and I'm on track with that. I have learned a few things along the way:
  • ALWAYS use the bathroom before leaving to run.
  • Wear warm clothing when running in sub-zero wind chills.
  • Allot an hour or so to thaw out various body parts when returning. Eyeballs and butt come to mind.
  • Do NOT shovel the entire driveway before running, and expect to run for more than a few staggering feet.
  • Did I mention, ALWAYS use the bathroom before heading out to run?
OK. So I think I am a pathetic athlete when it comes to the running portion of my exercise routine, but truthfully I can kick butt on the power walking, uphill hiking, and enduring the frigid wind. And my running is getting a little better. I go a little further, with less desperation. And if nothing else, I reassure myself that Orlando will be warm and flat, so I should be able to fly...right?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How I Loc Up My Kids

Megan at Millions of Miles, who I only know in the cyber world, but who I will soon know in person, asked nicely if I could share what we do to maintain locs at our house. I am happy to do so. Sounds like a good reason for a list.
  1. We started our locs with microbraids. We partitioned off the head(s) into little squares, making sure lines were in the right places for parts for some of our favorite classic hairstyles. For one daughter, the grid has stayed pretty tidy. For another, her locs have sort of migrated to where they want to be. For one girl the blocks are pretty tiny as her hair is thick, coarse, and tightly short, the BEST hair for locs. For one girl, the blocks are bigger as her hair is finer and looser curled. Not the best hair for quick locs, but with time they are shaping up nicely. Some people prefer to start with twists. The braids tend to take awhile to disappear, but they do eventually.
  2. We tighten our locs with a latch hook. We bought it at the craft store for a few bucks, and it has served us well for years. It's hard to explain this process in words, but you can find videos to walk you through it. Basically, as the hair grows, there becomes this looseness at the scalp...kind of like if you left braids in long enough to let your hair grow out. Most of the time it takes 3-4 pulls through with the latch hook to tighten a loc that has been left alone for a month to six weeks. Thicker ones tighten with less, and thinner ones need more. You MUST NOT overtighten, though it can be tempting. It pulls uncomfortably, and chronic overtightening can thin and weaken locs. I always do each "pull" from a different direction, doing the last pull in the direction I want the loc to hang. Many people twist instead of latch hooking. I also take any loose growth and twist it around the appropriate loc before tightening. This keeps the fuzzies down, and lets new growth train itself into the right loc.
  3. My girls only shampoo about once a month to every six weeks. They use shampoo for ladies of color, and this is our method. Locs are hard to get shampoo worked into. If you take a dab and try to work it in, it will remain in one spot only. We take the squirt of shampoo and put it into an old shampoo bottle. Then we fill it up to about the 1/3 level with hot water, and shake it up. The girls gently squirt this over their whole heads, and work the lather down the whole length of the locs. Then they rinse and rinse and rinse and rinse. Rinse until you're sure you have all the shampoo out, and then rinse that much more. Those babies really like to hang onto the suds.
  4. In between, my girls rinse well in the shower, using as warm water as they can stand. This varies depending on what they are doing. In the summer their hair gets a lot of dirt in it because we live in a dusty place. Also the pool water can do a number on their hair. In the winter, it's not so bad. If you don't get locs clean, you can tell. First of all, they can stink. Think wet dog. Also, when you pinch a wet dirty loc between layers of white towel, it will leave a muddy mark. So really, they can't get away with saying they washed their locs when they didn't. Not for long anyhow.
  5. The girls moisturize daily with a homemade spritz. I make it with 5 ounces of warm water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of conditioner for ladies of color. They tend to spray close to their scalp most, because scalp dryness plagues them far more than dry hair.
  6. They are careful not to wear their hair in the same style all the time, in order to not stress their locks. They also use soft elastics and head bands...nothing that would "bite" into their locs.
  7. They sleep at night with a silky granny cap. And they wear nylon swim caps under their ski caps.
  8. They enjoy hair that gets longer and longer, is all their own, can be styled in hundreds of styles, and can wash and go. Plus it gets compliments wherever they go, from folks of every color.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Need a Shower...Among Other things

When you have children, no matter how you "have" them, you have ideas about how it will go. Your body has ideas about how it will go. For instance, babies start sleeping more and fussing less, just as you think you are at your breaking point. Nursing hurts so, so bad...and then it hurts a little bit less, and then you can do it in your sleep. Really. Preschoolers cry about everything. Some preschoolers lose their bones when they cry (about everything), and they drop to the ground in a great boneless pile. And then one day, you realize that no one has cried for days. Weird.

When my homegrown children were small, I had a hard time taking showers. I often ate bowls of cold cereal instead of meals. When children napped, I scrambled around the house just trying to get caught up, bracing myself for when that sleepy, fussy voice would alert me to baby's wakefulness.

It wasn't that I didn't like to be clean. It wasn't that I didn't like to eat hot food. It was just that I was always on high alert, watching and listening for my child's need. If I went into the shower, I could not easily stop what I was doing for a moment, to soothe a child or avert a disaster. In fact, I might not hear that a child needed soothing, or that disaster needed averting. Similarly, a bowl or cereal can be put down and taken up again, over and over. Yes, it gets soggy, but no mommy ever died from soggy cereal.

And just when I thought I would never get a shower before four in the afternoon, or sit down to eat an attractive lunch, I began to have those things happen now and then. This is because children grow, and change, and mature. My two month old was not my two year old, was not my four year old, and so it goes.

Then I adopted traumatized children. I went back on high alert. I went back to no showers, and cereal bowls, and scrambling to get housework done when the children were asleep. I was exhausted and bleary-eyed, and chronically under the weather. Nothing about this surprised me. I had planned for it and expected it. My mommy rhythm told me this is how it would be. But then some time went by, and I began to expect the shift, where things slowly got easier. My body seemed to expect it. To be quite honest, it didn't happen for a long time. Long, long past any of my expectations, and even to this day, some of the "easier" is because I have become accustomed to the strain, and not because it has disappeared.

When we have babies, we plan for the hardship...or we do if we're wise. We set our expectations in a place that is reasonable. We cut ourselves some slack. We set up good support systems. And we know that all of it is temporary. Newborns seem like they will be tiny forever, but in the blink of a tired eye...they're off and running.

When we adopt children of trauma, we do all of these things. For a time. And then we begin to despair. We are tired and worn, and we don't know what is reasonable anymore. Temporary stretches out endlessly. Maybe we thought we had supports, and then we realized they weren't supporting us anymore. What then?

We need a Plan B, or C, or D. We need to find other parents who have been stretched beyond that which is natural. We need to have people in our lives who understand the great depth and width of our struggle. We need to love one another, and hold each other accountable, and slowly go crazy together. That is why I am going to Orlando again this year. I am going to see some incredible people I love with all my heart. And I am going to say to anyone there who will listen, "You need to get a little piece of this, and take it home with you. Keep it safe, and treasure it. It will help you to be a better wife and mommy. It will help you to be a better you."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Special K

I'm going to make a departure today, from my series on getting organized, and my usual homey posts, and talk about something dear to my heart. Our three teen girls came from foster care, in another state, which I later discovered, is a rather rare occurrence. It's not that it never happens, but I guess it doesn't happen a lot. So when you begin to inquire about adopting children from other states, often you will get a bit of resistance from the professionals, because they just aren't used to doing it. Or if they have done it, they know that it's one huge pain in the hind quarters, and they would rather not discuss it with you.

My girls were so very fortunate in some ways. More than eight years bouncing around in foster care is no picnic, but they had a handful of people that were consistently involved with them. Their GAL was with them from the time they came into care as toddlers, to this very day. She keeps in touch, sends lovely boxes of fruit during the holidays, and is rather like an extra grandma that lives far away. The adoption worker assigned to their case, also had an ongoing history with the girls. It wasn't as long as that of the GAL, but it encompassed years.

When I first began to communicate with K, via email and phone calls, I had no idea how unique she really was, consequently I did not properly appreciate her. All I knew was that I liked her. We both hailed originally from the same area, so we both kind of spoke the same language. She always seemed to be shooting straight from the hip. She never seemed to be keeping information from me. She told me stuff, even stuff I didn't necessarily want to hear. When she didn't know, she always said "I don't know! Let me see if I can find out!" and she always said it with total humility and enthusiasm. She never made me feel like she was being put upon.

After the girls were placed, and we sometimes found ourselves struggling, she always made herself available. Sometimes she could offer assistance, sometimes advice, but more often than not, she just listened and made the right sort of noises. And it kept me from jumping off a bridge. When Soapy had to leave us, I know that K grieved right along with our family, and somehow that made it easier to bear. Ironic, because I am quite sure it didn't make her life any easier.

Now K has moved up to a more administrative position, and though she is supervising our next adoption, she does not handle it directly. Sometimes I forget that we have a professional relationship, because she has become such a dear, dear friend. Once in a great while, we connect by phone, and we talk and talk, about life and the price of tea in China. I always hang up the phone with a smile on my face, and never without thanking her for being such a powerful, positive force in my life. And then I think, "Oh my gosh! What am I thinking, talking about THAT (insert random inappropriate thing) with her?! She's my adoption worker...what must she think?!" And I have a little heart attack, until I remind myself that there isn't much K hasn't seen or heard about us, at one time or another since my girls came home.

She's seen me riding high, and she's heard the ugly cry, more than a few times. I am so very blessed, because I know this is a precious rarity. Foreign adoptions often end when the child is collected, and there is no one to call ever again. Even in foster adoptions, where there are allegedly helps in place, many people find themselves leaving countless messages that go unreturned. There is no human connection, and everyone suffers. Or even worse, they fear the connection, because they have been judged and undercut by the people that should be upholding them.

Yesterday I had one of those long rambling conversations with K. I had called to check on her mailing address, because I had photos to send. But we ended up talking about the girls, the boys, her life and mine. We laughed and told silly stories, and made plans to get together when I visit other friends in her area. We talked about the upcoming adoption, not like worker and adoptive parent, but friend to friend. I complained a little, but not to her, like I expected her to fix it, but as one person who knows how this goes, to another equally frustrated person who knows how it goes. As always, I hung up the phone with a smile on my face, and a lighter step...a lighter heart. Some friends just have that effect.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Storage is My Love Language

It's true. I love organizing and storage. I love closet systems, and bins, and accordion files. I love to fold, and file, and alphabetize. It soothes my soul. My constant goal is to have every single space in my world, perfectly tidy. Not that it happens, but a girl can dream.

I have always lived in small spaces. What's more, I have often lived in older houses, with oddly configured rooms, and almost no closet space. The last several years I have lived in doublewides, which seem to have certain universal characteristics. Yes, every bedroom has a closet. It is frequently small, with one shelf/hanging bar, and door(s) that make it impossible to access the entire closet. The bathrooms have cupboards that are huge expanses of undivided, deep and wide space. Cut up by pipes and invaded by mice. Base kitchen cabinets are the same...just one big open space. There are no coat closets, anywhere. There is no basement. There is no attic. There's room for a humongous "garden tub", but not usable storage space.

I have learned to make every inch count. Cavernous cabinets need to be divided up. You cannot just pile stuff inside and expect it to stay neat or accessible. Plastic milk crates have worked well for me, especially in the kitchen. It creates cubicles for things to live in, plus multiple levels that act like shelves. I can also create slim spaces along side walls, where I tuck longer flat things, like cookie sheets and baking racks. The same is true of drawers. Dividers help things stay where you put them. There are cheap little plastic ones you can buy, or you can just cut cardboard boxes to fit.

Closets are sacred places, and every inch should be revered. As cheap as I am, I will spend money on closet systems, to maximize every bit of space. Take the time to really think about it and plan. If you stink at this, find someone to help you. Graph paper is your friend. My current closet is a narrow rectangle, accessed by a slim door, dead center. Which means that you can only see, and easily access that which is directly in front of the door. Everything else is effectively buried. I planned this closet with this in mind, and still it aggravates me. I need to live with this, and I'll tell you how I do it. How about a list?
  1. Maximize the amount of shelves, hanging bars, and storage baskets. In this closet it means using even little short shelves about one foot long, stacked into the corners.
  2. Put the things we use constantly, front and center. Put the things we use sometimes, slightly off center. Put the things we use infrequently, furthest in. It minimizes the inconvenience of having to swim to the deepest part of the closet.
  3. Get rid of anything that isn't earning its keep. Everything is eating up real estate, and some things work harder than others. Be ruthless.
  4. Don't over stuff. Like, if a hanging bar will neatly hold a dozen shirts, don't jam thirty onto it. It will be hard to get stuff in and out, and your shelves may fall off the wall. True story.
  5. Have a place for everything, and everything in its place. Really. Organize it just the way you want it, and always put it back that way. I can close my eyes and envision almost every drawer, cupboard, and closet in my house, and tell you what is on each shelf, next to what, etc. This is not because I am compulsive. It's because I am sick of losing things.
  6. Smaller storage spaces means you have to think hard. Fitting things in does not mean jamming and stuffing. Think of it like the proverbial over stuffed suitcase. You can jam the stuff in and sit on it to close it... or you can neatly roll everything and figure out how to put it all in like a jigsaw puzzle. True, it takes more time and work initially, but it works better. It would be lovely to have spacious closets where things could be spread out, and you could just pluck things out as you need them. Not my reality. So I jigsaw puzzle things, and faithfully put them away in their spot. Yes, it's extra work, but it causes less stress in the long run.
You see, that's how it works. It's a lot of work, and some stress up front, to buy yourself less aggravation over the long haul. For me it does more than soothe my soul. It saves me money. When I can see what I have, I only buy what I really need. When I can see that I have what I need, I am less likely to become discontent and impulse buy. Our belongings get cared for better, and last longer. It also saves me time, because I can tidy up quickly, and move onto things I enjoy more. The same is true for the children. Which makes me less cranky with them, and they appreciate that. Truth is, I nag less when we're organized and neat.

So look hard at your storage spaces, and imagine ways to expand them. Then look hard at unused nooks and crannies, and see how you might use them as well. I built a free floating closet system behind my sons' bedroom door. It was about fifteen inches deep dead space. Their room had no closet, and now it does. I use bins under beds and other furniture. I add shelves and baskets wherever they work. I hang things up, on walls and from ceilings. It will take time, and energy, but in the end it will save you far more. And remember to always be tweaking. If something isn't working, change it up. If your children outgrow your current system, rework it. And know that whatever you do, you get better with practice, until sometimes you hardly notice that you are trying.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What's for supper?

Tonight's menu includes Spicy Pumpkin Soup and a fruit platter. I don't puree it (the soup I mean, though I don't puree the fruit either), because it's a lot of work and mess to get rid of some tiny chunks of onion. We like it slightly chunky. I also substituted a cup of half and half for the half cup of cream, and reduced the milk by a half cup. Because it was what I had, and it works just fine. Currently there is a dispute in my house about whether this is the best soup ever. Some folks vote for the Mashed Potato Soup. I think it's a tie. Both are sinfully easy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I Know What I Know...

The last few days we've been working on locs. Vacation is a good time to get them tightened up and washed. Everyone will go back to school tomorrow with great hair. One of my daughters has had locs since about six months after she came to live with us. The other has had them for nearly two years less. The older locs are shorter because the hair was shorter when they were begun, but the locs are more mature and uniform. They are on the thinner side, and very tubular. We started out with neat parts and lines, but the natural way of her head has caused them to migrate where they will, so like me, her natural part is cocked off to one side of center. Her younger sister's locs are longer, but still retain the shape of the microbraids which began them. They are slowly disappearing, but you can find them still. Her hair is also looser and finer than her sister's hair, which means it locks more slowly and creates lots of messy fuzz that I must work into the locs each time I tighten them.

I was working at this the other day, and thinking how long it had been since I had worked on her sister's locs. This younger daughter never does anything with her hair unless I prompt her to do so. When I say that it's time to work on hair, she sits down submissively, with much sighing and complaints of a "numb butt". But she never initiates caring for her locs on her own. In contrast, her older sister has wanted to learn how to wash and tighten her own locs from the day I put them in. She was like a house afire, begging and pestering me to teach her to do every single bit of their care. I was kind of learning as I went, so I made her wait until I felt they were well established. Then I watched over her as she took on their care, making sure she wasn't doing any damage. In an instant, she was proficient enough to take over.

At first blush, I put this off to her typical teen desire to be independent. What teen really wants mom to have to do their hair? I would occasionally offer help, but she would politely turn me down. For long hours she would sit perched on a stool in front of the mirror, working away. She would sigh, and complain of tired arms and shoulders, but still she would keep on. Sometimes she would pay her sister to do the hard-to-reach section in the very back, but only if she had a little extra cash. Most times she would do her whole head alone. Even when her sister trashed her locs last year, and she was intensely grateful for the hours I spent saving them, I could still feel her impatience over having to sit as I carefully restored each damaged loc.

As I stood laboring over her sister's head, it came to me in a moment of quiet clarity. She wasn't displaying independence...she was displaying fear. I believe she has loved her locs from the day one, but she was also afraid. What if I leave this place, and the next place doesn't "do" locs? How would I keep them if no one knows how to care for them? I've seen the pictures and heard the stories. Foster care is a black girl's hair crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky and they take great care of your hair. Sometimes you end up looking like Don King.

As if on cue, she appeared by my elbow. For a moment she stood watching me twist the strands of her sister's hair. "You know Mom," she said, "I really, really like my locs. I like my hair the best like this. I always want to have locs, and grow them really long." With this she tossed her head back and forth.

I smiled and said, "I know."