August 31, 2006


I am very sad because I do not have Hobbes and I miss my cat so much. I hope Hobbes is happy in Kitty Heaven. Hart, May 2006.

Boston (photos)

Hart, my brother Arnie, Chloe with Ted, cousins Julian and Hart, Jeff and Leah, Boston, August 2006

August 25, 2006

Demon Rum

Of all the horrors afflicting Eastern European orphans, surely fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most brutal and tragic. FAS is not unique to Romania, Russia and Ukraine: wherever there is poverty and despair, substance abuse is sure to follow.

The effects of alcohol on a developing fetus are well-documented. Behavioral effects following prenatal alcohol exposure include hyperactivity, attention deficits, lack of inhibition, learning disabilities or mental retardation, language and social delays, among others. Sound familiar?

In cases of severe exposure, where the mother is a binge drinker or drank throughout the pregnancy, the children are born with facial anomalies. The features of these children are commonly discussed at post-adoption seminars. It has been many years since I have attended these meetings: I confess I naively was paying more attention to the information about attachment disorder, ADHD and speech/language development.

It was therefore a strange and jarring surprise to notice a little girl at our community swimming pool who looked like a casebook photograph of the severe effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. Dark-haired and petite, she had the distinctive broad face, wide-set eyes, upturned nose and the unique long, smooth upper lip without noticeable philtrum ridges. Although I have seen plenty of photos, thankfully, I have never actually seen anyone, in vivo, with the facial presentation of this syndrome.

Who is she? Adopted? From where? Where does she live now? I looked around to see if there was any adult who seemed to be with her, not that I could trot up to a parent and strike up a conversation about FAS . . . but her presence piqued my curiosity. I was not at all curious about her appearance. I recognized that face.

Parking advice

J: You have to pay the meteor.

August 24, 2006


Two friends were reminiscing over their teenagers' naughty words of yore. There is a charm and innocence in children when "diaper" can induce paroxysms of giggles.

It takes some social awareness to appreciate scatological humor, so Hart and Jeff missed that stage entirely. At age 10, they went straight to the hardcore vocabulary.

I was appalled, of course, since I am so careful to monitor my own language with the boys. But, I remained sanguine. "I am a grown-up," I told them, "I have heard all those ugly words before." That took a bit of the edge off of the fun of saying them.

It is not without irony, though. Hart's articulation is poor and his syntax convoluted. However, the entire zip code can hear these expressions on occasion, pronounced loud and clear!

August 22, 2006

Talk II

Jeff is still talking incessantly. What does he say? Bits of song lyrics, movie dialogue, nonsense syllables, sound effects, provocative chants to rile up Hart, funny words and phrases.* Nothing of particular note, except that he does it all the time.

When both boys are in the house, he is VERY LOUD. Even when he is alone, Jeff is humming, buzzing, muttering. It is, for him, the unfortunate convergence of hyperactivity, dysinhibition and the constant need for some form of internal stimulation. Understanding that does not make this habit any more tolerable to me.

Occasionally, as parents are wont to do, I have something to say to Jeff that requires him to turn off the white noise. “Jeff!” “Jeff?” “Jeff, stop talking now.” “Jeff, it’s my turn to talk.” “Jeff?” On the fifth or sixth call, he takes a breath. I have about two seconds to speak until the next tsunami of utterances.

Sometimes, what I have to say takes longer than my allotted time. “Jeff, you are interrupting me. Stop talking for a minute.” "Jeff?" Maybe I have it backwards, maybe he believes I am interrupting him. After all, he was speaking first.

piña colada
boobs (pronounced "boops")
"turtle trouble"
"at LAST"
"intruder alert!"

Cryptic IV

H: I can't carry that. I'm full of hands.

August 21, 2006

August 20, 2006

Cryptic III

H: Look, tadpoles.
Me: Tadpoles in a restaurant? Where?
H: Over there, tadpoles.
Me: Do you think those plant leaves are shaped like tadpoles?
H: No, there, tadpoles.
Me: I see where you are pointing. Those are called cattails.

Cryptic II

Me: I am watching the news.
H: What do they say?
Me: No liquids on the plane. You may pack them in the luggage but you can't carry liquids with you to your seat. No drinks, no sunblock, no shampoo.
H: No milk?
Me: You can drink milk on the plane, but you can't bring it on with you.
H: How about elephants?

August 17, 2006

Caveat Emptor

I'm a size 2!” Every time I hear that commercial, I invariably prick up my ears. That could be me, I think. I could make Kirstie Alley and Jenny Craig proud. I could eat at Subway every day and be featured in commercials. I could have buns of steel. By purchasing the meal plan, the fat-busting herbal supplements, the excercise machine, that could be me prancing around in a bikini, showing off my flat stomach and toned arms. Each of these 30-second reveries is dissolved by the fine print at the end of the ad, “Results not typical.”

I once had a brief moment of results-not-typical fame. A dozen years ago, I took a preparation course to improve my math scores on my second GMAT attempt. My scores were impressive enough to get me into the business school of my choice, 99th percentile on the verbal test and 93rd percentile overall. I qualified for B-school or, alternatively, a job teaching the prep course.

The adoption business is not obligated to the same truth-in-advertising legal minutia as the diet business. There is no such caveat on the brochures and websites which show photographs of adorable “waiting” children.

A common feature of adoption agency promotion is the informational meeting. There are maps and videos and payment schedules, of course. But the highlight of these gatherings is show-and-tell portion featuring newly-returned parents and their darling children. Chinese girls snuggle in their father's arms, while he describes the ease and alacrity of the process, the help and support of the agency staff. Mothers holding blonde Russian boys tell how quickly little Sergei, Boris or Igor learned English, his smooth transition into second grade, his Cub Scout merit badges and gymnastics awards.

With a decade of hindsight, I have realized that these people are the size 2s, the Subway Jareds of the adoption world. These families are the great success stories. Theirs are the children featured in the agency’s glossy brochures. Although the foreign adoption industry does not care to advertise it, there are many more families like ours. The truth: the chance of getting a healthy, bright, well-adjusted child through foreign adoption like those at the meeting, is slim indeed.

Back to the video montage in the hotel conference room. There is Dmitri playing with the family dog, then Natasha and Marina at their first communion. Here are three girls from the same Chinese orphanage playing together in the California surf. The crawl along the bottom of the screen does not say, “Results not typical” but it probably should.

August 16, 2006


H: I am too slippery for pizza.

August 12, 2006


When Jeff and I walked into the restaurant, he immediately spotted the model Corvette and rushed over. Of course, there was a little boy attached to the vehicle, so the two of them immediately began talking about their shared passion--CARS. Hard to believe that there is another boy as passionate about automobiles, but there is, and as inevitably happens, they found each other. I introduced myself to his parents and sat down at the adjacent table while the two boys admired each others' models.

We mothers sheepishly discussed activities for car-obsessed boys. Have they been to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles? Yes, and what about that Hot Wheels Hall of Fame exhibit? Have they been to the annual Chicago Auto Show? Not yet, maybe this year. California Legoland's driving range? Yep. Seen the Pixar movie, CARS? Six times already. Does your son like the TV shows, OVERHAULING and RIDES? Never seen 'em. What channel? How about getting the boys together to play? You bet.

The boys were already planning on a toy car swap. Avery is less than half Jeff's age, but it does not matter to either of them. He is conversant about all makes and models of cars. "Awesome." His dad once let him sit on his lap and steer the car in a parking lot. "Sweet."

We have had one dinner together at the same restaurant where we met. Both boys brought their flashiest and newest toy cars to show. Avery had a portable DVD player with a Hot Wheels movie. Avery's mom and I had our own dinner conversation on the other side of the table.

It was extraordinary. Jeff is not much interested in talking and he does not generally respond to conversational overtures. His restaurant M.O. involves shoveling down the food and asking when we will leave. I kept glancing over to see him holding forth on his favorite topic. Avery seemed equally enthralled.

I once heard a parent of an autistic child say how demanding and stressful it is for her child to be in "our world." "We know we have to allow him time in relax in his world." I never understood that so well until I saw Jeffrey find a normal, regular kid who loves his world, too.

August 9, 2006

Jeff's 13th birthday interview

Favorite song: Werewolves of London, Warren Zevon

Favorite movie: Eight-Legged Freaks
2nd favorite movie: Finding Nemo

Favorite play: Ragtime the Musical

Favorite book: Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel

August 3, 2006

To sleep, perchance, to dream

In all the time the boys have lived with me, they have never permitted me an uninterupted nights' sleep. The method of torture has changed over the years, but the effect is the same. When they were younger, we endured nights of crib-escaping, then midnight refridgerator raids and late-night-wee-hour rampages. In recent years, the modus operandi is a loud frat party in Hart's room at around 5 am, followed by simultaneous bellowing and running around the house.

An exhaustive (no pun!) number of techniques have failed. When the din gets unbearable, I simply drag myself out of bed, round up the partyers and escort them back to their respective bedrooms. I can close my eyes for about ten more minutes, which is about the time it takes until the next break-out. Once we are within 15 minutes of my clock radio alarm, not that I need one, I just rouse myself and start the day.

This past week introduced an interesting twist. The morning rumpus schedule is unchanged, but since Jeff does not have school, he can return to bed for an hour or two once Hart leaves for summer school, and then be up for some more fun when Hart gets home at lunchtime.

This morning as I was blearily fixing breakfast, I said to Hart, "You know, if you ever want to give me a present, you could let me sleep until it is actually time to get up."

His reply: I never thought of that.

August 2, 2006

Fashion sense

It's scorching hot out, so we have been headed to our local community pool. One might think that being an "inner ring" suburb adjacent to a major city, some of that fashion-forwardness would creep north, but that is not the case.

Recently seen:

Eeny weeny teeny bikini on very pregnant woman. Diana Spencer could carry it off, being both very tall, not so pregnant and a princess.

Camouflage bikini, trimmed with pale pink piping. For jungle warfare in beribboned bushes?

Cliche´ black socks. Worn with white linen shorts, white printed wife-beater and brown loafers. To his credit, I think they were athletic socks.

Unfortunate tattoo. A belly-button starburst. What was she thinking . . . my flabby, middle-aged tummy looks goooooood?

Very high-cut two-piece suit. Unfortunate look on post-menopausal woman. The effect is the dreaded dinosaur leg, and a bustline three inches above the leg opening. The wearer looked like she was sitting down, even while standing up.

Women swimming with shorts on. We all hate our hips and thighs. Who are they kidding?

I embrace the diversity of our species in all their near-naked glory. By comparison, in my conservative Lands' End one-piece, I look great!