Tuesday, February 6, 2018

full circle

It's been interesting over the last 3.5 years watching things come "full circle"- in my mind, this is the concept of when something that was once painful comes around again and is redeemed- no longer painful. Throughout the years of infertility and waiting, there were plenty of things that became painful triggers for sadness and grief- but Millie's presence has redeemed them one by one. "Full circle" things tend to be things that are cyclical, that roll around every so often on a schedule, and therefore can accumulate memories and expectations. The first time the event occurs post-trauma (and in my case, the trauma was the years of infertility, waiting, and our failed adoption), I find myself remembering the hurt of the event previously, but now having Millie to make new memories that hopefully wash away the pain previously associated with the day.

Some things came full circle quickly: most holidays, for one. Each pre-Millie Christmas hurt. Each was a reminder that another year had gone by, that this was the Christmas where I was supposed to have a baby...each brought another social media feed full of other people with their happy kids and cute babies. But once Millie was born and a few short months later Christmas rolled around- it just wasn't painful. It was life as I'd thought it should be. The life I'd hoped for. Christmas came full circle.

Christmas 2017. Completely perfect, because she got the Paw Patrol bath toys she'd been religiously begging for all month!

Some things took longer. Her birthday, to be honest. In some ways, her first birthday was difficult- while it was absolutely the anniversary of her birth and her life with us, it was also the anniversary of her losing her birth mother. I felt that. I mourned that when it happened, and I remembered it on her first birthday. It was the anniversary of the enormous, nearly overwhelming stress that covered me during Millie's first few weeks of life, as we waited to pass through each (what felt) excruciatingly slow phase of her adoption to pass and finalize. The stress of those days was pretty damn fresh, even a year later. And so while obviously there were many things to be joyful for and celebrate on her first birthday, I don't really feel like the concept of "hooray, baby's birthday!" was really redeemed until her second birthday. By then, the stressful memories were overwhelmed by the joyful ones and I could really celebrate and eat cupcakes with the reckless abandon one would expect me to. :)

Look at that cute little two-year-old Millie!!!

As we're well into our fourth year with our beloved girl now, most things feel like they've come full circle to me. Name a holiday, any holiday!, and my gut reaction will probably be happiness and excitement. (Whereas in, say 2013, you could say "St. Patrick's Day" and I would get teary because the previous year on St. Patrick's Day I'd just known that next St. P's day I was going to have a baby to dress in green, and now I didn't, and therefore St. P's Day is a big bummer...that's kinda how it worked for me.) I have happy memories of every holiday from the past few years, and excitement and high expectations for happy ones to come. Holidays are happy again. Full circle.

So it's kind of fun and exciting when I find a thing roll around that hasn't yet had the chance to come full circle. I'd kinda thought I'd gone through them all already. But the other day I realized that another one (our last one?) was coming: the Winter Olympics.

You can laugh, but it's true! I love the Olympics, both Summer and Winter. I believe this is well-documented here, haha. But our last Winter Olympics was in February 2014. A few short months after the excruciating loss of our first maybe-baby, and before we knew about Millie (although it should be stated that she was probably an adorable little fetus with lots of opinions hanging out in Mama J's tummy at this point). Although my personal involvement with the Olympics is limited to sitting on a sofa and watching them on TV, I still remember the pain and sadness I felt while watching them last time. It's like this dark cloud that covers my memories of hours on the couch watching other people twirl and speed across ice and do amazing things. (Although I would be remiss not to mention that I do have SOME happy memories of the 2014 Olympics- mainly when we happened to be in Texas for the weekend and stayed with the Joiners and watched the Olympics with them!) 

I remember during the summer 2016 games how redemptive it felt to watch them with Millie sitting in my lap. She didn't know what was going on, but I remembered the previous games and just noted the supreme differences in my life from 2012 to 2016. How much greater the joy. It was wonderful. And now I get to do it again- wipe away just a few more less-than-stellar memories and replace them with joy.

And joy it shall be. If you keep up with me on Instagram stories or Facebook, you might have noticed that Millie is SUPER EXCITED about figure skating these days. She is ALL IN! 

Behold one of our (many) magnificent lifts.
Her current passion is having us find old Olympic figure skating videos on YouTube. She will watch for two seconds before shrieking "WE DO DAT MOVE!!!! PICK ME UP!!! I NEED TO DO DAT!!!" Matt and I have to take turns being her partner, and we're frequently scolded because we aren't as amazing as the people on TV, but we do our best. I mean, we've lived in Georgia our whole lives. Gonna have to lower those expectations, skating snob.

My favorite is when she's taking a break from her skating and she watches the Olympians, she'll point to the female skater and say "dat's me," and point to the male and say "dat's Daddy." ALL THE HEART EYES.

Oh, my other favorite is how she requests to watch the skating. "Mama, we turn on da TV and watch da skaters so I can DO MY MOVES!!! I need to do my MOVES!"

Over the weekend we were playing outside and Millie was getting some toys from the garage. She noticed my dusty Rollerblades shoved back on a shelf and exclaimed "we have ICE SKATES!?!?!?!" with lots of excitement and wonder in her voice. I pulled them out and explained that they were like ice skates for people that don't have ice. Obviously she demanded that I put them on, so I did, and I very gingerly shuffled around the driveway for a minute. She looks at me, dead-pan. "Show me your MOVES, Mama!"

Ummm...I'm 35 and really, really out of shape. I am likely to perish just standing here on wheels. These are all the moves I've got, sistah.

"Dat not amazing. Can you twirl?"

Do you wanna spend the weekend in the ER with me??

She turns away from me, done with these shenanigans.

"Daddy, where YOU ice skates? Show me you moves!"

She. Is. A. Mess. A really cute mess.

I know I've said it a thousand times, but every minute with this girl is a gift. To be sure, some of the moments are less enjoyable than others, but still- such a gift. The joy she brings, the life she restores to the parts of me that felt dead...I will never get over it. She can diss my skating skills all day long, I don't care- this babe just keeps on filling the world with light, and I cannot get enough.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

just wike me.

It's not atypical for Millie to be walking around with a baby doll or stuffed animal crammed underneath her shirt. This usually means she is pretending one of three things:

  • She is pregnant and there is a baby in her belly.
  • She is "wearing" her baby, like in a wrap or Ergo.
  • She is a kangaroo and the baby is in her pouch.
These are all frequent components of her imaginary play, and it's just as likely that she will want me to stuff a baby under MY shirt and assume the role of one of the above. 

So it wasn't out of the ordinary the other night when she came up to me as I was sitting on the floor. She had a doll in her hand, and she started lifting up my shirt, trying to shove the dolly under. I reached out and helped her, stuffing it under down low on my stomach, where a fetus might like to hang out late in a pregnancy.

"Is that right?" I asked.

"No, you need to put it up dere," she said, pointing up closer to my shoulder as she tried to pull up the baby underneath my shirt.

"Oh, okay," I said as I adjusted. "Am I wearing the baby so that I can go on a walk?"

She stopped and looked at me.

"No. Dis baby growing in your heart. Not in your tummy. She growing in your heart, mama! JUST WIKE ME!!!"

And now we have a fourth option, when we see Millie walking around with a doll in her shirt. Maybe there's a baby growing in her heart, the way she grew in ours.

I don't always feel like I'm hitting it out of the park as a parent. In addition to the 'usual' parenting things that all folks deal with and worry about, I also get to wonder whether I'm handling her identity as a child who was adopted properly. Am I saying the right things? Not saying the wrong things? Does she know how incredibly valued she is, how much her birth family loves her, how my heart absolutely overflows with love for her? Am I doing the things now, when she is tiny and easy to talk to and pour love into, that will sustain her and give her a positive sense of self when she is 13? 

I don't know, really.

But she is proud to walk around our house with a baby growing in her heart, so that gives me hope that maybe I'm not too far off track. Maybe she thinks that babies grown in hearts are just as wonderful as babies grown in tummies. I sure think so. Goodness gracious, I love this girl.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Millie is ALL ABOUT some imaginative play lately. It honestly makes life really fun- except for when I don't play my role properly and I get reprimanded, of course.

Generally this is how things go:

1. Millie decides she is something else. This is often an animal (typically giraffe, manatee, lion, alligator, or dinosaur), but is sometimes a different type of person (princess, teacher, mommy), or imaginary creature (monster), or my favorite- inanimate object (lately...table. Yep. "I'm a table!").

2. Generally, as soon as she's decided what she is, she will tell me and/or Matt what we are. 99% of the time we all assume the 'mommy, daddy, baby' versions of whatever the creature is: Mommy Manatee, Daddy Manatee, Baby Manatee; Mommy Monster, Daddy Monster, Baby Monster. Sometimes we also get an adjective describing our temperament as well: Nice Mommy Monster, Mean Daddy Alligator. Sometimes our role doesn't match our actual human role- I might be Baby Lion, Matt is Mommy Lion, Millie is Nice Daddy Lion.

3. Then we basically just carry on with our normal activities, but we all have to refer to each other by our proper titles. If there are fitting noises or motions that go with whatever we are (growling, galloping, etc.), we have to do that too.

4. This continues until Millie decides we are done. When she tires of being Baby Giraffe, she will just say "we not giraffes anymore. Now we just people!"

4b. But if in the course of this playtime Matt or I manages to anger/sadden/bother Millie and she is getting huffy, she ends the game by angrily yelling "we not ANYFING!!! You not a lion!! You just NOTHING!!! And I NOTHING!!! We not NOTHING (pronounced 'nuffing') ANYMORE!!!" and I must confess, it's about 50/50 sad and hilarious.

Last week she introduced two new personas to the mix. Each of them basically slayed me, so I need to share.

1. Voldemort.

As in, Harry Potter's Voldemort. "I Baby Voldemort, you Mommy Voldemort, and Daddy is Daddy Voldemort." 

Obviously she has no idea who Voldemort is, or why there can't BE a Mommy and Daddy Voldemort. She only knows the word because the other night she said something about how she didn't have a nose, so I offhandedly said "who are you, Voldemort?" and she responded by yelling "YES, I VOLDEMORT!!" and so I (properly) responded by shrieking in fear and hiding under a pillow, which meant that she continued declaring herself to be Voldemort for like 20 minutes, and then declaring us to be her corresponding Mommy and Daddy Voldemort. All she knows is that Voldemort is scary, which is fine because she loves being scary.

The best part is that she has several times since wanted to be Voldemort again but she can't remember the name, so she'll get this 'scary' look on her face and say "I....MOL...VA...DOR...DAT SCARY GUY DAT MAKE YOU SCWEAM!!!"

2. Mean Pharaoh.

We can thank her daycare for this one- last week's Bible story was about Baby Moses. I discovered this when Millie responded to my "what did you learn at school today?" question with "NO MORE BABY BOYS!!!!", complete with a really scary face and waving her arms around in a kinda slicing manner. 

"No more baby boys??" I asked.

"NO MORE BABY BOYS!!! I A MEEEEEAN KING!!! You put your baby in a basket, Mommy. NO MORE BABY BOYS!!"

Ooooooh. Pharaoh and baby Moses, got it, thanks.

So in about five minutes, she was Baby Pharaoh, I was Mommy Pharaoh, and Matt was Daddy Pharaoh. Don't worry, that all makes sense. Then we all just ran around screaming "NO MORE BABY BOYS!!!" together, like any family of mean pharaohs. 

A few times Millie has changed the rules and become Nice Pharaoh. Nice Pharaoh says "You can have some baby boys, okay?!" and then looks expectantly at me like I might just birth a baby boy then and there out of gratitude. Hasn't happened yet, but I guess she'll keep trying.

I not scared, Mommy- he onwy made of pwastic!!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

the books of 2017. so far.

2017 has proven to be an excellent year of reading for me, so far. With a good 2.5 months to go in the year, I've so far finished 50 books, already surpassing my 2017 goal of 40- it's the first time I've made and met a goal so far (that I remember, haha)! Anyway, since several folks have asked for book recommendations and/or reviews lately, I thought I would share my thoughts about some of my favorites (and not-so-favorites) this year. As always, keeping up with me on Goodreads will give you my real-time reading updates, which is probably fascinating to about maaaybe 4 other people in the world besides me, ha.

(P.S. For those of you who might wonder how I manage to read so much (while working full time, momming so hard (bahaha), etc), here's the deal. For starters, I'm a REALLY FAST READER. I always have been. So I can get a lot of pages read in a short amount of time. That helps. Secondly, I sacrifice basically everything else in my life in my desperation to read, hahaha. Let's be honest. Millie goes to bed by 8:30, so I'd say that four or five nights a week, I'm on the couch reading by 8:45 p.m. I read until 10 or 11, when I go to bed. I don't work out. I don't blog. I rarely watch TV. I barely talk to Matt. I don't clean the house or chat on the phone or bake or craft or go out with friends. So when you look at it like that- I just DON'T do all the other stuff people spend their evenings doing, and then I have lots of time to read! That may or may not be a good thing, so feel free to judge me.) 

Favorite Books that Made Me Think:

This is probably my favorite genre of books, overall. I like books that challenge my thinking, or open my eyes to something I didn't know or didn't know enough about. For the past few years, most of my favorite books have been about World War II, something I can probably never learn enough about. But I like to think about other hard things, too, so here are some books that took me there.

  • The Girl You Left Behind (Jojo Moyes)- This book (based on true stories) alternates between the story of a woman living in occupied France during WWI and a girl in modern-day England, and centers on a painting (the painting's name is the title of the book). I learned a lot about art restitution, something I'd never considered before, and this story absolutely enthralled me. It is perfect. If you're not much into "heavy" reading, I still think you would like this- it's written by Jojo Moyes, author of "Me Before You" and lots of other wonderful stories, and her writing is engaging, her characters well-developed, and her ability to tie together all the loose ends of various plots is unparalleled. I've recommended this book to practically everyone I've met this year!
  • The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult)- This is another story that flip-flops between WWII and the present. Although I've probably read 100 WWII novels at this point, both fiction and non, I was shocked at how deeply this one touched me. If you've read anything by Jodi before, you KNOW she can tell a good story, and she'll probably find some way to get your emotions and morals all twisted up inside so that you don't even know how to feel about something. Well, she does it here, too. The central question this novel posed to me was this: can you- or are you obligated to- or should you- offer forgiveness to someone if you were not the party who was wronged? It sounds vague, and maybe simple, but I promise that this book will rip your heart around. I read this book in March and I'm still wrestling with some of the questions it brought up.
  • Necessary Lies (Diane Chamberlain)- This book takes place in North Carolina in the 1960s and is a fictional story about a very real horror: the state's Eugenics Sterilization Program that was in effect from 1929 until 1975. I had never heard of this program or situation before, and it's as chilling as the name indicates. Poor women (and female children) in NC were being forcibly sterilized,without their consent and often without even realizing it, as state social workers would tell them they were having appendectomies or other similar surgeries. This book led me to several days of fevered Googling for more information, which is always the sign of a good read! Despite the topic, it was a relatively easy/quick read, and my book club had PLENTY to discuss that month!
  • The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)- This book has been around for 30 years, so I doubt I'm the first person to tell you about it, but this was the first time I'd read it and I'm SO GLAD I did. This dystopian fiction tells the story of a monotheocracy in what used to be the United States. The story will make you thankful for separation of church and state, and horrified at what could happen if power were to run unchecked. And if you happen to be reading it for the first time, I would recommend you NOT read the very last chapter (I can't remember if it's called the epilogue or if it's just the last chapter, but you'll recognize it when you see a huge time jump to some unspecified time in the future with new and unfamiliar settings and characters). It's terrible and almost ruins the whole book. Just quit right before then and make up in your own head what you think happened. :) And I still haven't gotten around to watching the Hulu series, but I plan to...when I run out of books to read.
  • Small Great Things (Jodi Picoult)- I know, I know- another Jodi Picoult. What can I say. When she's good, she's good, and she is on fiyah in this one. This compelling, un-put-down-able story about "race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion" (just shamelessly stole that from the Amazon description, but I can't really improve on that list, so whatever) will challenge and inform and sadden and inspire you, and you won't be able to stop thinking or talking about it. 
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson)- Oh look, a nonfiction (memoir!) made it to my list finally! This book. Guys. You just need to read it. It's hard. It's about death row and race. It paints a picture of American history that isn't as pretty as you would maybe like to think. But it's true and it's something we need to be talking about so that we can change. Read it.
Books that Are Just Plain Enjoyable:

These books will probably still make you think, but are not as weighty or emotional as the books on the top list, haha. You will note that I don't normally read a lot of truly "light" reads (chick lit, romance novels, etc.)...so maybe my 'light reads' are not as light as they could be, but whatever. These books were all great.

  • Dark Matter (Blake Crouch)- This book is a truly fun and mind-bending ride- considering it's a book based in QUANTUM PHYSICS, something I know absolutely nothing about. So I had to work hard to wrap my brain around some things, but this story is compelling enough to make the hard work worth it. A little off my usual path, but the engaging characters, interesting dilemmas, and overall storyline made me really glad I gave it a go!
  • Crazy Rich Asians (Kevin Kwan)- This book was just plain FUN. There were a LOT of developed characters, and I would highly recommend reading this book in PRINT and not on your Kindle, as I did, because then you will be able to easily refer to a handy family tree at the front of the book. That would have helped me a LOT...but I didn't know it was there because my Kindle just started me on the first page of the story. Anyway. This book was hilarious as well as educational, and I look forward to reading the other two in the trilogy. 
  • The Lake House (Kate Morton)- I was shocked by how much I loved this book. It really took me a little longer than usual to get into it and enjoy the story, but once I did- I was all in. This book was a fun mystery in what I think of as the more "classic" style of mysteries. Not a twisty psychological thriller a la Gone Girl or whatever...this is a good old fashioned whodunnit (and whodunWHAT) that keeps you guessing and I was truly almost giddy towards the end of the book (I believe I solved the mystery like 80% and the other 20% was the MOST FUN REVEAL EVER). I don't know how to describe this other than to say it felt very different than most of the mysteries/thrillers I've read in the past few years, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • The Sound of Gravel (Ruth Wariner)- Memoir alert!! This was a fantastic true story about a woman who grew up in a polygamist compound in Mexico and harrowingly escaped from it as a teen. Ruth has become one of my favorite people to stalk on social media now. This isn't a light read at all- her childhood stories will break your heart and make you mad, but it's well-written and enlightening.
  • The Serpent King (Jeff Zentner)- This was a high-quality YA read about a misfit teenage boy growing up in the Bible Belt (the title refers to his snake-handling church). I thought that the characters were well-developed and believable and the story heartbreakingly possible. 
  • Beartown (Fredrik Backman)- I would almost say that Fredrik Backman can do no wrong, but then I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, which was fairly terrible, so...I can't say that. BUT I can say that I enjoy ALMOST everything he writes, and Beartown was no exception. This hockey story takes place in a small town full of interesting and engaging characters. It's a coming-of-age story, a story of violence and small-town thinking, and a story that challenges both characters and readers to grapple with the ugly truth. I loved it.
  • Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah)- I'll be honest- this story was SLOW GOING for me for the first almost half. Slow. I just couldn't get into it, and I couldn't understand all the five-star ratings and glowing reviews. I wasn't connecting with the characters and I would've given up except for a) I'm stubborn, and b) this is KRISTIN HANNAH- she of The Nightingale, one of the most wonderful books ever, and SURELY she would redeem a couple hundred pages of non-excellence!! And MAN- am I glad I stuck with it. The story finally got rolling for me about halfway through, and the last...I don't know, 25%, maybe...INCREDIBLE. Like the ending had me literally sobbing and ugly crying and filled with joy and hope and like, you don't even know. I gave the book 5 stars, even with that rough start, because the final few pages deserved like 20 stars on their own. This is a story that alternates between the present (the storyline that was SO hard for me to get interested in) and the past- occupied Leningrad. If you've got the stamina to power through (and it's not like the first half is terrible, it's just not great...and I just have too many things to read to be wasting my time on 'not great,' normally)...do it.

Ugh, come on. There are just so many books I loved. I feel bad if I don't include all of them in some way! (I would be the type that gives all the kids a participation trophy...hahaha...only for books it's like "you are a book! someone wrote you and cared very much about you! you win!") These books all also receive my stamp of approval and enjoyment, only I'm not going to keep writing individual summaries, ha.
SO! This accounts for 31 of the 50 books I've read so far this year. HA. Very exclusive of me to manage to omit 19 from my list of recommendations!! 

I do truly tend to be very happy with the books I read, so I often ponder whether it's because I'm just easily satisfied, I have low standards, or what. I've decided that it's because I'm really selective at what I set out to read in the first place. I know what I like. I know authors I like. I know which friends make recommendations that are typically home runs for me. And so I think that means that I just rarely even try a book that has much of a chance of flopping. I mean, I have had a few "flop" books this year- you can see on my Goodreads, if you care. But I think that doing my homework up front, before I crack open the book, results in me being generally thrilled with everything I read. So there's my tip for how to curate a reading life full of five star books, hahaha.

Soooo I doubt anyone really made it this far, but if you did, congratulations, you are a big nerd like me. You shall be rewarded with a picture of Millie in her new dinosaur shirt, aka the cutest thing I've ever seen (the kid AND the shirt). 

How I feel when I'm laying on the couch reading a book. Only I'm less cute than this.

So anyone wanna Book Club it up about any of my selections here? Read them? Loved them? Hated them? Want me to tell you why you're wrong for hating them? Ha. Most importantly: based on what you know now about the kinds of books I love...what should I read next?

(P.S. If you're into podcasts AND reading- all three of us- you definitely need to be listening to What Should I Read Next by Anne Bogel. Such a great podcast!)

Note: All book links are Amazon affiliate links!