Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chinglish



A common question from friends, family and random strangers is, “Does she know English yet?” And the answer is, “Yes! Um, no. Well, sorta.” Also complicating the matter is the fact that Mei-Mei is almost entirely silent in public, a striking difference from the wild and screeching hellion that we know and love at home. It can be hard to explain the amount of English, Chinglish and Chinese that we have going on at home without a lengthy dissertation. So, here’s that (semi) lengthy dissertation.

Here are the words that Mei-Mei says by herself in English:
Mama*
Danny
Maisie
Pippin
Sophie
Mine
Hello
Bye-bye**
Please
Thank you
Sorry
No
Potty
All done
Water
Hungry
Gentle
Stop it 
Go
Shoes
Car***
Choo-choo***
Thomas [the Tank Engine]
Train [anyone picking up on a theme here?]
Carrier
Pew-pew

*Mama is the same in Chinese and English.
**Bye-bye is essentially the same in Chinese and English.
***Car means vehicle. Choo-choo means a toy car or a toy train.





A lot of adoptive families use Baby Sign in their first months at home, so that they can communicate effectively from the beginning. Since we learned some Chinese, we didn’t do Baby Sign, but there have been a couple of gestures that we’ve made up and are part of our family pidgin.

Moving the hand, palm side down, over a plate of food – all done
Pointing at an empty spot on the plate – I want more of what I just ate
A buckling motion at the waist – the Tula carrier
Using both hands to push inwards along Mama’s shoulders – I want to stay in the carrier
Maintaining eye contact and opening the mouth wide (optional sticking out of the tongue) - Snapchat


Before going to China, I did lessons 1-15 with the Pimsleur Mandarin course. I highly recommend Pimsleur for people who don’t have a lot of study time per se because it is all CDs. I borrowed them from the library and kept them in the car and learned Chinese while driving around town. We have also made COPIOUS use of Google Translate, which has been a lifesaver. (If you’re heading to China, though, remember that Google doesn’t work in China unless you have a VPN.) These are the words that ‘Stache and I  know in  Chinese and use regularly:


Baba – Daddy
Gege – Brother
Mei-mei – Sister
Wo (men) – I (we)
Ni (men) – You (y’all)
Ni hao – Hello
Bu – No/not
Shi – Is/am
Haishi – Or
Keshi - But 
Ma – word that ends a yes or no question
Yao – Want
Chu – Go
Guolai – Come here
Zheli* – Here  
Nali* – There
Zai nali* – Where is
Fenxiang – Share
Xiang – Would like
Shanghai – Hurt
Peng – Touch
Hui huilai – Will come back  
Mingbai – Understand
Chi – Eat
Hue – Drink
Shuijiao – Sleep
Chin chin – Kiss
Baozhe – Hold
Ai – Love
Xianzai – Now
Guo yihuier - After a while
Niao niao – Pee
Shema – What  
Yi dian* – Little
Hao – Good
Hen – Very  
 Piaoliang – Pretty
Yi, er, san, sz, wo – One, two, three, four, five   
Shui – Water
Cha – Tea
Kafei – Coffee
Tian – Sweet
Jige – This/that
Maozi – Hat 
Wawa – Doll 

*The Pimsleur course uses speakers with Beijing  accents so I learned to pronounce these  “djar,” “nar,” “tzai nar” and “eediar.” Also, any words that end in "shi" I pronounce more like "shir."

The ideal would probably be to say a sentence in Chinese and then repeat it in English: “Ni yao shuijiao ma? Do you want to go to sleep?” (Three guesses what the answer is and the first two don’t count.) In practice, we rarely do this. It’s oddly difficult to switch gears between languages. What isn’t hard at all (for reasons I don’t know) is to mix the two languages. “Ni yao yogurt haishi ni yao orange juice?” “Xianzai ni brush your teeth, then shuijiao.” (Any linguists out there who have insights into this phenomenon, feel free to chime in!)

It’s very clear that Mei-Mei is understanding more English than she speaks (or is just brilliant at deducing from tone and context, which is also possible). We’ll say things like “We only eat in the kitchen; come back in here” or “Do you want to be in the pack ‘n’ play or go play with your geges” and she’ll respond appropriately.


The plan (the hope) is for Mei-Mei to learn English, probably taking about a year to become fluent, and for me to hang on to my Chinese, learn more, and teach the boys once they start kindergarten. Whether Mei-Mei will lose her Chinese and then relearn it again in kindergarten or whether she’ll retain it, we don’t know. Generally three-year-olds don’t hang onto their Chinese by themselves, so either way it will take a bit of effort, but we think it’s worth it.   

I'm exhausted just thinkin' about it.
Edited to add: At the time of this post, Mei-Mei was 3 and a half years old and had been home exactly two months.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How to (Successfully!) Take Your Little Boy Out to Tea



In Chattanooga, there is a completely charming little tea room called The English Rose. In college, going to the tea house was my reward for finishing finals. When I was first married, I would pinch my pennies so that I could take my sister to the tea room when she visited me. When I realized that my son enjoyed tea, I couldn't wait to take him. Here are my best tips for taking your four, five or six year old son out to tea.

(I'm writing about boys, because that is what I know best, but most of these may be fairly applicable to girls as well.)

1. Ditch the fancy clothes. It will be a temptation, particularly if the tea room in question is a fancy one, to dress your little guy to the nines. Resist. Settle for clean, coordinated playclothes. It's important that he feel comfortable. Of course, if he happens to be the 1 out of 100 boys who actually prefers a suit and tie to a T-shirt and overalls, go for it.

2. Order a child-friendly tea. Pick a tea that's not too bitter. My favorite choice is Lady Grey, but if your son hasn't had too much experience with hot tea before, go with a fruit flavored tea, one without "Zinger" in the title. Add milk or cream if he complains it's too strong, but try to avoid adding sugar. Once he learns that you can put sugar in tea, it's hard to go back.

3. Order a bowl of ice. Kids have a hard time with delayed gratification, and tend to prefer drinks that are warm rather than hot. A bowl of ice will allow you to cool his tea so that he can drink his warm tea at the same time that you are drinking your hot tea. Put two large spoonfuls of ice into his tea cup and tell him that when the ice melts all the way, he can try a sip.

4. Order an American-style dessert. Unless your child has exceptionally refined taste, he will probably not take to British "biscuits" which tend to be lamentably subtle in their flavor and sweetness. Order tea, a plate of sandwiches that you think will appeal, and a dessert that your son will think is awesome.

5. (the most important one) Ask, "What do you want to talk about?" And no matter what, stay on topic. Whatever he wants to talk about, the whole tea time. Our first tea time, my son wanted to talk about Thomas and Friends. I knew next to nothing about Thomas at the time, so I kept asking What color is [name of engine]? Is s/he a diesel engine or a steam engine? Objectively speaking, it wasn't a particularly sparkling conversation, but the lingering association of tea time is that during tea time, Mama has time to listen. 

And that is - and should be - the very best part of tea time.



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Sales Pitch

Several months ago, Munchkin and I were having a mother-son date and, needing to kill some time, wandered into a dog-grooming business. We stood off to the side and watched the employees and the dogs for a while. Munchkin did his quiet glowing thing that means he’s having an awesome time but isn’t going to actually express it. Two days later, he announced his firm desire for a dog.

Fortunately, ‘Stache and I had discussed this before, so I had an answer ready. “Munchkin,” I said, “Here’s the thing. Before we get you a dog, Mama and Daddy need to know that you can be responsible enough to take care of one.” And then inspiration struck. “You could show us,” I suggested, “by taking care of the cats. You can feed them in the morning and scoop their cat box.”

Munchkin promptly agreed. And, since the beginning of November, he has fed and scooped very nearly every morning with a cheerful attitude and a willing heart. Which is, frankly a great deal more than could be said of either me or ‘Stache. However he has often needed to be reminded, which is a fairly key factor, from the parental evaluation perspective. Also, since that initial conversation, ‘Stache and I added an extremely high-spirited three-year old girl to our household and incidentally decided that three pets and three children and two parents would about do for the present.

This evening over his birthday dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and English peas, Munchkin, in true labor boss fashion, laid down his terms and announced a strike. “Mama,” he said with deliberation and precision, “I will feed the cats for one more day. And then – I will say, ‘I want a dog!’”

It was my unfortunate task to break the news that, given the size of our house and our yard, we could not have more than three pets. I pointed out that Pippin, our “male” cat likes to go on adventures and maybe sometime Pippin might find a family that he liked better and stay with them instead. Also, it was likely that eventually we would move to a bigger house and that at that time, we could probably get a dog. I assured him that Daddy and I did want him to have a dog, but that this was just not a good time.

Immediately dismissing these reassurances, Munchkin launched into a new plan. “We – we could take down the cages and we puts the cats in them and then we takes them back to the kitty house [animal shelter]. But we keeps Sofie and then – then we have two pets – “ he counted on his fingers, “ – we have Sofie and we have my puppy dog.” He gave a firm nod, content with his awesome plan and succinct summary.

It was then my even more unfortunate task to convince him that no, simply marking “return to sender” was not a viable means of ridding oneself of an unwanted pet. All while shushing ‘Stache, who stepped out to the hall to burst into laughter in peace, and forcing a serious expression on my own face as befitted the serious discussion at hand.


However, if there are any cat lovers out there who would like to own a beautiful short-hair male-but-neutered cat who’s had his shots, is good with kids and likes to play outside on occasion, I will make you a very good deal. 

Seriously. 



This is my brother's dog, not Munchkin's future dog, but I couldn't not post it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Mei-Mei Log, Week 4

Day 22 Thursday Munchkin, Twinkle, Mei-Mei and I went to the aquarium. It was very quiet except for one school group. Mei-Mei was very content on my back in the carrier. She continues to love escalators and leaned down to grab the railing as we were going up. On the way out, Munchkin had a melt-down because I would not hold him as well. Later that afternoon, ‘Stache was carrying Mei-Mei up the front steps and tripped and both of them fell flat, but neither suffered any permanent effects. At dinner, Mei-Mei was more interested in feeding her peas to Munchkin than eating them herself.

Day 23 Friday We visited a friend who has a young daughter the boys’ age. Mei-Mei was quiet and stony faced and stayed on my lap the whole time. After a while she started crying for Baba. She perked up when we went outside to the car. My friend has two large dogs and Mei-Mei was fascinated and jumpy around them. When I put her down, she wagged her rear end back and forth, imitating the dogs wagging their tails. At naptime she delayed going to sleep and then slept for an hour, until ‘Stache woke her up. She was very unhappy and being woken up and only wanted to cuddle for a while. At bedtime went to sleep at 9.

Day 24 Saturday We left the house at 9 and drove 2 hours to my parents’ house for their Christmas party. Mei-Mei sat on ‘Stache’s lap for about 2 hours, then started getting up and making short forays. She was calm and content as long as she could see ‘Stache or I but not especially animated or boisterous. At about 2, ‘Stache took the kids upstairs for naptime. Twinkle was the only one who slept but everyone rested. We left about 7:30. Mei-Mei was not very happy about getting in the car and being separated from ‘Stache and I, but she went to sleep after about 30 minutes.

Day 25 Sunday Fairly quiet day. ‘Stache left after dinner to watch a movie at a friend’s house. Mei-Mei cried a bit when he left but then acted normally. Went to bed with me without crying except for occasional you-won’t-let-me-get-out-of-bed stuff. Watched a video with me for about an hour. Then self-entertained for a while. Watched me cruise Craigslist. Snuggled with me but very restless, changing positions all the time. Eventually wound up hugging my arm and chewing my fingernails. Fell asleep about 11pm.

Day 26 Monday Went to the bookstore with the kids. Kept Mei-Mei in the carrier, but she kept grabbing at books. Went to Sam’s for lunch. Mei-Mei ate a soft pretzel and some of a Coke. The boys were fragile and fractious all day. Mei-Mei was restless, constantly wanting up down play with me talk to me do something else. I think part of the problem is that we were not able to have any outdoor time. Went to sleep easily at 8. Woke up at 11 puking. Threw up a couple times, and then went back to sleep.


Day 27 Tuesday No more throwing up. 

Thank you for reading the log of our first four weeks with Mei-Mei! As you can see, things are still not without challenges, but we have seen such improvement in bonding, eating and sleeping since we came home! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mei-Mei Log, Week 3

Day 15 Thursday

Day 16 Friday Mei-Mei and I did a craft together, dyeing fabric for Christmas presents. She has a very long attention span. We worked together for about 1 and a half hours. She was delighted each time we pressed the fabric down and then lifted it up to see the colors. Munchkin and I went to see the Nutcracker after dinner. He loved it. 


Day 17 Saturday


Day 18 Sunday After supper she was playing with notecards and tape and kid scissors. She tore a card into a square and held it over her eye. She wanted me to cut it into a circle, which I did. She took a large piece of tape and taped the circle over one eye. Then she did the same thing on the other eye. She was extremely pleased with herself and trotted off to show ‘Stache.


Day 19 Monday Rainy. I cut the boys’ hair. Attempted to trim Mei-Mei’s bangs. She stood still but I didn’t do a great job of it. All of her hair swirls from one point. There isn’t a natural part. She had a sweet time with our cat: hugging, petting, forehead bonking. Kissed the cat and thought it great fun. Stayed up until 10 pm. She won’t kiss me yet.


Day 20 Tuesday We’re seeing more normal sibling interactions. Normal wrestling, normal squabbling. We went to Chik-Fil-A and while we were in the playplace, we overheard Munchkin talking to a little boy, telling him about Mei-Mei with a very proprietary tone. “That’s our sister. Our Mama and Daddy went to China to go get her. Where did your parents get your sister?” The clearly non-plussed little boy said, “Uh, uh, I think my parents got her in my mama’s belly.” Mei-Mei took a nap in the afternoon and then did not go to sleep until after midnight.



Day 21 Wednesday No nap, just stayed on the bed with me. She has an amazing ability to self-entertain. She kissed me two times today and let me rub noses with her several times. Don’t know yet if the kisses are a today-only deal. She stole and wore my glasses several times and is completely delighted by it. Went to sleep about 8:20pm. 

Mei-Mei Log, Week 2

Mei-Mei is eating normally for a toddler, so I am no longer recording it. She generally eats well, but occasionally refuses to eat anything at all. 

Day 8 Thursday

Much high spirits, running around house. We went to get our Christmas tree today. We got in car, Mei-Mei was mostly quiet for first 30ish minutes, occasional comments. Then started getting a little upset. It was a long way to the tree farm and we had to double back to a gas station for cash. She was better after I held her for a bit in the gas station. She was interested in the tree farm. I had her on my back in the Tula. Eventually wanted to get down and run around, after about 35 minutes. When we were driving home, she was fine for the first 30ish minutes or so and then wanted 'Stache or me to hold her. Didn’t ever take a nap, mostly was able to be quiet on bed for a while. 'Stache had to go to Urgent Care after supper. The kids and I watched a Thomas and Friends video. While watching Thomas, she pushed buttons on the computer. I held her on my lap and she screamed for 15 minutes. Eventually calmed, watched the video a while, got sleepy. I took her to the bed, she cried for about 10 minutes. I held her and she went to sleep.

Day 9 Friday 'Stache has a pre-pneumonia infection in his lungs. He got antibiotics and a nebulizer, which seem to be helping. Mei-Mei went to sleep at about 9.

Day 10 Saturday The boys joined us at 5 am. ‘Stache sent them back to their beds at 5:30. We got up at 7:30.

Day 11 Sunday

Day 12 Monday The honeymoon seems to be over. Munchkin and Twinkle have only complaints about Mei-Mei. Twinkle asked when we were going to be taking Mei-Mei home. The fact that Mei-Mei doesn’t follow the rules really bothers Munchkin.

Day 13 Tuesday

Day 14 Wednesday A friend came over and we watched the kids together outside. Mei-Mei was rambunctious, happy. Not shy. Enjoyed pushing Twinkle on the swings. Munchkin was fragile, apt to fall apart whenever Mei-Mei did something he didn’t like. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Mei-Mei Log, Week 1

I love reading adoption blogs. Such wonderful stories, great insights, helpful tips. But one blindspot seems to be the month after the child gets home. There's lots of posts leading up to the adoption, maybe a few posts in country and then everything goes dark for a month. This is understandable, for the same reason that bloggers don't tend to be really chatty in the first weeks post-partum: you're sleep-deprived and living in a whirlwind. Which I definitely am. But I thought a record of the transition from day 1 to day 30 might be helpful, so I am keeping a log. 

Warning: This is unlikely to be scintillating. 

Night 0 (10pm EST) 

My parents, brother and sister met us at the airport with Munchkin and Twinkle. Mei-Mei was stony-faced and clingy. When we put her in her carseat she cried for about 1 minute and then no more the rest of the way home. (15 minutes) Her first flicker of interest came at home when the boys brought out their new lightsabers. Her first smile was while hitting Grandpa with it. She was delighted by the cats and picked them up by their back ends. She petted them a few times, yanking her hand back when they made sudden movements, and hit at them a few times. 

She went to sleep at 2 am and slept until 11:30am. She went to sleep on 'Stache's chest.

Day 1

Things she ate today: 
Blueberry yogurt cup
3 bites dressing, 2 servings ham
Lots of small cups of tea
No dinner 

She goes back and forth between being hesitant and wanting to be held, and throwing herself into playing with the boys. Liked digging in dirt with shovels but was distressed by leaves, dirt on bare feet.She has a small cough. Shares food easily. Likes lightsabers. Likes her new tea set, copies Danny in taking tiny sips of tea with the little spoon. Talks about cats a lot. She hit them 2 or 3 times and was reprimanded. She seems much more willing to be held by me than when we were in China. Napped 3:30-7 in between 'Stache and I on our double bed. 

Night 1
Went to bed 11pm. Liked laying/sleeping on 'Stache’s chest but cried whenever he tried to roll her off. Wouldn’t sleep in the little bed at all. Cried and cried when we tried to make her. Slept in little bed with 'Stache for 1 hour, then woke up crying. Did this until 6 am, when we got up. Wouldn’t be held by me. 

Day 2 

Things she ate:
Blueberry yogurt
2 or 3 bites grilled cheese
Almost all of a 6 oz can of mushrooms, drained (she found this can and asked to eat it)
Tea with honey
Lots of frozen peas

Frequently wanting to be held. In the morning she wanted to go outside and see neighbor children but wanted me to hold her. Very interested in bikes, pushed/pulled on Munchkin’s tire to “assist” him. Slept 1pm-3pm. At end of day she went out with 'Stache and the boys to play with neighbors, was comfortable with a good bit of separation between her and Matthew. Much playing with trains and duplos.

Night 2

Went to sleep lying next to Matthew at 7:30, slept until 11:30. Very awake, didn’t want to go back down. At 1:30, gave her 1 tsp Benadryl in OJ. Slept 2am-8am.

Day 3 Saturday

Things she ate:
Vanilla yogurt
Peas (mostly dipped in ketchup)
½ egg cheese sandwich (dipped in ketchup)
Tea and animal crackers
No dinner

Played independently with boys with duplos in their room for a while. We all went to a nearby park. I carried her in my Tula carrier. She took our green plastic shovel with her. Had a glorious time with the boys at playground, shoveled bark and dirt, climbed the plastic “stone” pile, went down slides with boys over and over. Did not know how to use spines, just used stairs or stone pile to climb the play structure. Napped 3-5pm. Stayed with 'Stache while the boys and I went to grocery store. 'Stache said she walked around a bit looking anxious because she woke up and we were gone. Hugged Munchkin and Twinkle spontaneously when we got home.

Night 3

Slept 9pm to 4:30 am. Didn’t want to go back to sleep. Resisted until 6:45, when we got up.

Day 4 Sunday

Things she ate:
2 square waffles with syrup
3 boiled eggs without yokes
1 piece bread w/pumpkin butter
Brownie
Sm portion noodles

Lots of mischief and mayhem. I said "That is not a toy!" a lot today, about a bottle of bleach, an antique book, 'Stache's work phone and a table knife. Today was very stressful. The honeymoon is starting to wear off. It's hard to parent in language other than your own. She is big enough and active enough that you really have to watch her every minute. Constantly working defence. Slept 1:30-4.

Night 4

Slept 7:30pm-1:30am. Didn’t want to go back to sleep. Gave 1 tsp Benadryl in OJ. Slept 2:30-6:45.

Day 5 

Things she ate: 
Multigrain cheerios w/ milk
Yogurt
2 chik nuggets, sm waffle fries
Sm handful yogurt covered raisins
2 cheesy breads, 1 piece pizza

I took her to the doctor's office. She was fine in the car. Quiet/clingy in the dr’s office. Howled and struggled when she got shots. I took her to Walmart to get her a bike but she wasn't interested in one. She was very interested in the nerf guns, so we bought one of those. She took a 30 min nap in the car. She was in a good mood when we got back. Played outside with nerf guns. Extremely rambunctious after supper, chasing/being chased by the boys all around the house.

Night 5
Slept 8-1am. Cried for an hour. Slept 2-5:45. 

Day 6 Tuesday

Things she ate:
2 boiled egg whites and a few bites of bread
Home made mac and cheese
No dinner 

A friend of mine came over, 'Stache ran an errand while she was here. Mei-Mei spent most of the visit in my lap. 'Stache tried to get her to take nap on little bed, she cried/screamed for about 1 ½ hours. Eventually he persuaded her to lie down on her bed with her cheek in his palm for about 20 min. After that he let her climb into our bed and she slept by him until 6.

Night 6

'Stache was sick and couldn't have her go to sleep on his chest, so he slept on the couch. Mei-Mei cried like a lost soul for an hour. She wouldn't let me touch her. I gave her a tsp of Benedryl in orange juice and she gradually collapsed onto the bed and slept from 9:30-6am. 

Day 7 Wednesday

Things she ate:
A few bites of biscuits and gravy
1 lg biscuit w/ pumpkin butter
Tea with honey
Leftover mac and cheese
Sm portion rice and beans

Screamed when I tried to make her sit on my lap for story time. Eventually hung out nearby while I did “school” with the boys. I made birdseed ornaments with the boys and Mei-Mei stirred the mixture. 'Stache and I took turns trying to get her to go down for nap on little bed: nothing. Only crying or sitting and holding. Eventually just sat by herself on the little bed for a while. After naptime 'Stache and I had a council of war and decided that trying to make her sleep in the little bed was doing damage to the bonding process and that having more room in our bed would help her sleep through the night. We found a $190 king-sized mattress and boxspring and a local appliance store. Mei-Mei "helped me” and 'Stache move stuff out of our room and our new king mattresses in. Very enthusiastic about new mattress, jumped on it with boys. Addressed me as "Mama" for the first time. 

Night 7

After dinner I took Munchkin to Walmart to buy king-sized sheets, leaving Twinkle and Mei-Mei with 'Stache, who is still sick. Twinkle and Mei-Mei were bickering over poking the cell phone while watching a Thomas video. 'Stache gave her a half dose of Benadryl in OJ at 7:30, she went to sleep 7:45, slept soundly until 6.