29 April 2008


Conversation while walking home from school.

Julia: Look, Mommy. Julia pulls at my arm, the one whose hand she is holding, so hard that I check to see if the arm is still attached to the shoulder. Where does the kid get that strength?

Me: Ah, Look at all the flowers. I see tulips.

Julia: No, Mommy. No tulips, lots of lips.

So goes the language lesson for the day as I try to bite my cheeks to hold back my explosive laughter. But, she is noticing flowers and other Spring green stuff.

Then again, it snowed yesterday. Just flurries and some hail, but snowed. I haven't cleaned out the snow blower yet, and maybe I am just going to wait until June to do that. The chances of real snow are pretty remote, but . . . . we are in Wisconsin.

Julia is growing. I have to clean out her clothes because I keep grabbing pjs and underwear that is way too short for her. She does not seem to be getting any wider, although the kid can eat as much we do at some meals. Cheshire was and is the same way, and that let her wear any of her favorite clothing forever. Which she did, and does. I wonder if Julia will be like that. She does have that feeling about shoes. I don't think that she had much in the way of shoes that fit in China. She loves, loves, loves her flip-flops, and couldn't wait to get them down from the top of the closet a few weeks ago when it turned warm for a few days. She has this pair of orange flipflops with a big flower on each one that I bought when we first came home in September of 2006. They are definitely too small and too thin on the souls, but the kid still wants to wear them. I don't know whether to hide them or just wait until she is done. I have told her that she can't wear them when we are going somewhere – although she did manage to keep them on last week when we went food shopping. LOL.

28 April 2008

My First Reader

Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuiderzee
Long ago, I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me
~The Dutchman, by Michael Smith

Carolina's sister, Tree, wrote me yesterday, that my dear friend could no longer speak. Could no longer speak. I could not digest that. My friend who spoke a mile a minute to catch me up on the goings on in her family, whose excitement bubbled up and flowed over in descriptions of places she loved, food she cooked, and Sean, whose words, written down and read out loud, were prose poems and spoken songs. Carolina cannot speak.

A bit more than three years ago Carolina and David came up to a Parents' Weekend at Conn College. We had fun, more than I had had in years. I thought it was the beginning of a new time of being together more often. We talked of getting together whenever we came out to see Ches which would have put our get togethers at four or fives times a year instead of a once a year holiday or vacation trip when we saw them for a meal squeezed in between relative visits.

How many years ago we met. I was out of college, looking for the avant guarde. She had just moved to NYC from Utica. We did a class together, joined a theater workshop together, formed a free ranging theater group together, and read to eachother. When did we start reading? I don't remember. Damn, how can I not remember? I am the only one who has that capacity now. Early on, we started reading to eachother. Plays, stories, ideas, novels, scrap of wishes and secret dreams. If all our writing wasn't biographical, we talked about our families, we became our families. I knew her brothers and sister and she knew mine. It was as if we had grown up in the same neighborhood, the same attachments to immigrant elders, the same Catholic grammar schools, the same listening to aunts and friends speaking in tongues that we only vaguely understood. All this was background music, firm foundation for a “rest of our lives” friendship that was supposed to close on two crazy old ladies sitting in rockers on a big porch that I imagined in New England and she in New Mexico and then Seattle.

At first, we always met in Brooklyn in the appartment that Caolina found and still lives in. It is a block from the Park and on hot days the big windows in the dining room turned study ushered in any stray breeze in the summer. Later, there was airconditioning in that one room, that one room only. And in the winter, those same windows rattled as breeze turned to fierce stormy winds. Later, when Cheshire was born, Carolina travelled to me in the East Village. We were still reading and I was wiping my baby's chin as we all sat around the kitchen table that had come from my mother's house. We joked that Cheshire was surely learning all our editorial tricks and that a far flung spoon or an especially loud rasberry was surely a critique of the serious essays that she was writing or the silly kids' stories that I was attempting.

Somehow the year we lived in Brooklyn, just four blocks apart, we were both too busy to meet and read. How busy we always were, going, doing, striving for dreams, art, theater, books, jobs, degrees, careers. I remember having dinner once or twice or three times and that was all. How we squandered time then. We owned it. Time. We wasted it as if we would live close by forever.

And we didn't.

David and I moved to Indiana for law school and then life. We made trips back East to visit. Sometimes, when I was done with law school and the first few years of cleark, Carolina and I found time to reinact the ritual of our reading for an hour, just moments really, during a visit. We kept in touch – long phone calls widely spaced, long emails spaced likewise. After all, we had time. One day we would visit in Seattle where Sean had settled and they would show us the splendors of the northwest. One day we would tour Italy together, and I know she would love the mother of our Alice, and the three of us would get together for London theater weekends.
But Sean's wedding the summer before Ches started college and that first Parents' Weekend were the last times we were to spend together with both of us in some semblance of right minds. During the next visit east to see my sick father, I met Carlina downtown for tea and talking. But she had trouble finding me in the city that she knew, and she needed to be put on the subway train to go back home. Phone calls got weird. We seemed to have nothing much to say. She didn't ask me about my parents, my siblings, our in common friends, my garden, my writing, my crazy boss – people she always wanted to know about. When I asked her about the network of her life, the answers were vague or single words. I wondered if she was angry at me, at our much too long long-distance relationship because Carolina never answered in single words.

She and David came down to Thanksgiving at Lisa's that year. As always, we cooked and laughed, drank wine and coffee and tea. Talked, chatted and shared. And I didn't notice anything strange. I asked her if she was angry and she denied it. For a short time, I saw our relationship righted again. She was having health problems but they were working out, and possibly it was just me needing more from our relationship than she had time to give. But then, she had trouble playing Apples to Apples, the silly game that she had taught me that summer while we were all relaxing between wedding events. She couldn't seem to get the rules of the game. Rules that are almost nonexistant in that game. She acted almost silly drunk, but not drunk. After Carolina went to bed one night, David told Lisa and I that Carolina's health problems were still a mystery and that whatever the problem was, it was responsible for the confusion, the times when she could not remember, could not respond, could not share in something so simple as that silly game.

Alzheimer's was not mentioned yet. And when it was, it was first by Tree, who swore me to secrecy. Carolina was embarrassed by the diagnosis. This was a big secret between us, the biggest ever, and I confessed how I knew when she told me herself. Her memory was not completely intact but she was still talking about writing, although she was not able to teach anymore. I still thought that there was time because now she had the time, that we could write together again and share our thoughts on a private blog I set up, that we would have weekends in Chicago where I had an apartment, that she would follow our journey to China and I would ask her and David to be Julia's godparents.

None of that happened.

She would consider traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago for time together but never come, she could not remember that we were going to China, she could not remember where we lived, she remembered Cheshire only as a little girl. When David and Julia and I came out east for my father's funeral, we took time in Brooklyn to introduce Carolina to Julia. Carolina was not interested. This woman who was the best mother that I ever knew, who loved her son, her granddaughter, and my Cheshire as much, as much and more, did not even try to connect with my then-wild Chinese child, did not bend down to greet my little girl.

We've talked on the phone infrequently in the last 18 months. I could ask about her cats and David and Sean. She would say yes or no. When she talked, she complained about her life, she was angry and unhappy. I had no words, any comfort I offered washed over her without notice. And I have not been a good friend. I did not call every week. I did not spend enough time on the phone when I did call. I did not find time to visit when she still was speaking and I would have known that she remembered me. And I miss my friend, my first reader, my sister from another mother and father. I miss her words.

27 April 2008

23 April 2008

A walk in the gardens

On Sunday, Julia and I went to Olbrich Gardens and took in the buds and blooms. More buds than blooms that day.

And what is a walk in the garden without a ride on the great stone elphant.

Notice the outfit -- picked out by Julia herself. The day started with tights that managed to clash with both the shirt and the skirt, but she had a great time deciding what to wear and I love that.

And here amidst some blooms. This girl was not a willing model that day . . . .

but doesn't she look cute scrunched down like a little sprite?

And after a long and hot walk in the garden, we were fortunate to retire to Michael's Frozen Custard, a Madison tradition that we are trying to uphold. Notice Julia trying hard to do justice to the cone. Ummmm, chocolate!


In my humble and limited experience, these kinds of pictures are few and far between. So they may be redundant but they may also be unique. These are from last week, but I couldn't let them pass without posting them.

Julia throught it was so cool that the vacuum wand could be made to fit her, and she did a pretty good job of the kitchen too. Vacuuming today, maybe ironing tomorrow. It would be nice to have someone in this house who liked housework!

22 April 2008

Seder and the African Children's Choir

I am starting this at a CLE during the break. I am sure I will not get much done before needing to take notes again. The training yesterday and today is for Guardian Ad Litems -- lawyers (at least in Wisconsin) who are appointed by the court to represent a child's best interest in divorce, custody, or paternity cases. It is a high burn out job, so there is work. It would make me pretty independent of the regular 9 to 5, but also required lots work with people, demanding and long. I think I'd really like it but right now I feel overwhelmed with information and requirements. I am thinking I may need to find a mentor to get me through a few cases before I go out on my own.

Another option.

We have had some experts talking about trauma in children today. That I understood and knew. Nothing is ever wasted.

We went to a Seder on Saturday evening, first night of Passover. The connection is pretty tenuous and amazing -- David's father's childhood friend's son and family. He is a law school prof and his wife is a librarian. They have a daughter who is a radical feminist rabi. She led the reading along with her new husband who sings. He has a beautiful voice and it was a delight to hear him. A sister and brother-in-law and family were also there. There was a lot more discussion of religious issues and current events all related back to the part of the Seder that we were reading. We've never done this and I like the idea. Also, Julia absolutely bonded with their 20 year old daughter who played make believe with her for a long time. Julia has been talking about Molly at school. Very Sweet.

I was so glad we had somewhere to go for Passover. We didn't feel that we knew enough people to do it this year and the house still feels so unready for good entertaining. But not doing the cooking, preparing, and celebrating makes me sad. Well, next year.

I was so blue on Friday after I found out that I did not get the UW job! But after doing the Milwaukee interview, seeing a bit of the city, driving home listening to Amy Tan, eating great mideastern food, seeing Streetcar with Mary, and then having a beer and tearing apart the production, I had to feel good. Just needed to mope for a little while. Two and three days in Milwaukee might be great.

Julia earned another "pet" this weekend and we found the little bat that she wanted at Target. Her next goal, self-set, is a big "town." I wasn't going to encourage her to work towards a bigger reward until the summer but David picked up the que and decided to work on the alphabet. Hence, Julia must be able to identify all the letters (just capitals) before she can have the "town." We shall see how long it takes her to learn all those letters. She is pretty hot to have this reward.

Yesterday, Julia and her class went to see the African Children's Choir performance. (Oh, we are in the best school district!) Julia's aide, Amy, reported to me this morning about Julia's behavior which was pretty good. She sat with the kids for most of the concert and really enjoyed the music. (No surprise at all!) Towards the end of the concert, there was a short video presentation about Africa and where these kids came from. Amy told me that it was very short but pretty dire poverty being shown -- kids begging with bowls, kids without clothes, kids with flies on their faces. Julia jumped over the bench she was sitting on and into Amy's arms. She told Amy that "I not go back there," and "I stay with Mommy and Daddy." Amy also told me that Julia was very upset because I was dressed to yesterday and didn't know where I was going. Amy really didn't know that I was going to a class and so she helped Julia make up a story about me visiting Molly, who we met this past weekend, and going to lunch with her. And we wonder at times what is going on inside that little head. I often wonder if she will ever be able to tell us anything about China by the time she is ready to tell us, but she keeps it all close, I am sure. Oh, I hope there will come the day when she shares with us.

18 April 2008

Singing to Cheshire

Happy Birthday to my girl today! 23 years old and what a great 23 years it has been. Of course, she is not really 23 until around 9:15 tonight. I hope that there are a few birthdays coming that we can all spend together.

Julia things

A few Julia things --

Julia is coloring within the lines! No small feat indeed. Our family work last night was coloring a picture of the butterfly. Each of us told another of us to color a specific space a specific color. Julia was a bit challenged at first, but got with the program and enjoyed the process of telling Daddy what to do (ha!). She was very proud of the result which hangs on the refrigerator right now.

We are still into stickers -- 10 for a littlest pet -- this time she has missed out on a few stickers by not having a good day (behavior wise) and by not being neat when she does her letter sheet. Sometimes I am not sure that she really gets that the stickers are directly connected with her behavior, but sooner or later she will.

Julia is asking spontaneous questions using "where", "what", and "when." She is also taking corrections to the wrong use of pronouns.

On other fronts -- the dream job just fell through. Very nice email note from the interviewer but nice note or not, I didn't get the job. Bummed a bit, but . . .

16 April 2008

Spring pictures

I am woefully behind in pictures. I have been taking them but in generally my attempts to capture my dear one fall far short of my own expectations which are pretty moderate to begin with. I could blame the camera but I just don't think it is the fault of technology.

Anyway, I wanted to post a few of our early spring photos.

This is from last week when it was still too cold to really look very spring-like. We bundled up -- Julia refused gloves -- and went outside to garden-- rake up leaves -- and play -- digging in last year's sand. It is clear that we need a sand box and some fresh white stuff for digging.

Before we went out, I gave her the bowl in the picture for her to put the toys she wanted to take outside. Dinosaurs, animals, a few people and a truck went into the bucket which she gave to me to bring out and she gathered up more stuff. I had to laugh at her. I wanted her to carry the bucket and be responsible for it alone. Instead, she was assigning it to me so that she could stuff her pockets and carry a few more toys in her arms. Everyone wanted to go outside.

I love this picture! Julia on her bedroom floor "writing." It is a sight that is new in our house and I am so thankful for it. Julia is now pretending to write on paper and on her white board. She is intent about her writing and drawing and will quietly do it for 20 minutes at a time.

And here she is in her springtime glory -- stretch pants too! I bought her three pairs of stretch pants and a few tops to go with them. She was thrilled and there was no talk at all about not liking pants. I am still waiting for the willing wearing of jeans but the pair I bought will fit through the fall, so I will be patient.

And here she is with her fairy wings. Sometimes I see that face looking at me and I fall in love all over again!

13 April 2008

Crocus sightings

Julia has her "stuff" spread across the dining room table. Trees, volcanos, rocks and a pond in which dinosaurs and littlest pets play. The stegasaurus says to the sharp tooth: "Don't sit on the volcano." The sharp tooth replies: "I am going to eat you." "No thank you," says the stegasaurus and he hits the sharp tooth with his tail. Such is the world of the dining room.

Scenes pop up everywhere -- the kitchen counters and on the desk in front of the computer keyboard being the ones I needs to move at times. I am just waiting for an installation in the frig and on a shelf of the linen closet.

Julia has had a rough week this week and last. Behavior taking a step backwards -- more loud sounds other wise called yelling, some hitting, lack of attention at home, at therapy, and at school. It made me rather blue and it was hard to write about. I remind myself that all kids take steps back now and then and she is moving forward in some areas.

Julia is recognizing more and more letters. When she draws on the kitchen white board she tells me that she is writing about her drawings. She makes some letters and some lines and circles, but she is thinking about writing which is an advance. We are still doing a sheet of pre-writing skills a day in which she traces shapes, letters, and words that I write in yellow. She is getting neater and neater as she goes along. An incentive to be neat is my offer of an extra sticker if the sheet is neat. AND that is working.

Stickers for littlest pets is working very well! She has gotten 3 new pets so far and should get another one tonight. An unexpected lesson arose when we were buying the last pet. They were on sale for two for the price of one so we bought two. Julia picked them out and then picked which one she wanted at that time and which one she would earn next. That was a difficult choice, and it was even more difficult having a pet on the top of the refrigerator looking down at her day and night waiting for her to get the next 10 stickers. She was somewhat annoyed that I did not give in and give her the second one when she made a fuss, but I explained that I could do nothing because of the rules and that fussy bahavior might mean that she would not get a sticker for the day. Surprising me, she settled down quickly and has been pretty patient from then on.

The sticker saving also is a good opportunity to count another something at least once or twice a day. I am also talking about how many she has and what she needs to make ten. Just the beginning of addition and substraction, but a beginning.

I've gone back to doing schedules for Julia's weekend days. I stopped doing it regularly because she was doing so well without it, but with spring approaching we are doing different things with our days and maybe she needs more structure. Maybe I shouldn't have stopped at all.

Julia and I bought pansies today. We were able to get out to do some raking and cleaning of the back yard as well. I am hoping that it will be warm enough this week to do a good garden cleanup and to start my garden design chores. Julia is interested in planting the pansies and if it is nice tomorrow we can do it after therapy.

Thursday's job interview was pretty cool! The job is great and I'd love doing it. They are doing at least three days of interviews and will decide by the end of next week. I am counting no chickens but I will be disappointed if I don't get it.

Julia has an assignment for school to bring in a baby picture. The pictures will all be put on a bulletin board and the kids are suppose to guess who is who. This follows a lesson on baby animals and their families. We have no baby picture of Julia which might present problem. I've decided to send one of the first pictures we have of Julia in which she is about 4.5. She has very short hair and is posed next to cribs, so she looks a bit younger.

This assignment, however, brings up new issues of how Julia is different from other kids in her class. I wonder how she is going to feel about this. She is becoming sensitive about what others say. She told me more than once that others have hurt her feelings. I know that we will have to deal with this again and again in her school life, but I was letting Julia set the pace of the telling of her story. Now the school has imposed some sort of deadline. We will comply as much as we can right now, but not without a note to Julia's teacher letting her know how I feel.

Tonight, during our before bedtime reading, I brought out the book, "When you were born in China." This is generic adoption from China book with lots of pictures. I haven't brought it out up to this point because Julia has not seemed at all interested. Her wearing of her "China clothes" this Chinese New Years was her first interest in anything Chinese (except for food). So I opened the book and we looked at pictures of the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and city building. We looked at pictures of children in lines for school and in parks, and then there were pictures of families. Julia immediately turned over and announced, "I going to sleep." I asked her about the book, and she said, "Julia not read 'bout China." I asked if she would tell me when she was ready to read about China and she said, "Yes, Mom," in that voice that is the fore shadow of her teenage voice.

There will be time to read and talk and I will wait until Julia is ready.

09 April 2008

Just one more

Of Cheshire. On Saturday evening, we had a very nice Indian dinner and then went next door to have tea and cookies as we talked about her thesis. How incredibly civilized!

Weekend pictures

A few pictures from this weekend's travels. I think, I think Cheshire is coxing the two boats in the pictures. In the 4-boat, Cheshire lies down in the front of the boat, but I recognize her from the series of hats on her head. Yes, it was chilly that day and chillier still on the water.

This is an 8-boat that Cheshire also coxed on Saturday. This was the team's first time in this boat for the year so the teamwork was not perfect. At least, according to Cheshire. They looked pretty good and came in second. I am sure by the time they get to the final races in another month, the boat is going to look even better, especially if Cheshire keeps coxing this group. (Note the very biased mother review.)

And here she is, between races. My girl! Other parents in the background provided lots of amusement during the races. Conversations like, "Is that our boat?" "No, what about that one?" "Maybe we are not in this race." And lots of cheering which cannot be heard in the boat apart from a dim roar was engaged in. I am just not the cheering, yelling type, but I appreciately, rather silently, a good race.

08 April 2008

Question for the almost 23 year old!

Did you get the Bolivia pictures that I sent last night? I want to know whether you opened them. They are big. I can reduce size, but the big pictures are best for a slide show.

07 April 2008

New Morning

I am home afte 4.5 days in Connecticut with Cheshire and a quick Jersey visit with the family.

So good to be home -- Julia must have grown inches in the last five day! She was happy to see me and she was very happy to get a new LPS toy that I brought her from Connecticut. (LPS -- Littlest Pet Shop) I know the steep slippery slope we are sliding down. Yes, Elaine, I am dreading that collecting gene, but the learning potential is great. I will suffer through little pieces of important plastic all over the house. And Julia was so grateful for the new toy. Never heard so many thank yous.

It is so great spending time with my Cheshire. She will be 24 in another two weeks and what a wonderful person she is. We just hung out together, going to meals, going to her practices and Saturday's ragata (rowing), taking apart her thesis for a final edit, and picking pictures to go with her writing. I really hope that we get to living close to her one day. Julia with pretty good at home. She had one meltdown today when she refused to leave the theater where they saw a ballet of Peter and the Wolf. She hasn't had one of these is a long time, and I had been gone since Wednesday. Can't blame her too much.

Back to the regular schedule today. I think that Julia was happy to have me doing her hair this morning. Not that David isn't good at it -- okay, he is not really good at girly hair, but he did say last night that Julia has really great hair. She does.

Julia's aide, Amy, at school told me that Julia was concerned last week about who walked the dog in the morning. I am sure David covered it. This morning when I left her off at school, she reminded me to walk the dog as soon as I got back home.

Another thing she told her teacher last week was the Daddy had not given her a bath. I don't give her a bath every night, and many days we go swimming and she gets showers at the Y. I am not sure why Daddy is supposed to give her a bath every night. LOL.

Anyway, off to get my hair cut, my teeth cleaned, and then interviewed. The first two just happened to fall today before the interview but it couldn't hurt!

03 April 2008

Yesterday's news

Sunday was not as bad as Saturday and the next two days were better yet. Carol, Julia's speech therapists thought Julia's behavior was due to spring break. I am very willing to agree if it gets better soon. Of course, I am on a plane going to visit Ches, and may have upset the whole apple cart once again.

We had a good speech therapy session on Monday. Carol is good at explaining things to me as well as working with Julia. She explained Julia's autism as having a very weak auditory system in part. Julia does learn and learns pretty quickly, but she doesn't pick up things that she hears. She does better with visual learnings which is very true. For her to learn language, therefore, we have to present vocally highlighted information and we have to present the information in different situations.

Autistic kids also don't generalize well, and so if she learns something in the classroom or at the kitchen table she might not realize that it is something to use in the backyard. I have been pretty good about doing this even without knowing about it. At times I treat Julia like an infant in that I am always talking to her. I ask questions, if she doesn't answer, I ask something else or I just talk. I think that the more that she hears the better – Julia, on the other hand, does want to talk and will sometimes engage for a little while. And I have to remind myself that she does listen. She is getting very good at naming the bulb plants that we see coming up as we walk the dog.

Julia is on her second collection of 10 stickers for good behavior and she will probably get her next pet before I get back from CT. I am looking on ebay and hoping to snag some of the bigger stuff from someone who is getting rid of kid toys. It seems there is actually a collectors market for the stuff – A very rare blue bunny out of circulation since 2001??? Not gonna' catch me goin' there.