Thursday, January 26, 2012

Me Tee!

King of the Jungle - Daddy with his girls

There is no question that Treya has a full understanding of what a birthday entails, although she herself has never had a birthday recognized before. In the course of her one year at home, she has witnessed many birthday cakes with candles ablaze as the dreamy eyed recipient extinguished the flames encapsulating the perfect wish in their imaginations. Since Dev’s birthday in November, Treya has been growing ever more anxious realizing her day was coming next. In fact, playing birthday in the play kitchen is probably one of the most popular pretend games she enacts; from making and baking the cake, to setting the perfect table to then singing you her rendition of the actual birthday song. When given the signal, you may blow out the wooden candles - not before - and she starts the whole procession all over again.

Eager for the party to start

We decided to do a reenactment of Dev’s lion hunt party, but with a few twists to better suit Treya. Normally I keep the plans under wraps until the big day, but to make sure Trey understood what was happening, I included her in preparing the invitations, the baking of the cake and making the hand print lion goodie bags. The biggest change - daddy in the lion suit was NOT a surprise this time. He was dressed and in clear view of all the guests the whole time....less scary for sure! Transformation of our house into a mini jungle was the only secret kept. On safari day, I woke Treya whispering the birthday song in her tiny ear, to which she squealed with delight and popped right out of bed. Devi took her on a tour of the house, discovering all the decorations and hidden animals ahead of time, as Dev proclaimed herself my safari helper for the day, declaring that both girls had a need to know.

Receiving a hand stamp for successfully
finding a zebra!

Madly gluing and pasting away, a herd of paper plate lion heads were quickly assembled by our guests in no time, helping them to warm up to each other for the rest of the party games. Pith helmets precariously perched atop their heads and binoculars around their necks, they listened to my clues to identify the animal they were to search for. Lead by Devi who assisted Treya, the explorers traipsed through our three story jungle in search of wildlife, finding a giraffe, monkey, zebra, tiger, elephant and finally the king of our jungle. When lion daddy was finally found he lead us right into the Ziggy says dance, scarf dances and an animal march with instruments through the house, before settling down and reading stories. Treya was beaming. She was just enjoying the day to it’s fullest; certainly making up for her first two party-less birthdays. She laughed and danced her little heart out.

I made tiger tails (hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls) for lunch with various other accompaniments for refueling and witnessed kids actually eating at a party for the first time. They chowed. At last it was the big moment. Cake time. Treya could hardly contain herself. She stared in amazement as I lit the three little candles at the base of the lion face cake. Crouched beside her chair, I could see the reflection of the candles’ glow in Treya’s big brown eyes as we prepared to sing, my heart warmed by the sight of her fascinated gaze, poised in anticipation. The kids did a great job singing, with Treya herself singing the loudest, “appie bur-tay to me!” Priceless. The blowing took her several tries, with air directed up, down and sideways before reaching the target, but the guests remained patient until the final flame went out, then clapping wildly for her accomplishment. I think the old wives tale indicates that all candles need to be blown out in one breath to receive your wish, but something tells me this jelly bean’s wish is coming true just the same.

Opening her charm bracelet from mommy
and daddy for the first of many times.

Treya's two favorite things...
Her charm bracelet and new baby doll...
that says over 50 (non-stop) things.
What were we thinking?!

I have to say that of all the kid parties I’ve hosted, this one was one of the most fun. Just the right amount of kids, the right personalities of children and adults. Just a delightful good time all around. Even opening gifts went well. Treya did an excellent job of listening to me read each card, carefully unwrapping the gift and doling out thank yous and hugs all around without being told. Even Devi did great with not even a twinge of sibling jealousy. At the end of our party, the girls all disappeared into the play room for a few minutes while the grown ups finished our conversations. Not a peep! They all shared toys, got along great and even managed clean-up; clean-up, everybody clean-up when asked.

Ready to blow out her candle
wearing a crown of her choice,
a gift from Jenya - a crib mate of Devi's.

The true icing on the cake (every pun intended) came that night during our traditional birthday dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Oma joined us and got to witness our girl, her face just beaming with excitement through the birthday song, and then blowing out the candle that came on her spumoni ice cream, before a restaurant full of onlookers. To the applauding crowd Trey yelled, “Me tee!” holding up three stubby little fingers. Yep, you certainly are all of three, my delightful and precious birthday girl!

Monday, January 23, 2012

365 And Counting!

Treya's First Forever Family Day Anniversary - January 21st, 2012

Amazing. That is how it feels to recall our second adoption trip, just one year ago. Amazing in that, the journey to India still seems surreal. The adventures we had were life changing, asking so much of our then, four year old traveler, and expecting acceptance from a well established and resilient two year old, a survivor in her own rite. Adopting a toddler, especially a strong willed one, is not easy on anyone. Daddy, Devi, Treya and mommy were all put through the wringer. We unknowingly each had a different idea of what that magical moment would be like, none of which became reality.

Mommy and Daddy were drawing from their first experience traveling to Devi. We picked her up out of her crib, she hugged us and that was that. Everyone was healthy and happy, and although we were parenting newbies, Dev was young enough that we were still able to call the shots, beginning to establish our new routine from day one. This is what we hoped this second experience would be like, full of photos and video footage to document this monumental event. We just wanted Treya to like us and trust us and I guessed that her extreme shyness also meant she would need at least one of us, hoping she would snuggle into my wanting arms, much the same as a newborn does, seeking comfort. Seamless would be our union.

Devi was more than ready to be a big sister. She had been dreaming of this day, falling more in love with her every minute leading up to this trip and knowing that Treya would instantly love her back. She loved washing the elephants and exploring the beaches of Goa, but couldn’t wait to play with Treya, hugging her and kissing her and just getting on with their lives making up for the two years head start Treya had had without us. Devi, quite the conversationalist, was certain that she and her baby sister would be instant friends, having long conversations and playing games and singing favorite songs together.

The moment we first saw her - assisted by Manda

Then there was Treya, with yet another agenda. Our first glimpse of her in person took by breath away. Dressed in pink gingham, her wispy black hair, fair skin and huge round dark eyes were unmistakable. Assisted for encouragement by an ayah, she was walked up to us and smiled brightly when we first met, recognizing us from photos that she had been shown for the weeks leading up to this union. She was lifted into my arms but went stiff, resisting my embrace and my kisses. The whole meeting, she tolerated us at best, certainly not wanting to establish a lasting relationship. Treya would cautiously walk by us at more than an arms length from one room to the next for hours. Siting a line from Mo Wilim’s Knuffle Bunny, Treya would “go boneless” in an effort to become dead weight, hence getting as far from me as possible whenever I tried to hold her or engage her, but would eagerly run up to others, even volunteers at the orphanage that she had never met, for comfort, which tore at my heart. For days Pat, with a camera in his hands and worry in his eyes, followed me, following her all over the place as she would run and hide from me. He took few photos, as the scene did not hold the makings of fond memories, in fact many frames were snapped after she had tucked herself behind a corner, escaping our view. Exasperated, even Devi was frustrated by Treya’s rejection. Who knew that Treya would have little language skills (certainly not understanding any English) and would be a loner, preferring to help in the kitchen rather than play with other children? We tried to meet her on her own terms, but it was simply not working.

Chasing Treya

The night before taking custody of Treya, we decided to have one last outing as a family of three, treating Devi to the Pune circus. I’ll never forget, sitting there watching the hilarity of the clowns through scared straight eyes, thinking how would I get that child, who wouldn’t even let me hold her, out of the orphanage, into an auto richshaw and back to our hotel...much less get her onto an airplane and fly for 27 hours! I prayed over this, and prayed hard for strength, both physical and mental, for wisdom, and to ease the toughened heart of this wee one, that she might begin to feel our love for her.

The first time she let me hold her

The next day, our Adoption day, something was different. Everyone could sense it, the staff even stating that they were all certain Treya was ready to leave with us, though her actions since our arrival that morning seemed much the same as the previous days. At last the time came for the girls to change into the Rajastani dresses for the ceremony. As a sign of a true answer to prayer, Treya brought her dress to me and lifted her arms for ME to slip the dress over her precious head. Once dressed, she would only allow me to pick her up, a sweet embrace that I will never forget - breathing in her scent, feeling the beat of her heart against my chest and the weight of her body on my hip. Her sad eyes stared into my teary ones and we began to “learn” each other’s gaze, as only a mother and daughter can know. Escaping the stress of the situation and in an act of great trust, she laid her head on my shoulder, her arms not touching me, but rather held limp straight down at her sides, she fell asleep.

In contrast, today we took our first Treya Forever Family Day trip to Gateway to India for dinner to celebrate, which demanded all the fanfare and finery the girls could imagine. Matching dresses, bangle bracelets, singing and holding hands in the car along the way. After a warm welcome by the restaurant owner we found our seats and the girls, giddy with excitement, ordered their mango lassis drinks. We toasted to our special day and our meal was eaten over laughter, story telling and many trips together to the bathroom :). Both girls stuffed themselves to bursting with their favorite dishes. Devi gobbling her samosas and Treya, a bit miffed that we would dare cover her plate with anything else; shoveled in her basmati rice. An Indian meal would not be complete without gulab jamin for dessert, and chai for mommy, which we all managed to leave just enough room to consume.

Once home, we watched the two videos I've made for each girl that tells their story. They were busy bees playing while the frames clicked by until the portion in each where their lullaby music begins to play. At that moment, each girl stopped what they were doing and climbed into my lap to be rocked and watch the pictures fade from one to the next showing them growing up before their very eyes. Treya was especially giggly watching herself smile and zoom around the screen in a baby walker, taken at about one year of age.

It is times like these that I have to think hard about the girl we first met and the one we know now in Treya. One in the same, but yet so very different. The girl who once dodged even my glances, now has hugging contests with me to see who can give the tightest embrace. The girl who would not let me get close enough for a kiss, now delights in kisses given by lip, or eyelash or even rubbing noses, Eskimo style. This girl holds my hand, tickles me, and teases me. This girl, after our final good nights, yells to me "I-ub-oo" through the cracked door of darkness. This girl, who would not speak now calls me Momma.

The beginnings of our recent and
rare snowfall.

Although our first meeting was frustrating, hard, and full of challenges, now I can see that it was perfectly orchestrated. We each learned so much from a two year old in those first difficult days. I was reminded that relationships take work and I learned the true meaning of loving unconditionally, making special milestones like today seem so much more sweet. For these life lessons, I give my thanks to my darling Treya. From you we experience a heightened emotional state as you experience your firsts at an older age than most, with a higher level of comprehension. The awe of newly fallen snow, the delight of a cookie fresh out of the oven, and the joy that comes from successfully threading a bead on a pipe cleaner. You are never a dull moment, a tough teacher, and a blessing to our family in so many incredible ways. Happy Forever Family Day to my Jelly Bean!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Ross family - Christmas 2011

“Mom. Santa came. He did. He came!” were the first words I heard, bedside at 5:30am. Pulling her by arm and leg into bed between Pat and I, catching a glimpse of the three Disney princesses that adorn the front of her pink nightgown slide pass before my eyes, my response was, “How wonderful! but it is too early.” Thankfully the pumpkin pie fell back asleep and slept until nearly 7. (This is extremely late for her). The jelly bean finally had to be jiggled awake soon there after, as the excitement in those extra minutes had mounted to nearly uncontrollable levels. I leaned into the crib and whispered, “Merry Christmas. Santa came sweetie!” Bolting upright, she was instantly awake and rearing to go! Dev took Trey by the hand and led her to the railing that overlooks the family room and Christmas tree, bright with lights, in the early morning darkness. The tree was full with gifts and the stockings bulging with evidence that some do-gooders must live at this house. Treya lost her breath in a gasp as she witnessed the facts for herself. “L-fan, L-fan” she screamed as she spied an Elephant poised and ready for it’s first hug, certain it was meant for her. “And a Razor Scooter” yelled Devi, with a sort of knowing giggle, high pitched in her throat in excitement.

Pausing at the landing to sing a quick Happy Birthday to baby Jesus laying in the manger of the nativity, the girls picked up the pace, Devi jogged off toward the tree to see first hand what surrounded it’s slightly sagging boughs, followed by our bouncy gaited Trey, pony tails bobbing along . Treya went for the elephant, grabbed it-hugged it, and for her, having received few possessions to call her very own in her young life, Christmas was done. That set the tone for our Christmas morning spent leisurely opening and exploring each new gift. Papa and Gail joined us to watch the girls’ excitement, pausing for breakfast mid way through.

It is hard to believe that just one year ago, the unforgettable news we received, just two days before Christmas, was that we were India bound to meet our Sonalika. I marvel now at how we managed to get everything done and in order for that trip, smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Recalling the boneless, headstrong and painfully shy child we soon met, I am in awe of her remarkable progress; appropriately stealing a lyric from a carol...What Child Is This?

Ready for church and just a little excited!

Just hours before, she was the one toddling hand in hand beside her big sister, both in their holiday finest, to the pulpit for the Children’s message at church. There sat the youth pastor with a box - God’s gift to the world and inside was the baby Jesus. In comparison, last year, God’s gift to our family was this precious, once fragile, child, who now stood at that pulpit, bobbing and weaving to get a clear view of where we sat while wildly waving her arms and yelling “Hi momma!” at the top of her lungs, oblivious to the message he was trying to deliver, but overflowing with confidence that we belong together.

Dev is our attentive one, who politely listened to the message as the pastor explained about God’s gift of his son and all that that monumental event has done for us on earth, including bringing a Santa to us. He then randomly asked what the kids were hoping that Santa might bring them. While some asked for a specific toy, Dev replied, “I would like a live donkey and my sister asked for a live elephant!” which brought the house down in laughter.

Comic relief must run in the family as I attempted a smoking beef tenderloin once again this year - this time for a house full of 21 family members, our largest guest list yet, spanning three full sized tables sitting end to end. The youngest was Treya at nearly 3, and the oldest was Grams at 96! That fact alone, MADE my Christmas and fills my heart with joy.

Cranked up to 500 degrees I passed out towels for waving as the searing commenced. Somewhere along the line, just about the time everyone’s arms were about to fall off from fanning, the men, in pure Tim Allen style, fashioned a smoke remover out of my vacuum cleaner hose and packing tape. It got the job done, but I think may have rendered my hose unusable for the purpose it was intended, leaving the closet where it resides wafting with the smells of flavorful beef and melting plastic. I shutter to think what the inside of that greasy tube must look like now. None-the-less, the meat was cooked again to perfection (taking a slight bow) and every last morsel was consumed. Nearly blurry to me at her FAR end of the table Devi said, “I like meat, momma!” a statement, I dare say I never thought my vegetarian would spout, though I think she was using it primarily to facilitate getting the sour cream horseradish sauce into her mouth.

With the flurry of the day behind us and the rumble of the dishwasher scouring our once full plates clean, Pat and I sat on the couch...yes, exhausted. Throbbing feet up, and sipping one last glass of champagne we recounted the wonderful day. The reaction of the kids as they unwrapped an unexpected treasure, the jokes of the adults as we coveted our prize white elephant gifts won in exchange, the fellowship of our extended family together again and rubbing our agonizingly full bellies for comfort. At the end of this day of miracles, I think Treya said it best at bedtime - something I’ve never heard her say before. Clutching her elephant in the dimly lit room, she looked up at me from her crib with bright eyes and glowing white teeth wide in a smile saying, “Taya happy, Taya happy, Taya happy!”

Wow! Three tables seating 21 family members!