Warning: This blog is rated "PG" - for "Pretty Gross"
This weekend, Julia threw up for the first time since she's been in San Antonio. I hardly had time to think about her. Another family member was ill. And - being the devoted mother that I am - I was more worried about him.
Remember Keith got me a Roomba and a Scooba for Christmas? I love them still. In fact, Rachel asked me, "Mom, if the house were on fire, who would you save first?" I just leaned over and patted the cool, shiny metal of my dear Roomie, quietly recharging on his docking station.
But this weekend, Roomie hiccup'ed. He would vacuum for a moment, then quit. What was wrong? I racked my brain. I faithfully dump his dust catcher and scrape off his little filter with every use. His cleaning brush had only a few strands of hair wrapped around it, as I'd used a knife to saw that rope last week. I knew he was fully charged. Tearfully, I cradled him in my arms, then laid him gently in Keith's lap. Keith's hands disappeared inside as he told Roomie to "cough."
Look what Keith found packed in Roomie's poor "innards" -
Hair, dust and I-don't-wanna-know. This funk didn't come out of his filter or his dust catcher. This mess was jammed in poor Roomie's tummy.
Joyfully, I returned Roomie to his appointed rounds. But no. He still wasn't well. So Keith did some reading on i-Robot user boards and discovered another possible cause. Alas - surgery was in order.
When we met Guanna-to-be-Julia in February, 2006, she told us she liked dolphins - amazing, since she'd never seen a real one, and also since Lois has always been fascinated by them. When we returned to her in May, 2006, we brought a dolphin necklace for her and each of her friends. Shelley and John picked us up at the airport, bringing her a stuffed dolphin to clutch on the eye-popping 20-minute drive to her new "dom," where her sisters anxiously waited to meet her.
It didn't take Julia long to realize the billboards, tray liners, TV commercials, etc. were telling her there were dolphins in San Antonio. After a local author read his book about Sea World to her school last year - she was hooked. "Mom, we need to go there." She's asked at least once a week for more than a year to visit Sea World.
Monday, I finally took Hannah and Julia to Sea World. Seeing her face there reminded me of taking two-year-old Rachel to see Barney at the Natural History Museum in Houston. The looks were of joy and wonder - I couldn't help but be happy, too, even with all the "whale spit" on my clothes.
Open mouth. Clasp hands. Wait a moment and point excitedly crying, "Look! Look!" Shamu is the big draw at the park but the dolphins absolutely captivated her.
We feed the Sea Lions enough fish to make me glad I'd visited the ATM. Julia and Hannah barked to each other for awhile afterward. Me? They'll tell you I bark all the time.
Afternoons routinely break 100 degrees here. Yeah for the wave pool!
New dolphin googles, anyone? "Mom, these are cool."
The child is fearless. In addition to all the water stuff, she and I went on Journey to Atlantis, and she did the 15-story drop, 65 mph Steel Eel roller coaster by herself. As in alone. As in neither of us wiith her. I promised God in 1998 that if he would let me off the roller coaster I was on at Fiesta Texas, that I would never ride another. Promise intact to date.
So this is how an eight-year-old former resident of Children's Home #47 in St. Pete, Russia, came 6,000 miles to splash the day away with dophins and whales native to seas from the four corners of the globe.
Many thanks for your calls and emails about this breaking news story....
The Q's were a'firing at the office yesterday
,,,,but I am happy to report we are not moving. Rachel is now a senior. I called her at church camp to make sure she and Lois understood before they happened across the story (I'm sure that's what they're doing at South Padre - scouring the papers, watching CNN, discussing current events, that sort of thing.) Her question: "Well, if we did have to move, you'd just let me live with a friend, right?" Ummmm. No.
We like San Antonio. We love our church family, and our schools and the friends we've made. The Fiesta Texas water park and our neighborhood pool keep the summers bearable, and there's nothing more beautiful than the River Walk at Christmas. No, you can't get fresh sushi 24 x 7 here, but there's a lot less filth, noise and vulgarity as opposed to bigger cities. I was the one who fought moving for years, and yet it's turned out to be such a good move for our family. I'd move again if we had to - but I sure don't want to. And I sure don't want to move anywhere bigger.
I've been with AT&T 28 years and nine months as of today. It's been a wild ride, especially 1983 - 1984 with Divestiture (the same time as "Ghostbusters" - hence the shirts - I'm the one on the left), Hurricane Alicia, the three-week strike and Southwestern Bell's first layoffs ever. None of the jobs I've had since 1997 even existed when I joined the company in 1979. And U-verse - which Keith and I both work on now - is a whole new bag'o'tricks. I worked at Remco TV Rental through five years of college (slow learner) , often reading/summarizing books and journals for the owner. I became convinced that eventually, one telecommunications "thing" would exist in the home. That's why I went to work for AT&T instead of Prudential Life, a headhunter, a local book publisher or some oil company whose name I can't even remember. U-verse is it. Well, the start of it. It's in its infancy. But it's growing up fast, and I think it will become the new norm for TV/voice/data. I truly do.
My hope is our next move is to our scaled-down retirement house. Keith and I love to walk houses under construction, or sign in with phony names at local open houses (so the realtors don't keep bugging you) just to get ideas. We want an outdoor fireplace on a good-sized patio. I want a gynormous closet to store best-quality air mattresses to use when my 28 grandchildren (all named "Rebecca") come to visit. I want to be within easy striking distance of a college, because there are serious bible classes in my future.
Making Operation Christmas Child (OCC) shoeboxes used to be just a fun thing for our family. Then it all morphed into a tradition - making boxes is our big annual holiday activity. OCC recently asked me to be its local volunteer media director for 2008, and I agreed, thus proving Keith and my friend Vicki correct about the glaring red "S" (for "Sucker") on my forehead.
The unretouched view of our guestroom closet - jammed with box stuff. Julia and Hannah would each like their own bedroom, but I've been reluctant to separate one into the guestroom, largely because it means finding another place for all this stuff we buy through the year. This is Texas - it can't be stored outside. I'm thinking I might try buying the gynormous Rubbermaid boxes I've seen at Target and stacking several in the gameroom, but that solution presents its own logistical challenges. (sigh) I'll eventually figure it out. Right now, the closet holds: Plastic boxes from Shelley, beads from Lisa and Dorothy, a ton'o'Target 75%-off stuffola that Sarah and I snagged after Christmas '07, assorted leftovers from last year, plus Matchbox cars and bubble gum purhcased with free shipping thanks to slicksdeals.
In training Saturday, I learned:
- Many contributors now use plastic boxes, and finallyyyy - Samaritan's Purse is trying to reach a joint marketing agreement with a supplier, probably Rubbermaid. - There's a national partnership in the works for them with Chick-Fil-A, and K-Love Radio - both favorites at our house. - The most commonly-observed use for the plastic boxes? Children use them to haul water. It's a weight they can handle. - Each of our boxes contains at least one clothing item (socks, underwear, knitted cap, shirt, whatever) and I've never stressed about sizes. I figure that's God's job to sort out, plus, if the recipient can't wear it, I'd bet he's standing next to a child who can. I've also never stressed about cold weather clothing items going to hot weather countries, and vice-versa. The OCC officials told us that knitted caps and gloves are much treasured in tropical countries because the cap keeps a child's head from being sunburned, and the gloves protect his hands while working in the fields. - A six-year-old boy in Russia got a box a few years ago, but had to be coaxed to open it after telling his orphanage director, "I don't care about the box. All I want a family." His box contained the usual toys, school supplies and candy, plus a picture and mailing address for the donating couple. The orphanage director wrote them. Correspondence led to a visit - and eventual adoption. His box contained his parents. - The adult son of a couple in West Virginia died of diabetic complications. His parents discovered two boxes he was working on and now- years later - are responsible for thousnds being completed. - Though 7,689,726 boxes were distributed last year, pastors are begging for millions more. Remember - these boxes are not "shotgunned" out to the world. Individual pastors request boxes for individual children. Asia alone can use 1M more. In Afghanistan, they need to doube from 20K to 40K. Ditto for Georgia (Russia) - want to double their 120K. Pastors in India have more opportunity than ever before to reach children - and they need hundreds of thousands more. This pressing need has driven 2008's theme - "1 MORE - FOR ME."
Every volunteer in training was given one of these visual reminders yesterday. Mine is going on our fridge.
OCC leaders told us for many families, involvement is a three-step process - Activity, followed by Tradition, and finally Mission. I think we've arrived at "Mission," though saying so sounds self-righteous and arrogant.
After six weeks in India and two trips to Russia, I don't have to be convinced of the need for shoeboxes. All I have to remember are the excited little faces from Children's Home #47 when Keith started bringing out toys and treats. As the children lined up, we could see their anxious eyes glued on the Ziploc bags - "Will I get a Matchbox? Will I get a pencil? Is there one for me?"
We don't aim for a number of boxes to complete at home. We never have. We do as many as we are supposed to do. Though this year - as we haunt the clearance caps at Target, grab the after-Halloween candy and start stripping the packaging from toothpaste tubes, a number will be buzzing around my brain - the number "1."
I stayed up later than Keith last night. By the time I went to bed, Hannah was asleep on an air mattress in our room, and Julia was curled up against Keith in our bed. I just crawled in next to her, marveling at her beautiful little face framed by the blue pinstripes of Keith's pajamas.
I thought: I've loved Keith for all kinds of reasons, but never more than when I think that he could take another man's child and make her his own. Not like his own. Or with his own. But his own. He belongs to her.
My relationship with my own father was not as cozy. For years, I was angry and bitter about our gurgling in an emotional and moral sewer with him. And fancied myself nothing like him. But now I know I am like him. When I fume at any kind of delay - when I can do math in my head and recite obscure facts at will - when I am a poor loser and a worse winner - when I arrange the currency in my billfiold facing-the-same-way-by-denomination - when I refuse to emphathize and chafe to organize - when I make a list (and occassionally laminate it) - I am John Hoffman's daughter.
You can't deny DNA. No matter what - Rachel, Lois and Hannah are Keith's daughters. Just like I am my father's daughter. Julia is the biological daughter of a man on the other side of the world. But Keith is Daddy - right here, right now. He belongs to her. And while attachment is a journey, it appears to us that she is choosing to belong to him, too.
Father's Day meant nothing to me until we had Rachel. Because Father's Day really ought to be called "Daddy's Day." Who your father is really can't be denied. That's all about DNA. But who you call "Daddy" - that's a choice. Your daddy can't just belong to you. You have to belong to him.
Happy Father's Day, guys. And more especially - Happy Daddy's Day.
They belong together! Hannah, Keith, Julia, Rachel and Lois.
A Happy Birthday shout out to our eldest, who turned 17 yesterday. How did that happen?! Her new address is: 2008 Ford Focus, San Antonio, TX.
Our school year is almost over. Never have I been more glad to see one end, largely because of the stress of coordinating a carpool to our middle school when we lost bus service. Keith and I fought the loss of bus service with the school board, but "The Man" won this battle
Hannah on the school web site, making the morning announcements. I've started working on transportation for her next year and I think I've got it handled - thanks, in part, to Rachel's being able to drive.
With both of us working downtown, how exactly were we supposed to get two middle schoolers w/30-lb. backpacks to and from a school 1.86 mi. up and down hill on a too-narrow sidewalk edging a way-too-fast road? I pinged neighbors, tried to hire a high school driver, offered to trade stay-home moms food and babysitting for rides, etc. Nothing was working, and I was at wit's end as I hurried into the elementary school open house early last September. I ran into an old friend - Linda - recently retired from AT&T who said, "You look upset!" And it all poured out. Linda said she could help. And I said, 'Linda. You don't want to do that. You have your own first-grader. And you should be enjoying retirement." She insisted.
I couldn't work out consistent transportation, so, each week I hobbled together a car pool schedule from church friends, neighbors, Keith, me....and Linda. Every week, I'd ping her to ask, "How are you looking for next week." And she'd tell me the days she could and couldn't help.
So what can I do for Linda, who has put herself out week after week for my family? Who relieved so much of my stress? Who has been nothing but cheerful and helpful, constantly reassuring me that "she understands?"
Lois - featured on the school website at the 8th grade dance. She's had a terrific middle school experience with honors classes, awards, choir achievements, etc. Next year - on to high school!
Linda wants nothing from me. I can't "pay" her for her time - her gas - her car depreciation.
We celebrated our second Sisters Day today, remembering May 18, 2006, when Julia came home.
After church this morning, we headed out for an entire day of fun stuff - no chores, no rushing, nobody else with us.
Lunch at Chipotle's, the favorite of Rachel and Julia. Julia searches the chips for the most salty ones and keeps those for herself. Her sisters are welcome to the dregs. I told the girls that today - because it was such a special occassion - we could get soft drinks, too, instead of just water, which resulted in many smart remarks and exclamations of shock from the back seat. Keith commented, "That's really sad."
Next - Off to Central Market for movie snacks. Real junk. Lots of it. Everybody picking out two things - sweetned nuts, candied ginger, chocolate, all manner of horrific consumables. I drew the line at Julia's request for a candy necklace, not wishing to see "juice" running down her neck.
Why every mom needs a generously-sized purse. "Prince Caspian" was a really good movie, especially viewed betweem chomps of praline pecans. Keith, Juliia and I watched the first "Chronicles of Narnia" between Zurich and Dallas two years ago. Julia remembers seeing it, and always gets excited when she sees any Narnia merchandise. After the movie - a trip to Borders, and dinner at Chili's, and home again....
...to admire our gorgeous Russian flag We're probably the only people in the neighborhood who know what it is. And with all the retired military around us - that's just as well.
We were too sugared-out to even try the Rice Krispie Treats Hannah and I made yesterday. Note the "choco-nilla" variety created with Cocoa Pebbles and regular Rice Krispies. There's always tomorrow. Once they're cut, they won't last long.
For gifts: Each sister got a couch pillow printed, "Best Friends Are We - My Sister and Me" flanking a photo insert sleeve Each pillow held a slightly different pose of the same basic picture - the other three sisters placing their hands on the sister who was getting the pillow The girls had no idea why I was asking them to pose those ways on Good Friday. But they're used to my "just one more" pleas.
A requirement of Rachel's U.S. History class is for each student to create a three-minute movie about an American hero who personally impacted the student's life. Rachel created this gem yesterday - yes, the text slides and transitioning need some editing and yes, it needs to be tightened a bit to make the three-minute mark - but darn! I thought this was good. Showed some real thought. And creativity. And true personal impact. And what perfect timing with Sisters Day! I didn't want to wait to post the more polished version I know is coming.
Way to go, Rach! You made this one for the Gipper.
Two years ago today, we were bumming around Moscow, enjoying the sites, waiting for the round of Embassy chores required to bring Julia home. The night before, Keith had captured this image of her asleep on the train between St. Pete and Moscow. It's still the screen saver on his cell phone.
Oh how she loved "machinas" - cars. And this train. And the following week - the planes at the airport. Anything with a motor that moved. She used to sing a little song about machinas.
Yesterday, I asked her to bring me the keys to my "machina" and I got a 'Huh?" in response.
Fast forward to today. Her first-grade teacher (the sainted Ms. Jones) sent home her daily journal because her work was so good.
Translation: "I would have made it to school, but I did not want to go to school. Instead I went to my cousin's house. I went to my cousin's house. While I was walking I saw a fox. The fox said, 'Mmm? The rabbit looked good to me.' Then the fox took the rabbit. He took the rabbit home. He tied the rabbit on a rope. The rabbit told the fox to go to a store and he did go there. The rabbit got away. He ran home and told his mom, 'A fox almost ate me. I am never going to miss school.'"
That's an original story. Her language skills - both oral and writing - are on par with other first graders, and her teacher is confident she'll pass the tests required for second grade. Is she academically where Rachel, Lois and Hananh were in first grade? No. But neither were Rachel, Lois and Hannah where she was physically and emotionally for their first six years.
Funny thing about education. There's what you learn in school - like how to spell "fox" in your journal. And then there's what you learn out of school - to run like a fox to show that journal to your daddy.
We are rapidly approaching our second annual Sister's Day celebration - May 18, the day Julia came home. The last two years have certainly been an education for all six of us. An education with not only what Julia has learned at school, but also what all of us have learned at home. Julia wrote, "I am never going to mes school," and I support that - because now she is not missing a family.