The Last Doll

June 22, 2013 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

I stood in the mall in the tiny store crowded with books and toys and trinkets of all shapes and sizes, and I stared at the wall of stuffed animals as I tried desperately to narrow down my choice.

I was 8 years old, and my fourth facial surgery was just a few days away. The stuffed friend I was about to pick would be my hospital companion, tasked to stay with me after visitor hours ended when my parents would be required to leave.

That’s the way hospitals worked in the early 80’s, without fluffy modern-day nonsense where parents remain with their kids in the hospital around the clock. And, of course, by “fluffy modern-day nonsense” I mean nothing of the kind; parents of the 80’s were made of stronger stuff than me, no doubt, because it would take an elephant tranquilizer, a team of Navy SEALs, and a reinforced cage to get me out of my kid’s hospital room.

Still, I was never afraid in the hospital as a child due to equal parts Unflappable Parents, Unlimited Popsicle and the kind of Unshakable Companionship only a teddy bear can provide.

Choosing that bear was tough, though. A whole wall of bears and lambs, and I had to hurt all their feelings except one. I was that kid. The one who truly, deeply believed my animals and dolls were alive. The one who hid outside my bedroom and then JUMPED through the doorway to try to catch them moving. The one who whispered that I was trustworthy and if they’d just let me in on their secret, I’d keep it. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. So when I picked my bear in the mall that day, I cried because I couldn’t take them all, and I told them quietly not to worry; their turn for a family would come soon.

When Abby, my oldest, was 10, she campaigned for an American Girl Just-Like-Me Doll. I resisted because Oh my word! EXPENSIVE. We’re not the $100 doll kind of people. We’re more like the Look It’s On Sale or We Can Get It at a Thrift Store or Hooray for Hand-Me-Downs kind of people. Plus, American Girl Dolls need clothes and a hairbrush and stuff, stuff, stuff. And Abby was a fairly grown-up 10 who was already more interested in make-up than make-believe. How long would she play with a doll, anyway?

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But then I remembered my hospital bear and my favorite childhood book, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Have you read it? It’s still good. Much better than her more well-known The Secret Garden which is kind of spooky and sad and yellow.

A Little Princess chronicles the story of Sara Crewe after her father reluctantly leaves her at a boarding school. Before he goes, father and daughter search London for Sara’s Last Doll. “Dolls ought to be intimate friends,” Sara says. And finally, they find Emily, with her attentive gray-blue eyes that read as though she knew Sara all along. That’s because she does, I thought when I read it for the first time. She really does know you, Sara.

IMG_0688-EditAnd with that memory, I was done in. It was time for Abby’s Last Doll.

She picked Tiffany, who was everything you hope for a Last Doll to be.

But time went by, as it usually does, and eventually Tiffany was boxed up and put on a shelf and forgotten.

Until 6-year-old Cai found her yesterday. A beautiful box that revealed a beautiful doll. He pulled Tiffany from storage, and he held her reverently because he knew somehow that’s what you do with a doll like her.

I sat quietly in the living room yesterday, watching as Cai, with Tiffany in his arms, pushed Abby’s creaky door open. “Abby?” he said, “Is this your doll?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Can I play with her?” he asked.

And Abby was quiet for a long moment before she said, “Yes, Cai. Her name is Tiffany, and she’s very special. You’ll have to be careful with her and treat her kindly.”

“I will,” Cai said, and he withdrew from her room and closed the door.

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And I swear I saw Tiffany smile.

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P.S. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is currently free on Amazon for Kindle.

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Warning: Kids Grow Up. This Is Not a Drill.

February 8, 2013 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

I feel like it’s important to warn you so you at least have a chance to avoid me today. To hunker down in your house under your blankets or your baby’s burp-rag or whatever you can find. To lock yourself in the bathroom and to tell your littles to shush and quiet down and here, eat this whole Hershey bar so the crazy lady outside can’t hear us when I come pounding on your door. To not answer the phone when I call you. To put an out-of-office notice on your email. To runRun, is what I’m saying. Save yourselves.

See, the problem is, I took this picture approximately last week, on Abby’s first day of kindergarten.

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And then, 25 minutes later, this happened:

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Mama friends, especially all you mama friends who are new to this parenting gig, I want you to know I am trying to do the right thing here. I am trying to be a good friend to you. Which is why I’m issuing this warning:

I am going to the grocery store today, and I am going to grab every single mommy-with-littles I see, and I am going to hold on squeezy tight to her upper arms, and I am going to breathe my too-too-coffee breath in her face, and I am going to say, “HUG THEM, mama. This time goes SO FAST. LOVE THEM and LOVE THEM. They’ll be grown before you know it.” And all the white haired ladies in the checkout lines who say these things that make us want to tear our mama hair out will nod in solidarity and give me a fist bump and holler, “WORD.” And all the mommies of littles will cry because they are too exhausted for this kind of Cliffordand time does not go so fast, and seriously?!

Oh, friends. I’m sorry. I will get ahold of myself and make the grocery store a safe place again. I pinky swear and cross my heart. I will. I will just as soon as these kindergarten boys let me squeeze all the air from their bodies

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and promise to keep playing dress-up and shoving Golden Books down their pants.

Because this happened:

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And this happened:

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And, oh my word, I’m pretty sure it’s happening again right in front of me.

So next time an older lady stops you at the grocery store and tells you on the slowest, longest, most excruciating day of your life to hug your babies or that it flies by faster than you can imagine, I want you to know I’m sorry. Truly, deeply sorry. Forgive us. It’s just that, even though we mamas of young ones are right and the days go by soooooo, soooooo slowly, we older mamas are right, too, and the years are gone before we know it.

I know it’s true because I learned it from watching her.

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xoxo,
B

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P.S. A great big thank you to Abby and our next door neighbor, Zac, for allowing your mamas to recreate your First Day of Kindergarten photo. That was Love to us, babies. Love.

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UPDATE: My dad posted this pic of yours truly to Facebook with the caption “Warning: Kids grow up. This is not a drill. We are familiar with this phenomenon… and it’s okay.”

BabyBethI want to recreate this photo for my parents, but I’ve misplaced my pink bloomers again.

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How to Use an Eye Phone

February 1, 2013 in Beth, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

Abby and I were in Portland last weekend for her dance convention. This is why:

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And, of course, this:

Abby flies

I love spending time in Portland. It soothes my soul.

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And I adore spending time with my oldest kid. Because even though we can be whiny and needy and human…, photo 2 (47) … she also teaches me important things I need to know like how to take trendy eyeball photos with (I’m so, so sorry about this) my eye-phone. Like this: photo (40)(Nice eyeball, Abby.)

Now, Abby and I have been talking a lot lately about the fact that acquiring knowledge is an empty exercise unless we can apply it with the next logical steps to real life situations. And it’s essential, really, that we parents model this type of life-long learning. Don’t you agree? photo 1 (40)Yes. Yes, I’m sure you do. photo 2 (46) photo 3 (30)Excellent. I hope we’ve all learned something today.

In other words, Happy Friday. And Happy Weekend. Not that weekends mean anything to parents, but it’s the thought that counts, right? The sentiment. Amen. xoxo, B

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5 Tips for Planning a Homeland Trip

January 10, 2013 in Adoption, Family by Beth Woolsey

We adopted our oldest daughter from Vietnam and our next two kiddos from Guatemala, so we regularly consider ways to incorporate their birth countries into our family life.

Now, because I’m me and you’re you and we’re not good at facades around here, I’ll tell you I sort of suck at the more common or, shall we say, consistent ways other adoptive families blend cultures. None of my kids have had language lessons. We rarely remember to participate in adoptive family group gatherings. We once, ten years ago, celebrated a Vietnamese holiday but we’ve never managed a repeat with a Guatemalan fiesta. And we haven’t done well at participating in our local Asian or Latino communities. All of those are good ideas. I fully support them. I even intend to keep making attempts. But the current reality is, we don’t manage to do them.

The two things we do well, though, are eat and travel. My kids are familiar with Vietnamese and Guatemalan flavors, because, hello, yum!, and we’ve made it a priority to take them to visit the countries of their birth.

With a couple of these trips under my belt, I present to you my top…

5 Tips for Planning a Homeland Trip

1. Know Your Kid

The first step for any homeland trip is deciding when to go, and when to go is largely based on knowing your kid.

Greg and I took Abby to Vietnam when she was 10.

And I just flew home from Guatemala with Aden who will be 11 this weekend.

While it seems to be more common to take internationally adopted kiddos on homeland trips when they’re in their mid or late teens, the 10-year-old age was perfect for our girls. We chose age 10 because it’s a formative time for children. They’re old enough to remember significant experiences, pliable enough to be shaped by a broader global perspective, and, most importantly, young enough to see the wonder, beauty and warmth of their birth cultures and not just the poverty or the lack.

Both trips were affirming to our girls. And educational. And also just plain fun. Abby and Aden are both eager travelers who love new places and take great pride in their origins. If we can swing the expense, I hope to take them each again as teenagers, too.

You’ll notice, though, if you’ve been reading here for some time, that I didn’t mention a trip for our oldest son who’s 13 and was born in Guatemala, as well. It was only after months of discussion and agonized hand-wringing that Greg and I decided not to take him to his birth country for now. Or perhaps ever. It would be an understatement to say that Ian doesn’t like to travel. “Detests and abhors” would be better words. “Freaks the hell out and makes himself and everyone around him miserable” wouldn’t be inaccurate. Ian, you see, is the kind of kid who feels secure with regular routine and a reliable schedule. Traveling makes him extremely anxious. In addition, Ian is also sensitive to the plight of others and is likely to be haunted by tough situations he can’t change. Still, I felt terrible when we decided Aden was ready for this experience and Ian wasn’t. I felt guilty and torn. And yet I was determined not to hold Aden back for Ian’s sake. When I told him our plan, though, he wasn’t just OK with it, he was downright giddy. “Oh, thank you, Mom. Thank you!” he said. “Bring me back something really cool, OK?” As always, my worrying was time well spent.

My point is, plan what works best for your child. A trip when they’re 10. A trip when they’re 15. A trip when they’re little. A trip never. It’s OK to think outside the box and follow no one’s plan but your own.

2. Travel With Friends

On both of our girls’ homeland trips, we traveled with friends. During Abby’s trip, we traveled with her best friend, Katee, and her parents. This time, Aden and I were thrilled Heidi and Grace agreed to join us.

Aden loved showing Guatemala to her friend.

And I loved the camaraderie of having Heidi there, mostly because she’s an adventurous traveler who takes things in stride and it was fun to have some condensed time with her, but also a teeny tiny bit because I needed someone else to laugh with me at the funny things our kids said.

Plus, watching another mama delight in my baby?

Priceless.

3. Accept Hospitality

This one’s tough for those of us with deeply entrenched American mindsets. We want to be independent. We don’t want to put anyone out. We want to rely on ourselves. But folks in other parts of the world, particularly in the developing world, have a lot to teach us about gracious giving and hospitable living.

In 1998, I had my first lesson in the heart-connection of mamas at the hands of an elderly Vietnamese woman who stood creakily from her foot-high stool in the middle of a crowded market to offer me her place so I could more easily feed my brand new daughter who was fussing in her sling. I was embarrassed to take the woman’s seat as I watched her shuffle aside in her paper-thin flip flops. Who was I, a privileged American with a butt too big for the stool anyway, to allow her to stand uncomfortably so I could be at ease? But the woman reached up to pat me on the cheek and insisted with gestures that I sit, sit, sit. Her kindness was a gift to new mama me, and I think of her selflessness often when I look for ways to pay it forward to other new mamas who need just a minute of rest and, like me, are afraid they don’t deserve it. I didn’t know then how much one moment of grace — a moment I wouldn’t remember if I hadn’t humbled myself to receive it — would impact me in the years to come.

On this trip to Guatemala, Brennan and Mariajose invited us to stay with their family, although I’d never met them before this trip. Mariajose is Guatemalan by birth and an architect by trade. Brennan’s an American ex-pat and jack-of-all-trades who’s the brother of my friend, Jody. Together, Brennan and Mariajose subcontract with nonprofit and mission organizations to further the work of aid programs inside Guatemala. Their hearts for the Guatemalan people are evident, their work expansive. And by staying with them in their home and following them to work for a few days, we engaged with Guatemalan life in a way that would not have been possible from a tourist hotel.

Mariajose’s aunt cooked for us. Aden and Grace played with new friends. We slept in their home and visited their nutrition and construction projects off the beaten path. And, while I felt guilty at times for the burden we placed on their time and grocery bill, I worked hard to push my American impulse aside in favor of gratitude.

We left Guatemala with treasured new friends.

4. Make a Difference

Even without full-time hosts who are willing to let you tag along to their workplace for days at a time, there are ways to help people in very real, meaningful ways. Organizations exist in every country that help people lift themselves out of debilitating poverty and give them a way forward in life. Partnering with those organizations to make a financial donation to their work can be a wonderful way to provide meaningful help, particularly if your child helps raise the money. One of the things I love most about Americans is our generosity. Believe it or not, we’re one of the most charitable nations on the planet, and the people I know are always eager to do more. The trick, of course, is doing more responsibly and effectively. I encourage you to research organizations for fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency using Charity Navigator, and I’m always happy to recommend Medical Teams International as a top-rated charity that helps ordinary people make an extraordinary impact at home and around the world.

5. Have FUN

Compassionate people are wired to see struggle and poverty and pain. We ache to help alleviate suffering in the world, and we’re rewarded with fierce joy when we accomplish even a little. As a result, though, we sometimes miss the beauty and the FUN that’s right in front of us, and we have to remind ourselves to look, to engage, and to play.

Kids have more of the magic left inside of them, though, and they don’t wait to see whether it’s socially appropriate to laugh or play or smile at a stranger. They take more immediate delight in all that’s lovely. Traveling with kids is a privilege because it lets you tap into that wonder, too.

I’m always on the lookout on these special trips — for the big things that build lasting memories like my baby choosing her first Guatemalan dress in the market place,

and for the little things, easily forgotten, like a butterfly in hand

or a rich cup of Guatemalan coffee.

In the end, a homeland trip is about identity and community and finding pieces of ourselves along the way.

 Mission accomplished.

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Is there anything you want to know about a homeland trip? Let me know.

Or, if you’ve been on a homeland trip and have tips to add, please do.

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Paris: Bike About Tours

November 17, 2012 in Family by Beth Woolsey

Ah, Paris.

We loved the Eiffel Tower at dusk.

And the boat tour on the Seine.

And the crépes and cafés and croissants.

And the art. Of course the art.

And, even though it physically pains me to admit it in public like this, we had a fabulous day at Disneyland Paris.

But when people ask me for my #1 favourite part of our trip, I keep saying the bike tour. Which is funny because I was somewhat hesitant to book it.

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Bike About Tours
www.bikeabouttours.com

Now, I love biking and forcing encouraging my kids to bike so I researched bike tours early in our Paris planning. Unfortunately, I learned via my research that biking in Paris is difficult with its small streets and tight traffic and also that it’s a tiny bit treacherous, dangerous, and a sure way to die an untimely death. I reluctantly struck the idea off my list.

Just a week before we left, though, the idea was resurrected by Katherine, a friend-of-a-friend who’s a resident of Paris and works with an English-speaking bike tour outfit. Take a Bike About Tour, she said. It’s fantastic, she said. You’ll get a lot of insider tips and the layout of the city, she said. And I was hooked. Danger schmanger!

Now let’s go ahead and get the first of my two great disappointments about the bike tour out of the way.

Disappointment #1: Biking with Bike About Tours wasn’t at all dangerous. Not even somewhat. No rush of fear. No close calls with giant trucks. Nothing. Almost as if the tour company planned their route through quaint, pleasant, quiet back-streets on purpose. There was only one moment, in fact, that even resembled a potential accident when Greg hollered, “Hey, Abby! Look over there!” and she did look over there and proceeded to run into the barrier in front of her. Sadly, she immediately dissolved into laughter so we didn’t have any chance to worry at all.

That disappointment aside, Katherine was right to recommend the tour for the beginning of our trip. With teenagers, it was the perfect start. We covered a wide swath of the city and took in major sites on an easy, flat jaunt with frequent stops.

Biking by the Seine to Notre Dame?

Check.

Through the courtyard of the Louvre?

The best part! And check.

Our tour guide, David, peppered the tour with equal parts history, insider tips, personal stories, and fun, quirky facts. He gave Paris personality and made her our friend.

Which brings me to the second of our disappointments.

Disappointment #2: We loved our 3.5-hour Paris tour so much that we reworked our itinerary to accommodate their more expensive 8-hour Versailles Tour. It was fantastic, too, which meant I couldn’t complain about the money later. 🙁

Now, Greg and I have been to Versailles twice on our own. It’s really not hard to get to the royal country home by train, and finding the estate is simple. On our previous trips, we saw the chateau and part of the gardens and considered the day a success. With Bike About Tours, though, we saw the chateau,

biked through extensive parts of the gardens,

toured Marie Antoinette’s village,

shopped at a flea market, and took a leisurely lunch of food market finds — bread, cheese and wine — by the lake.

In other words, we did more than we could possibly have done on our own and all of it was easy, fun, and delicious.

Here’s a big shout-out to Bike About Tours. Thanks for making our trip memorable and raising the bar to excellent.

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P.S. To be clear, Bike About Tours isn’t paying me for this spot. I’m a regular tourist who paid the regular fees and took the fantastic tour(s) and am thrilled to recommend them to you.

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P.P.S. What’s your serendipitous vacation moment? Something you didn’t see coming but made your trip memorable? You know, like the time my friends went on their honeymoon to Mexico and he had an emergency appendectomy so they got to stay an extra week. Or the time Abby got stung by a jellyfish and I stood on the beach yelling at her brother to pee on her. So. What’s your story? What’ve you got?

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Paris: City of Fine Art

November 16, 2012 in Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

If I die first, I’ve promised Greg I’ll work behind the spiritual scenes to ensure that his next wife loves lingering in museums more than sitting in Parisian cafés, whiling away the time with a cozy cappuccino and a fresh croissant. “The Louvre three days in a row??” she’ll say just like me except with a smile instead of crazy eyes, and then unlike me she’ll follow up with, “Let’s start now! I can’t wait!”

Also, she’ll be way less beer-drinky, which is only fair.

Now I’m not saying I don’t appreciate art or museums or history or culture. I do. I was a church history major, after all, and I adore the story about Denis, a patron saint of Paris, who, after losing his head, picked it up and kept on working; I feel like he’s one icon of the Church who really understands what mommies do every day. Losing our heads is no excuse for quitting, is it, mamas?

Maybe Denis can be a patron saint of Paris and Mommies? I don’t know how sainthood works exactly, but it seems like this guy can handle the multitasking.

So, you see I appreciate art and history. I just appreciate all of it at a faster pace than Greg. Like, say, at a pace that leads me to a pastry shop. Which is why it was so great visiting Paris with my teenager.

Our stamina, our pacing, and our maturity level? MATCH! (And this is why my eye wrinkles continue to baffle me.) I mean, sure. There were moments that involved some serious eye-rolling and massive whining, but I tried to keep myself under control as much as possible, and I think, given the time change and the hormonal hurdles I had to overcome, I did OK.

The cool thing about Paris is there’s art everywhere. The art you expect to find:

And the fine art you stumble upon while walking the streets …

… and through the labyrinth halls of the subway:

I’d have more photos of Abby and Katee (captains of Team Jacob, obvs), but all the grown-ups on the trip said we had to stop hanging out in the subway taking Twilight photos because we had to go to a museum. Not to malign the adults, but our appreciation for serendipitous art is clearly at a higher level.

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Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.

November 15, 2012 in Beth, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

All over Paris, buildings are engraved with the French motto:

* LIBERTE * EGALITE * FRATERNITE *

Fortunately, Greg was able to translate the French for me.

And then Greg and Abby helped me create a visual aid so I won’t forget.

* LIBERTY * EQUALITY * DRINKING GAMES *

Thanks, Greg.

I know I can get a little eye-rolly when I have to admit that you’re smarter than me, but I want you to know I’m always glad you’re here to teach our family important, cultural facts.

xoxo,
B

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