Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Our Anniversary

I share my wedding anniversary with not one person, but two. October 14th, 2012 was the day that Jeff and Phoebe and I officially became a family. We made vows to love and listen to each other and we truly live those words every day. "How old were you when your parents got married?" Phoebe asked me the other day. Well, most people are not alive to see their parents get married. But our little girl was so much a part of the day, I can't think of our celebration without her. It was very much because of her that we decided to turn our committed 10 year relationship into an official, government sanctioned union. In the past year, we've paid our taxes together, we've worked on our official name changes- from Social security to birth certificates to passports. We are officially now the Yates Family, and so begins our adventure together.

This year has only strengthened what we had as a family. Our days are filled with love and caring and affection for each other. Even when we are apart, we think of each other through out the day, and are excited to be back together at the end of the day- together. We are so happy in our little home. Our son Michael is now going to college in the city and lives not too far away, so he is a regular presence in our orbit, giving us one more element of happiness. He and Justin made our wedding so special as they acted out their two lines from the Princess Bride to kick off our ceremony. Justin, with an impeccable sense of timing started with, "Marriage, that blessed arrangement, that dream within a dream..." and Michael followed perfectly with "Love, true love, is what brings us together today." At least half of those in attendance were cracking up. The rest, had to figure out what that was all about. For me, it was a highlight to a day that perfectly reflected who we are as a couple, and as a family.

So I guess this is as good a place as any to end this blog. It was originally designed as a place for a single Mom, adopting a baby from Vietnam to share her struggles and triumphs. How far we have both come from that chilly January day in Vietnam when we first hugged each other six years ago. I truly never want that hug to end. These words are for you, Phoebe. They were written so that you will know how those first precious years felt to me, and how much love there was for you every day since. Perhaps it's time to start a new blog as we start together on this next part of our lives. Now that you can read and are writing, perhaps you can share in the writing of our story. For now, just know that you are the spark that lit a flame of joyful fireworks in our lives. Sometimes, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the glow you bring.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dear FA

Ever since Phoebe and I got home from visiting Jordan at Camp Forest Acres, we can't stop ourselves from singing camp songs. "We'll follow, the swallow, to the camp of all our dreams..." Forest Acres your girls are marching..." These infectious old songs, some of them more than 50 years old, have a way of sticking with you. Much like the camp itself, the songs are among the many traditions that FA keeps up that pulls girls back to their beautiful surroundings of Fryeburg, Maine year after year.

This time was particularly special because Jordan was in Log 1, had been voted to be one of the Green Team captains and, on our last night at camp, would get one of the highest honors the camp offers. How wonderful it was to see the natural leader Jordan has become. How the girls flocked to her, listened to her and looked up to her. She led her team with enthusiasm and pride- and even after a defeat at the sing, she was emotional, but also happy for her best friend's win on the Tan team.

At Friendship circle, all the songs and poems came back to me as if they had never left my brain. When Bert stood up with the glow of the fire behind her and called Jordan's name to join the White Pine circle, I was filled with such pride. The tears were unstoppable. What a deserving girl she is for such an honor.

As a parent, being back up to camp and having the privilege of staying in a cabin with Phoebe, I was able to see how much care goes into their philosophy. The girls, regardless of their fierce loyalty to their teams, showed so much love and care for each other. There is acceptance, respect and an abundance of affection. What a rare bubble to witness girls of such tender ages showing such kindness and love to their fellow campers of every shape, size and background. For a full 7 weeks, they truly do disconnect from our technology-tethered world and reconnect on a human level.

For Phoebe, camp was a chance at rare independence. In New York City, there are not many times she can go off by herself and find her way back. She checked in with me often, but also was able to find her way from the pool to our cabin to Tanglewood or Tip Top and back. She made fast friends with some of the youngest girls in Cabin 4 and even discovered the stables and made friends with the horses. Watching her wander around FA and connect with the girls was pure joy for this ex-camper. So many people asked Phoebe if she was ready for Rookie camp next year. For now, I think Phoebe likes being at camp with her Mom, but when she's ready, I know FA will embrace her. I know she will be cared for. I know she will learn and grow and maybe even become a leader like her big cousin.

When I asked Phoebe what the best part of camp was, without hesitation she said, "Being with Jordan." I am so grateful for this moment they shared and to know that camp will connect us all for years to come.

Here was one poem I had not remembered, but came back to me in an instant. It is read before the girls elected for unit honor come up to throw a pinecone in the fire.

"For lowly deeds,
for unkind thoughts,
for words so hastily spoken,
the burning of this pine cone is forgiveness,
our woodland token."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Vietnam Culture Camp

When I first heard about this 4-day camp, I wasn't sure it was for us. I thought Phoebe might be too young to absorb it all, and I didn't think we had the issues some people have of their child having no one in their school or town who looks like them. Boy, was I wrong. The camp was founded by a visionary Vietnamese American named Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker founded. The main idea was to inspire connections between families and celebrate Vietnamese culture. Over one long weekend, their counselors–all teens and college students who were also adopted from Vietnam, treated the kids to games and activities. At the same time, the parents attended workshops (one was on DNA testing that was fascinating) and saw documentary films. The Teen panel was made up of middle school and high school students. They talked about their experiences of being adopted, finding birth parents, not wanting to find birth parents, the gamut. How amazing it was to see in their faces and picture how my child might be in 9 or 10 years. How enlightening it was to listen to their struggles and fears and triumphs. It was a small window into the future. It filled me with emotions and questions I had no idea I would have. In the evenings we participated the talent show (with our own rendition of a Pippin song) and attended a culture show where the kids got to dress up in traditional Vietnamese Aoi Dais and perform with their groups. They were all so beautiful in their vibrant colors.
Caroline uses these camps and the travel and volunteer projects she runs to fund her philanthropy– the Catalyst Foundation. ( They build schools in poverty stricken areas of Vietnam and have worked to curb the tide of human trafficking. Every year, they put together cultural tours of Vietnam with families from the U.S. The tours are designed to give families a safe and easy way to explore the country where their children were born. They help with side trips to your child's hometown and even help facilitate visits with birth families, should you and your child be interested in uncovering and discovering that part of their lives. It was a lot to take in. I don't know how Phoebe will feel about that part of her identity. As a parent, I just want to be armed with as much information as I can offer her. I have always wanted to take her back to Vietnam, and we have talked about it a bit. Now, I feel like I have a great resource to take our family to explore that part of her that only lasted for 5 months, but is written on her face and in her heart forever.
As for Phoebe, she seemed to really love being around all these kids – especially the bigger girls. She has already told me that she wants to go back next year. When we came home, she played back a lot of parts of the weekend to her Dad and brother over dinner. She even met a girl at camp who lives only 7 blocks away and is in her day camp at Asphalt Green. Overall, it was just an amazing experience. We met so many wonderful families. We even had a reunion of 6 kids who had all been adopted from the Vinh Phuc orphanage– three teenagers and three 6 year olds. Now that the program is closed to Americans, it will be interesting to see how this program develops over the next decade. Caroline says she already has a plan for these kids with leadership camps and volunteer opportunities. I hope we find ways to stay involved and keep learning about the culture that brought us our incredible Phoebe.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Kindergarten. Done.

Hard to believe Phoebe's first year of school is already over. She started at one school and finished at another. I thought the transition would be devastating for her, but it wasn't. She loved the friends she made at P.S. 158, but she also worked really hard at finding her way into a new group of friends at Lower Lab. By the end of the school year, she found new best friends and maybe even a potential husband! (Even tho' Teja told her he's not ready to get married. Phew!) Getting into Lower Lab was beyond lucky. The teaching staff, the program, the parents and the school culture will put Phoebe on track for great success in the future. Phoebe got top scores on her teacher evaluations and they all said what a smart and flexible and pleasurable girl she was to have in their class. We are so very proud of our girl. Next stop, first grade.
Graduation Day
Last day of K-106 with Ms. Liz & Ms. Chanel
Movie night with Teja
International night with Gabi and Lillian
School Sing
Triplet Day with Gabi and Ariana

Monday, April 8, 2013

Back to Cali

The last time we were in California- Phoebe was not yet 3 years old. This time, she's a kindergartener who loved being on a plane and was a trooper of a traveler. (actually, she's been that since the very first trip we took back from Vietnam). We started the trip off in San Diego as guests of the Cortese family. Phoebe had fun playing with the big kids and running around their house together. Brooke & Talia took us to Sea World and helped us see all there was to offer in the world of seals, walruses, dolphins and whales. From there, we drove north and spent an afternoon with our Kaplan cousins- Will, Elana, Harper & Lucy at Disneyland. We made sure to hit the small world ride, the kiddie roller coaster, a Nemo submarine ride and the highlight- the Disney parade of all our favorite characters. It was a little crowded for Mom's taste- but Phoebe had a great time. From there, we spent a night at the beautiful home of the Shevins in Manhattan Beach and then headed to the Valley to spend Passover with the family. Jimmy, Joi, Chloe and Jordan hosted a family filled affair with fun puppets for the kids to enjoy the Seder. We even brought Grammy & Grammy into the party by linking them in on Face-Time! They got to watch the whole thing from their winter home in Florida. From there, we were hosted by the Schwartz-Susskind clan: Lori, Scott and 3-year-old Sadie in their warm home in Sherman Oaks- with a little house to ourselves. (sweet!) Jeff got to spend some time with Justin and a day at the beach with his friend Shep and I got to visit the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena with my sweet friend Maha and his 4-year-old son Tenoch. We spent our last day and night back in Venice beach enjoying the funky atmosphere and the warm breezes. At night we were invited for a delicous grilled dinner at the home of Justin's friends, Jason & Aimee. We had such a nice time, we are looking forward to going back again next year.