Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Friday, November 27, 2015


I spent another Thanksgiving right where I wanted to be, in my home with my own little (big) family and friends. I didn't those who had to get on a plane, or even drive a few hours.  Sure hosting is a lot of work and I began cooking over the weekend, but in a lot of ways it was pretty relaxed and I had a lot of help. By the time Thanksgiving morning arrived, if you had gotten a peak at my dining room, you wouldn't have believed that in less that three hours, I was going to be hosting 14 people, yet it all came together. 

Chris' Aunt Ginny showed up early to help (and brought her own apron), because in her words, "Thanksgiving dinner is a team sport!" She provided both color commentary and cooking trouble-shooting over the couple of hours it took us to prepare all the dishes.  Followed not long after Ginny,  Chris' parents marched in our house with a folding table, eight chairs, table linens, a turkey in a giant roaster and a large crockpot full of mashed potatoes.  It didn't take them long to transform our dining room to seat 14.
My chef partner, Chris' Aunt Ginny
Dan and Nan graciously provide the turkey so this vegetarian doesn't have to.
We had a lot to be thankful for at this Thanksgiving.  Our au pair, Celina, who has done a wonderful job of taking care of our children these past couple of months, joined us for her first American Thanksgiving.  Our friends are adopting a seven-year-old girl and this brand-new family of three also joined us.  It was incredibly special to be part of their first holiday together.  And lastly, are the two newest members of my family.  While Kiera and Matteo don't yet understand how truly thankful I am that I get to call myself their mom, that made this Thanksgiving so special for me. 

Kiera and Matteo loved all the food (except for pumpkin pie!), but perhaps Matteo ate too much turkey.

On Black Friday, instead of going shopping, the kids and I headed into the woods.  The Minnesota state park system waived its entrance fees for every park in the state on Black Friday and asked people to "opt outside".  We finally dug out all the boots, snow pants and winter coats for the kids and I was relieved to discover that no one had outgrown anything from the previous year.  We went to Fort Snelling State Park because it's so accessible given its location right in St. Paul. I didn't go with any agenda other than to let the kids roam and spend time outside and that's what they did.  Even though we got less than two inches of snow yesterday, they were happy to stomp around in the snow, make snowballs and scrape snow off fallen tree trunks.  Snow truly is magical. 
Send kids into the woods and I guarantee they're going to collect sticks. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Impact of the Two-Child Policy on the Number of Orphans

At the end of October China announced the end to its infamous one-child policy.  The headlines were attention-grabbing, but also deceiving.  Women in China still do not have reproductive freedom, as the government simply allows them to have two children instead of one.  The eased family planning policy that now applies to all Chinese citizens in China has actually been in place since 2013 for couples who are both only children and for families in rural areas.  Ethnic minorities have never been subject to the one-child policy.

In a country where families supposedly abandon their girls in the quest for a boy, how will the new two-child policy affect the number of children entering orphanages?  In my opinion, the policy will have little impact on the number of orphans, particularly children with special needs who make up the majority of children in Chinese orphanages.

Among healthy children, there may be a slight decrease as families who need/want/unexpectedly have a second child, won't be forced to abandon their children.  There are reasons beyond government policy though that prompt parents to abandon their children, namely poverty, but also the stigma in China against unwed mothers. So long as these issues remain prevalent, there will be parents who cannot continue to care for their children.   

There will also be plenty of families who don't take advantage of the opportunity to have a second child.  In a society where only-children are the norm, there are couple who are satisfied with having one child, and in a country where it is expensive to raise children, there are other couples don't think they can afford to have a second child.

For children born with special needs, I do not believe the change in policy will reduce how many of them enter orphanages.  Sadly, there is still a HUGE stigma against people with disabilities in China, particularly visible disabilities, and they are often denied access to school or jobs.  In a society where your pride and social status are derived from how well your children excel at school or your survival in old age literally depends on having a healthy child who can one day support you, your obsession with bearing a healthy baby does not lesson because you now get a second chance.

Even when parents desperately want to keep their children with special needs, all the reasons that force parents of healthy children to abandon them, (such as poverty) apply to these parents as well, except more is threatening children staying with their biological families. To raise a child with special needs, you need access to medical care and on-going therapy or other resources, and depending upon where they live or their income level, this may not be the case. Lack of education can also play a role in abandonment when parents don't know that a condition can be treated or cured. 

China revised its decades-long one-child policy in response to economic concerns, not because it's trying to reduce the number of children abandoned.  If that is to be a goal, the government will need to address poverty, access to medical care, social security, services for families, discrimination against those with disabilities and all the other myriad of issues that factor into whether a parent can keep his or her child or not.  Until then, Chinese orphanages will continue to take in children who are not orphans because their parents are no longer living, but who have parents who are unable to care for them.

Friday, November 6, 2015

First Parent/Teacher Conference

Chris and I loved school when we were growing up, so we're  unashamed to admit that we were giddy with excitement about attending our first parent/teacher conference.  For really the first time in Oliver's life, we have no idea what happens between 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. We know what the Oliver at home is like, but what kind of kid is Oliver at school?

We seated ourselves across from Oliver's kindergarten teacher at the kid-sized tables and listened to her describe our little boy as kind, helpful, smart and mature.  She described how he lends a helping hand to his classmates who are struggling and how well he relates with adults.  He doesn't particularly have a buddy he latches onto because he gets along with everyone in the class.  She complimented his artwork and assured us that he is on track academically.  And if that weren't enough, she told us we must be doing something right at home and told us to keep up the good work.  Chris and I glanced at each other and I couldn't contain my laughter.  If only I had a better poker face, I could have let Oliver's teacher believe what she sees at school is what we see at home.  

We also had the opportunity to meet with Oliver's visual arts teacher and performing arts teacher. After they described what they're working on with the students this year, I joked that I could probably benefit from their classes.  It's impressive the curriculum they're undertaking with five- and six-year-olds, and as someone with very little background in art and music, I'm thankful visual and performing arts are part of the curriculum. 

I left the conferences feeling incredibly proud of Oliver, but also reassured that Chris and I are going to make it through kindergarten too.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Because Halloween fell on a Saturday this year, we got two days straight of the holiday with the school celebrations on Friday and then trick-or-treating the next night. Kiera, Soren and Matteo had their Halloween party at preschool on Friday morning and then parents were invited to Oliver's school at the end of the day for their Halloween parade.  Oliver and I finished the evening with a party at a fellow host family's house.  The back staircase of the their three-story home was turned into a haunted house.  We kept climbing up and up through the darkened staircase where there was a surprise for us around every twist and turn.  It was quite phenomenal. 

On Saturday afternoon I took the kids up to their grandparent's house to show off the costumes.  Grandma and Grandpa made an appropriate fuss over them.
It rained on and off much of the afternoon and I kept checking the forecast in hopes it would clear up in time because I had four kids bouncing off the walls desperate for it to be time to go trick-or-treating.  We held them off until darkness fell, it quit raining and out the door we went!

I wasn't sure how much Matteo and Kiera would like Halloween since there's  a lot that can scare a little kid, and Oliver and Soren didn't necessarily get caught up in the hype at that age, but they really enjoyed themselves.  Although they really couldn't say "trick or treat," they did understand that if they held out their bags, someone would drop candy in them and of course they liked that!  And then they were off tailing their brothers to the next house.

We continued down our street and back up the other side and visited some of our favorite neighbors along the way.  The boys eventually got tired and wanted to go back home to count their loot, so Kiera, Celina and I continued on with our next-door-neighbors to check out the crazy Halloween decorations some of the houses in our neighborhood have up.  The weather I had been so worried about ended up providing the perfect backdrop to Halloween with a mist that shrouded the neighborhood.  
Chris' bat and Dracula pumpkins flanked Celina's Tinkerbell.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween - a Trip Down Memory Lane

I first met Chris' parents at their house for dinner where we had gathered for his brother Andy's birthday.  They entertained me with stories from Chris' and Andy's childhoods, which quickly lead to the story of the year Nan dressed the boys as matching daisies.  After dinner was over, Dan paged through some old photo albums until he found the photographic proof.  This picture possibly explains why Andy (and to a lesser extent Chris) do not think dressing siblings in matching outfits is cute. (Unfortunately for them, their wives agree with their mother and think this is ADORABLE.)
Andy and Chris as daisies, circa 1986
The year of the bumblebee was not as emasculating, but still just as hilarious.

Sadly, Nan didn't get much say in Halloween costumes past 1986.  The boys eventually wanted to be cowboys or football or baseball players and Nan's sewing machine didn't get much use every October.

A couple grandchildren changed all that though. Long before I was even thinking about Halloween, Nan was picking out patterns for Halloween costumes and announced one day that she was making a mouse costume for Kiera.  And then there was suddenly a Dalmatian costume for Soren and a cow costume for Matteo. Multiple costume fittings were involved, which Nan undertook while at our house for speech therapy appointments.
Dress rehearsal for the year of the cow, Dalmatian and mouse, circa 2015
Even Uncle Andy reluctantly admitted they were pretty darn cute, but only because they weren't dressed in matching outfits.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Family Pictures

A friend of mine has given me grief for not updating our family picture on my blog.  We've only been home, what eight months? 

Well, if you were at our family's photo shoot, you'll know why it's taken this long to get new photos.  My kids generally do not like to smile nicely for the camera.  Thus, a lot of our photos looked like this.

But we did get some nice shots. (Spoiler alert - many of these will be featured on our Christmas card.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

School Pictures

Oliver's school pictures came back today.  These are the ones I had stressed over because he's not super cooperative with smiling for the camera and the day they were taken, I was dealing with Matteo's newly-broken arm and possible surgery, so that whole day was a stressful blur.  I couldn't even remember what Oliver had worn or if I had brushed his hair. 

I peeled open the envelope and found a beautiful picture of my six-year-old little boy.  Except, he suddenly didn't look so little. He looked so grown up!  How did that happen?  It was just weeks ago he was a nervous-wreck starting school. 

In my in-law's house are framed pictures of Chris' and Andy's school pictures from kindergarten through 12th grade. As shocked as I am by how grown up Oliver looks in his kindergarten picture, I can't imagine what he'll look like as a high schooler.