You Can Count on Monsters

Not long ago I heard about the book, You Can Count on Monsters by Richard Evan Schwartz, on NPR.  Schwartz is a Brown University math professor.  The NPR story drew me to it, because the book was described as showing numbers the way good mathematicians might see them.  I’ve been aware that mathematicians see, feel, or understand numbers in a way that I don’t and that this is at least part of the reason that they are so good with numbers.  I thought, when hearing about this book, if any of this sense could be given to a child how different math might be, even if they weren’t born with this sense.  Schwartz, it seems has written such a book.  It covers numbers 1-100, with each number represented by a monster and a number tree.  Children (and adults… I’m picking up a lot, as I’m rather “number blind”) can learn about counting, multiplication, and prime numbers.  Katie will be four tomorrow and she’s had the book for about a week.  Already she can open the book and instantly identify a prime number.  I don’t think she knows what prime means, exactly, but she can identify them.  I don’t know about you, but I find that impressive.  I don’t know if she’s doing it from the monster, the lack of number tree, or what, but she’s doing it and I think it’s pretty cool.  I highly recommend this book. recommends You Can Count on Monsters for children in grades 4-8.  Personally, I think it’s appropriate for anyone quite a bit younger or older.  The book is awesome!


My beach books

The first book I read at the beach was Forever Today: A Memoir of Love and Amnesia by Deborah Wearing.  This is the true story of Clive and Deborah Wearing.  Soon after marrying Deborah, conductor and BBC producer, Clive is infected by a simple herpes virus.  The virus that would generally cause a simple cold sore crosses the blood-brain barrier to his brain, causing a terrible infection with fever.  It destroys his hippocampus, the part of the brain that allows us to form new memories.  He becomes, quite unknowingly, the most famous and extreme case of amnesia ever known.  From that point on, he lives in the most immediate present.  He keeps a diary, each entry essentially the same, proclaiming that he has just woken up, and is seeing and hearing for the very first time.  Then each entry is crossed out and a new one written, just a few minutes later, indicating that no, THIS is truly his first conscious moment, as he doesn’t remember writing the previous entry and can’t believe it’s authenticity.  Over and over… for ten years.  He remembers two things, everything musical (he can still play and conduct) and that he loves his Deborah (now darling, as he’s forgotten her name).  She loves him too, but how do you maintain a relationship with someone who can only live moment-by-moment?  It’s a lovely and horrifying love story.

I work with people who have injured brains, many with quite poor memories, although none quite this bad.  Clive’s long-term care-takers must address him formally, as Mr. Wearing, as Clive would seem too informal from the strangers that surrounded him, as everyone had become.  I work with people who will never learn my name (I’m called “Ma’am” a lot), but they know who I am and we can have more personal relationships.  Many do live moment-to-moment, but there is a bit of recognition that knits some of life together (a few people and places, but not events) with repetition.  For Clive, you sense very little of this.  He lives completely disjointed moments in time – over and over again – only lightly glued in time by music and his love for his darling.

Next, I dove into Origin: A Novel by Diana Abu-Jaber.  I don’t often read mystery novels, but I’d heard about this one with protagonist, Lena, a fingerprint analyst, who has so many questions about her past.  Why didn’t her foster parents adopt her?  Why does her foster-mother insist her love should be enough for her?  What about those early memories of a rain forest, leaves, fur, and her ape mother?  And why does this new, very emotional SIDS case seem like it will answer all her questions?  It’s a mystery on many fronts.  Plus, readers get a sense of life for many adoptees – the questions, the daily mysteries, how well-meaning parents who are threatened by their adopted child’s past can hurt them and drive them away, how a flimsy identity based on unanswered questions can affect daily life.  I couldn’t put it down.

Imagine this…

Imagine you go off to college – you’re young and idealistic.  This is a fabulous opportunity.  You want to live differently than your parents, living for your beliefs, not the government.  There’s so much to learn – the classwork and this boy.  Oh, this boy!  You  meet – carefully, quietly.  He loves you; he will forever.  Your period stops, but you think this is the excitement from love.  He knows otherwise and disappears – transferring to another school.  You never see him again.  Your belly swells.  You’re pregnant!  How?  You have learned so much, but you never learned about this.  Fear… hope… need to hide.  A cleaning woman offers help.  She knows people who can abort the baby.  You don’t want this; the swelling belly represents a new love.  But no one else has offered help.  You can’t stay at school – not with the swelling belly.  In desperation, you go with her.  Suddenly you refuse the abortion – “Please let me have my baby!” – a beautiful girl.  Now disgrace.  You can’t return to school.  Your parents lose face.  But you want to be different – live by your ideals; not be trapped, like your parents.  You want to live for love.   You try to find work, but there’s no work, no home for a young woman with baby, as homes are tied to work.  Desperate, hungry, baby losing weight… you leave her by the orphanage gate, hoping they’ll look after her… just for a little while.  As soon as you knew she’s safe inside, you run, not looking back, sobbing.  You find a  job.  You go back for her.  The orphanage, it’s gone… rubble.  Where are the babies?  No one knows.  You wait… and wait… for the daughter that isn’t there.  You try to move on.  To marry, but your past creeps up.  You won’t pass the pre-marital gynecological exam – they’ll see your no virgin.  Maybe they’ll see you’ve had a child and not allow you to have another.  Will he marry you then?  You love him.  And still you wait for the beautiful ghost of a daughter you left – trapped in your past and your love.

I just finished reading Xinran’s Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love and … wow.  I read it in under 24 hours, something I haven’t done in ages.  I often wonder about the other side of our adoption story and this book has several such stories.  I often read simplistic, black and white stories of abandonment and sometimes trafficking that make it easy to judge the people harshly.  I read the stories told to Xinran and I see they are not black and white.  I can understand, just a little bit, the impossibility that people, especially women, are living with in China.  I understand that these parents love their children.  Our children.  They are desperately wanted and missed.  Xinran wrote this book for them, so they will know they are loved by their Chinese parents.  I strongly recommend it.

BB’s books

Lately BB is really enjoying reading – more than TV, which we are loving!  I thought I’d tell you about some of her favorite books.

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen.  We read this several times a day and I’m not the slightest bit tired of it.  The story is great, written in verse and wonderful to read aloud, and the illustrations fantastic.  They are very detailed; we find ourselves looking for fine details.  My brother gave it to BB and we are all lovin’ it!

It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr.  We’ve had this one for a while, a gift from my cousin.  BB loves it and another Todd Parr book, The Feelings Book.  I always read her the title and she says, “by Todd Parr!”  When I read any book to her, I always tell her who wrote and illustrated it.  More recently, I’m adding the publisher.  She knows the authors of several of her favorite books.  One of the things I love about this book, is you can add your own things that’s it’s “okay to be,” ad-libbing to fit the mood of the moment.  We also talk about who we know who fit the page we’re reading about.  “Who do you know who has glasses?”  “Mommy!”  “Who do you know who has wheels?” (a wheelchair) “Granddad!”

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  We’ve had this classic for a while and she’s just taken interest in it.

The Pet Dragon: A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters by Christoph Neimenn.  My friend, Phoenix, gave BB this and she loves it.  It’s a cute story and shows many Chinese characters.  I need to add the pinyin by those characters, so I can tell her how to say the words.  Initially, I just read her the story, about a girl named Lin and her pet dragon, but now I’m telling her what the characters mean.  It would be nice to be able to say them too.  I wish the author had done that, as the book is clearly written for non-Chinese speakers as an introduction to Chinese characters.

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis, pictures by Jane Dyer.  This is a Chinese adoption classic and it has been a nice way to talk about our story.  I read it to her and say, “it was this way for this baby and mommy.  It happened this way for us.”  She took a copy to school and the teacher read it to her class, which she liked.  The teacher said everyone was really appreciating having mommies after the story.  That’s sweet, but it occurs to me that we may need to have a chat about how we talk about adoption issues with BB, as I want them to know we don’t talk about her being lucky to have us or be in America and some of the other standard adoption hogwash that floats around out there.  The principal of her school was adopted from Korea and while I love that she has that role model, I’m not too crazy about the story she tells her kids of how she entered her American family.


Motherbridge of Love is another Chinese adoption classic and very sweet.  I love the parallels between Chinese and American mothers.  It’s simple and non-judgmental and gives the opportunity for questions.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Betsy Lewin.  Well, I love this because it’s just plain hilarious.  I think BB likes it because it’s funny and the cute way it’s written.  My only concern is that it will encourage BB to form a union and go on strike when she doesn’t like our parenting style.  Oh well, like Hubs tells me when he says he doesn’t like unions, companies could avoid them if they treat their employees well in the first place.  Well, we do try.

Chimp and Zee’s First Words and Pictures by Catherine Anholt.  This is a cute book with lots of rhyming .  There’s no real story, but BB loves it for the rhyming and the pictures.  It’s sweet.

Clumsy Crab by Ruth Galloway is a nice story about figuring out how to make the most with what you have, even when you think it’s a liability (oh, those clumsy claws!).  The pictures are bright and the story is sweet.

Three photo story

As I mentioned in another post, I’ve been reading Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen, M.A., Ed.D..  It’s a nice resource.  I’m about halfway through it now and I’ve gotten two valuable things from it. 

The first is further validation that BB is doing very well.  I remember when we were still in China and we were so pleased with how well things were going.  Hubs said to me, “now we just don’t want to screw her up.”  We felt so lucky that she was so adaptable.  I mean, for someone to have to go through so much tragedy and change in so little time, with so little to manage it well, she did.  It’s as though her curiosity and adaptability saw her through.  As I watched her adapt to us, I suspected she used those skills to get her through her original abandonment, looking forward and drawing others to her to give her care.  I have no doubt that she received good care at Dianjiang.  None.  It shines through her and I see how she draws it to her – she did with us and again at day care.  Yet, she isn’t indiscriminate.  She was at one time, when we met.  We did have to teach us we are her parents, but she learned that and we became special.  We did have to earn her love.  In fact, it is only now, in the past few weeks that I am hearing “I love you” with regularity, daily even.  It’s pretty special, I gotta say.   The book teaches parents how to teach children family life – what that means, what it means to have parents, to trust, to be cared for.  As I read I think, we went through this so quickly.  She took to us, to those issues quickly.  She adapted.  We are all lucky.

The second is a way to tell her the story of her first year.  I did write a “life book” the story of her birth, abandonment, time at the SWI, adoption, and moving to the U.S. with us, but honestly, it’s too complex for right now.  Sometimes she’ll peak at it and we’d talk about the pictures, but it was too much.  This book has a much better, more accessible way for telling this story to young ones.  It’s the “Three Photo Story.”  All you do is put together a sequence of three pictures:

  1. your child before adoption
  2. the “handover” – your child, the parent(s), and the person from the orphanage or foster care who brings your child to you
  3. your child with current family

You use these pictures to tell the story.  I made ours with 6 photos, because I wanted to include a group picture I have at the SWI that shows BB with other children.  Recently, when I’ve been telling her the story, she’s said about her time in China, “I was all alone.”  I want her to know she wasn’t.  I may include another picture showing her with a nanny whose name we have to help flesh this out.  I also included a picture of the SWI director kissing her, as I want her to know she was loved.  So, ours is a bit more complicated, but it seems to be working.  I made a collage and hung it in a frame by her bed.  Each night we talk about it.  Tonight has only been the third night it’s been up, but it’s been meaningful.  I took it down to take the glass off, because I’m afraid she’ll break it by accident (we’ll replace it with plexiglass) and she starting asking “where’s my picture of the orphanage?”  I hung it back up and we chatted about it tonight with the story going something like this…

You were born in China on ____.  Your Chinese parents couldn’t keep you.  We don’t know why.  You went to live at this orphanage until you were 8 1/2 months old and Mommy and Daddy came to get you. 

Right now it’s about that simple and her main questions have been about being all alone in China and why we weren’t there with her.  She also wants to know who the other children are in the picture and what the nannies are doing in a picture. 

The book suggests that you want to try to answer four important questions:

  1. What happened to me?
  2. Who will take care of  me now?
  3. Did I make this happen?
  4. Will everything change again… will I lose you too?

They also suggest telling it all from your child’s point-of-view, stating that most books on writing life books instruct writing from the parents’ point-of-view, which isn’t engaging for the child. 

When I read about the “Three Photo Story,” I liked the idea a lot and it seems BB does too.  It’s giving us a very nice vehicle for talking about her first year and much simpler than a life book, especially for this age.  I’ve read that about age three is a good time to really begin talking about adoption issues.  We’ve always been talking about it, but it never meant much before.  However recently, BB’s been talking about “when I was a little girl…”  usually followed with “I was a big, huge butterfly” or the animal of the moment, but it made me realize she was really ready to start talking about her beginning.  She seems quite ready for both her wild, wonderful fantasies and the reality.  She’s quite a girl, our BB.

Love & Logic parenting

I just finished my second Love and Logic Parenting book, Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood.  The other one I read is Parenting with Love and Logic, which I would call the overall guidebook.  I got the early years book to answer my questions about how to apply it with Snowflake, who is now 15-months-old (yesterday!).  I like the approach because it covers all years and although it’s best to start young, it can be started any time.  It works with anyone who can understand cause and effect if it’s applied consistently.  At the end of the early childhood book a man even talks about using some of the nonverbal techniques with horses.  Here’s the thing… it just makes sense.  It’s all about having lots fun and using empathy before natural consequences for misbehavior.  They say it can make parenting quite stress free and fun. 

I’ve used the techniques when I’ve set limits with others and have found it very stress free and the other person has accepted the consequences gracefully.  I was amazed to feel and see that.  I was even more excited yesterday when I stumbled upon a review of the Parenting Teens with Love and Logic here at Adoptive Families.  I had a sense it was a good way to go with an adopted child, but it was nice to see that backed up by an adoption resource.  Like anything, I’m sure it doesn’t work with every child.  Parents need to be consistent and children need to be able to understand cause and effect.  I think it’s good stuff and very adaptable.

Happy Christmas + Life Book

Hope it was a great day for everyone.  We had a nice day with my family.

I’ve been a little slow with the blogging lately, but I’ve become very involved in another writing project ~ Snowflake’s life book.  It’s very engrossing and I’m loving it.  I’m using THIS BOOK as a guide.  Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. Pushy for that gift!

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