Day Trippers Part 2 — Up in the Valley

Fall 2009:

Sometimes a cough is only a cough. Penelope’s face wasn’t a blueberry hue or even a cotton-candy pink. Sure, banana cookie crumbs fleck her eyelashes, but otherwise she resembles none of the four major food groups. I exhale and tell myself to knock it off.

I glance at the dashboard and notice I’m driving five miles below the speed limit, my hands planted at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel as I learned in driver’s education class and proceeded to ignore for the next 27 years. Despite the caution, someone roars out of a Quik-Chek and cuts me off. A torrent streak of invectives lodge in my throat, but I miraculously catch myself, letting out a mix of staccato grunts that sound like our old air conditioner just before it sputtered and died.

Except for one wrong turn — thanks Mapquest! — the remainder of the drive to Valley Forge proves uneventful. Upon hitting the exit and spotting the first sign for the park, I check the rearview mirror again to discover Penelope has opted to skip the park and visit the Land of Nod, a cigar-stub-sized hunk of cheese stick dangling from her fingers. Now I face a dilemma: Drive around and let her snooze, or park, risk waking her and having to deal with a cranky toddler all day. I quickly decide I’ve always wanted to tour the communities surrounding Valley Forge, and drive aimlessly around hoping I don’t get lost.

An hour staggers by before I pull into a parking space at Valley Forge. Penelope rubs her eyes with the back of her hand and grins. She’s in an ebullient mood as I hug her and slide her into the “Penelope pack.” I hoist her on my back, and we trudge up a hill to the museum.

Once we enter the museum, Penelope bleats an unqualified “Yin Yan Yao!” I rush past the gift shop to search for a bathroom. Now, I will never quite understand why I did this, but I walk into the men’s room and enter a stall before I try removing Penelope from her carrier. I quickly discover the utter folly of trying to loosen the pack in a confined space, and wonder how Superman manages to change clothes in a phone booth without trashing it. I grab the stall door with one hand and clamp the other onto Penelope thus escaping a horrible fate involving blood or toilet water. I retreat from the stall and back up to the sink counter where I carefully slide the pack off and spin around to catch Penelope without further incident.

Once we’re finished there, we hit the park trail. The clouds threaten, but are glorious to watch as they roll beyond the hills. I pose Penelope next to cannon for a photo – not because I have an affinity for artillery, but because my parents once posed me beside a cannon. Come to think of it, the photograph is of my mother attempting to stuff me into the mouth of the cannon.

We wander about inspecting the log huts and wonder about the fortitude needed to survive a brutal winter with these accommodations. I inspect the monuments and markers. Penelope finds a beautiful leaf and gathers an admirable rock collection. We are sharing a perfect afternoon admiring the wonders of man and nature. The clouds drizzle briefly, and Penelope and I find shelter under National Memorial Arch, where I teach Penelope how to throw an echo. We wait for the rain to dissipate giggling and cheering as we yelled “HELLO-O-O-O!!!”

Later I take Penelope to lunch at a nearby Cheesecake Factory. The hostess leads us to the back of the restaurant and hands me three menus. I smile and hand one back to her.

“Oh, isn’t anyone joining you?” she asks surprised. She’s apparently expecting a Mom to appear.

“Nope, just the two of us today.” As if I can’t handle a two year old on my own.


Day Trippers Part 1 — Goin’ out and Gettin’ a U-Haul Trailer

Fall, 2009

On the morning I first returned to work after we brought Penelope home, Bernadette confessed her terror about being left alone with our daughter. Her fears baffled me and I brushed them off (I shouldn’t have! I told you I have a great deal to learn!) and said: “The kid is two. Keep her entertained, feed her and let her nap.”

Bern’s mom instincts kicked in full tilt when I said that. “It’s not that simple. What if when she’s sleeping she chokes on her own vomit?”

I replied: “What? Did we go to China and adopt Jimi Hendrix?”

OK, I have to flag myself for a 15-yard personal foul. One of my faults — among many — is that I am impetuous and will sometimes speak or write before I think. (Yes, it’s one of those items on my self-improvement list. I now wear a rubber band on my wrist and snap it good whenever I do something stupid. And yes, my wrist is swollen and bright red.) My poor fifth-grade teacher, Miss Baron, once gave me a D in conduct because I couldn’t keep my big fat potato trap shut. That’s when I learned the valuable lesson of never mouthing off on report-card day.

Well, I survived my first day back at work, and Bern survived her first day alone with Penelope. And despite a few metaphorical bumps and bruises, Bern’s real trip to the hospital and a few jangled nerves, we quickly developed a routine that works for us. That system fell by the boards quickly when Bern needed to write newsletter copy, and I needed to take Penelope somewhere — anywhere — one Saturday so she could work.

Since Penelope had pretty much mastered “Inkin,” I thought it an appropriate time to move on to George Washington. I hoped the blanket of gray enveloping the northeast in the morning wouldn’t douse us and planned a trip to Valley Forge. I set modest goals: Make sure Penelope returns home with both eyes, all limbs intact and no singed clothing.

But first I had to get us out the driveway, and this proved a far trickier task than I anticipated. I’m a light packer by nature: When I go to the beach I’ll bring a book, towel and suntan lotion. In contrast, Bern will take all of the above plus a small stack of magazines, a cooler full of snacks and beverages, a chair, a boogie board, a sweatshirt, an extra towel . . . you get the idea. I’m not saying one way is better and another worse, we’re just different. I once survived two weeks in Cincinnati with just a grocery bag of clothes. I don’t recommend it, but it can be done.

I’m astounded at the amount of stuff one needs to pack for a two year old. For a five-hour excursion with the Peanut, I piled next to the car a diaper bag, a fresh change of clothes, a pair of rain boots, an extra sweatshirt, a rain jacket with a hood, a bib, pajamas in case the trip ran longer than expected, a stroller, the back carrier (or, as I now call it, the “Penelope Pack,”); a water bottle, a snack trap with banana cookies, a lunch bag filled with snacks and drinks, a blanket, baby doll, neck pillow and extra toys to keep her occupied in the car. For me, I brought a camera and a sheet of paper with directions to Valley Forge National Park (and since the directions came from Mapquest I’m just as likely to visit Bangor, Maine as I am Valley Forge, Pa.).

I open the car door to pack this load and am stunned to discover the bits of Cheerios, Goldfish crackers, books and toys that litter the floor and seat. The back of my car looks like a campsite after it’s been visited by hungry bears. I ignore the mess and load the car, amazed that I managed to shoehorn everything into the Prius. I’m quite proud of myself until I realize I forgot to make room for Penelope.

My first attempt to slide Penelope around the stroller, above the carrier and atop the diaper bag into her car seat fails when her shirt snags on the handle of the stroller. My next effort to swing her in the direction of the trunk and squeeze her around the back fails too. The other rear door is jammed shut so I don’t even try that, and my idea to get her in between the two front seats almost works, but when I get her in the car seat I realize she has zero wiggle room and it’s not very safe. One overzealous turn and she’ll be buried under an avalanche of snacks. Granted she could probably eat her way out, but it still looks dangerous.

I repack a second time, squishing the stroller into the trunk and moving a few more items to the front seat, and feel confident that this arrangement is better. Now, I understand why the Partridge Family drove around in that bus: They needed all the extra room for the matching velvet costumes, Tracy’s tambourine, Keith’s groupies and Reuben Kincaid’s toupee.

Now, we’re ready to roll. With my car shocks bouncing in time to the “Sanford and Son” theme that’s running through my head, I turn left out the driveway toward the highway. Penelope is comfortably ensconced in her car seat, munching on banana cookies and singing the alphabet song. I love her version because her alphabet contains 39 letters and includes 14 Bs.

Then I hear a cough. Then another. With Penelope’s third cough, my eyes dart to the rear-view mirror, expecting her face to be the color of a blueberry, and that it’s taken less than five minutes into our day trip for her windpipe to be constricted.

Whose stupid idea was it to send me out alone with a toddler? Oh yea, mine.

A Few Random Notes . . .

Thursday, October 22:

Just a few items to pass along…

Except for the time I spend with Penelope and Bernadette, life has pretty much been tossing anvils out of open windows onto my head. I’ve thought lately that perhaps I should have stayed in China, purchased a bicycle with a wagon attached, and sold Durian fruits on a street corner. I keep waiting for life to change while making the same mistakes, having the same unhealthy reactions to tragedies and events, and failing to experience the passion for life, friends and the world around me that I had enjoyed just a few years ago. Then a Joycean epiphany bonked me on the head Monday: I keep waiting for life to change, but it’s I who need to change life. Now, I find myself making small positive changes to grow as a person. Because, let’s face it, if we don’t grow, we die.

Weird Sensations:

Friday evening the veterinarian’s office called to tell us Quincy’s ashes were ready for pick up. Bernadette and I listened to the message while heading out on our romantic date — our first since Penelope entered our lives — and felt the renewed sadness of our loss earlier that week. Later that evening, moments before I fell asleep, I felt as if something had jumped onto the bed at my feet. I started to say: “Hey Quincy!” when I woke up and remembered he was gone. And here’s the funny thing: Bern felt the same sensation.

About 3:30 a.m. the spicy Ethiopian food I’d consumed at dinner torched a bonfire in my rib cage, and I stumbled to the bathroom for some antacids. I flipped on the light and looked in the mirror to find a white cat hair resting gently on my right cheek. Now, my proclivity is to cite the spicy food and my lackluster housekeeping skills as the cause of the above events, but a part of me wonders. And that wonder comforts me.

Addendum: Penelope doesn’t ever seem to ask about Quincy except at dinner time. (Please do not take that the wrong way.) When we feed the dogs, she takes a bowl out from the shelf in the island and says “Gat!?” Bern has told her that Quincy was sick and that he’s not here anymore, but she doesn’t understand.

A Big Hug of Thanks:

I want to thank everyone who offered their condolences after hearing about Quincy. He was a dear friend and family member. I’m sure anyone who has ever loved a dog or cat understands. (With one notable exception, I believe that to be true.) I also heard from several people who I haven’t talked to for a while, and I was deeply touched. I appreciate all of you who read this blog and your kind words. So, from the depths of my heart: Thank you!

Lazy Morning Musings:

Bernadette and I alternate staying in bed late one weekend morning while the other attends to Penelope. Typically, my free day is Saturday and hers Sunday. Last Saturday morning I woke early and lay staring at the ceiling. Bern popped her head in the room and naturally asked, “What are you thinking about?”

I hate that question because more often than not, I’m thinking about something utterly ridiculous. I could spend hours deciding what celebrity women I’d want on my side in a bar fight (Joan Jett, that Jillian woman from Biggest Loser, Oprah when she’s heavy) or wondering how the first person who smoked tobacco came up with the idea. Did they try to smoke fruits and vegetables first but it didn’t work? Me, I’d try to smoke an ear of corn before I’d roll up tobacco leaves.

Anyway, I wish I could say with a straight face that I was mapping out my day or reflecting on my good fortune in life. But I’m a terrible liar, so I confessed: I was wondering how I would field a baseball team comprised of ex-Presidents. After 18 years of marriage, Bern’s accustomed to my mental meanderings — which unfortunately occur sometimes during the middle of dinner — so she just nodded and before closing the door said, “Of course you are. I should have guessed.”

Anyway, after some pondering here’s what I came up with:

First Base — Abe Lincoln. Think about it: The Sultan of Springfield would have made the perfect first baseman. He was tall and with those long arms and legs he’d have great defensive reach. I also suspect Lincoln could swing the lumber with authority.

Second Base — John Adams. Fierce and bandy-legged, Adams would assume the role of the fiery spark plug on the team. I suspect his range would lack, but I think if someone were bearing down on him at second base, Adams would hang in there and turn the double play. I wonder how he would have felt playing against the Red Sox?

Shortstop — Harry Truman. Truman was such a smooth dresser that I suspect he’d have made a slick fielder. And, considering the way he battled back to beat Dewey in 1948, he’d have been a tough out.

Third Base — Dwight D. Eisenhower. The general on the field, Ike was an avid golfer with a smooth swing. I’d expect a high average from him; I’d hit him third before my clean-up man, Stretch Lincoln.

Left Field — James “J-Buck” Buchanan. A surprise pick over Rutherford B. Hayes, I admit, but I considered how Jimmy B. was built and think he’d make a great power bat behind Lincoln. Jimmy B. doesn’t look fleet footed, but I’d rely on my speedy center fielder to cover the gaps.

Center Field — George Washington. Long, lean, fast and strong, I suspect Washington could chase a ball down in the gaps and hit for a high average. I have no doubts.

Right Field — Ronald Reagan. C’mon, I had to stick Reagan in right field. Decent fielder, decent hitter.

Catcher — Theodore Roosevelt. With his barrel chest, powerful legs and big choppers, T-Row would have made an inviting target for any pitcher. Mostly he would speak softly and carry a big bat, but I love the idea of a provoked TR whipping off his catcher’s mask and getting in the umpire’s face after a bad call. I can just hear him calling the ump a “Pithecanthropoid” or a “well-meaning, pin-headed, anarchistic crank of hirsute and slabsided aspect.”*

Pitcher — Lyndon “Big Train” Johnson. If there’s one President who’d sneak a nail file into his belt buckle or a little pine tar onto the glove to throw some sneaky pitches, it’d be LBJ.

Manager: U.S. Grant. Bull-headed and stubborn, Grant would never let his team quit. Granted — no pun intended — if the game were a little slow he might hit the bottle, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

Finally, I considered putting JFK at third but automatically stuck him on the disabled list because of his bad back.

*Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, pg. 24. Great book if you’ve never read it!

The Dancing Spot

Sunday, October 18:

There’s a circular patch 55 yards from our driveway that measures 2 feet by 3 feet. Many years ago, before the town I reside in discovered asphalt, the patch used to be a pothole so deep it once swallowed the South Hunterdon Bicycle Club. Well, that’s the rumor I heard. My car and I shared a deep connection with that pothole. No matter how many times I drove up my street reminding myself, “Now don’t forget the pothole, don’t forget the pothole,” I would – you guessed it – forget the pothole. Perhaps sometimes I just lose my focus and forget to turn away from trouble.

Eventually the Public Works Department dumped black asphalt into the hole and smoothed it into the gray ribbon of road fronting my house. Although I could see where the hole once existed, I quickly forgot it.

That changed recently, thanks to Penelope. One day on a family walk, Penelope froze in front of the asphalt and started making the “Ah! Ah! Ah!” noise that tells us she’s afraid. She pointed to the black asphalt, and refused step on it. Our efforts to persuade her otherwise failed, and she walked around the patch. This happened for several days, and despite our efforts to allay her fears, she avoided that patch.

Then, one afternoon, the pattern broke. Penelope walked to the asphalt, pointed at it, tapped her right toe on it and giggled. Bernadette and I cheered her. I was truly happy because I don’t want my daughter growing up afraid. I always tell Bern I want Penelope to learn some ancient mystical Chinese form of whoop ass, figuring only a fool will mess with an Asian girl who can break bricks with her head while munching on a corn dog.

The next day, her confidence brimming, Penelope jumps onto the patch, pumps her legs up and down, and waves her arms in the air. Bern and I again cheer. Then Penelope points at me and the patch as if to say “Hey Pappa, it’s your turn!”

I look around suspecting to catch a glimpse of the neighbors snickering from behind drawn curtains. Then I hop onto the circle and perform an over-exaggerated version of an Irish jig. Bern took a turn on the dancing spot next. I think it was a sober version of a polka. And since no one who polkas is ever sober when they polka, well, it was interesting to say the least. After a second round of dancing, we continue our walk.

The dancing spot has now become a daily ritual on our family walks. (The dogs, of course, are exempt.)

One morning after the September clouds bathed the neighborhood, Penelope and I wander the rain-swept streets, now decorated with fallen branches, leaves and puddles the size of the kiddie pools in Guangzhou. Penelope marches right through a puddle while I detour around it and complain about the weekend weather. Penelope is giggling and waving her arms above her head. I pause. When I was a crumb snatcher, my mother would watch from the kitchen window as, when I headed off to school in my best clothes, I would splash through the bathtub-sized puddle in our driveway. I was quickly disabused of this practice. But on this day, I spin around and jump feet first into the puddle. Penelope laughs and cheers. Sorry, Mom.

Bern, Penelope and I drove to Rockland County, New York, recently for an apple-picking event sponsored by Homeland Adoption Services, the wonderful non-profit agency that helped bring Penelope into our lives. After the 90-minute drive to the event, my throat felt raw. Apparently the family in-the-car production of the late-great Broadway musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” had taken its toll. For those of you familiar with the play, my efforts to imitate the flaky chorine Kitty wracked my voice box.

I have learned that children can make adults children again. At first, it cascades from you in bashful, self-conscious waves when you decide it’s OK to shed your adult skin and embrace the essence of childhood. In some ways, I almost can’t believe it ever left me. I try not to think about myself as a small boy on my parents’ back porch with a Daredevil comic book and a sketch pad, furrowing my brows and desperately trying to draw the way my Pop and brother did. My best efforts were always something resembling epileptic stick figures and somewhere deep in my heart I knew I lacked their artistic skills. And that was my first taste of adulthood, my first taste of the bitter truth. And once you get that first taste, you slurp up adulthood in big heaping spoonfuls like prisoners hunkered over an evening stew.

Then an impish two-year-old comes along, smiles, and knocks your adult world off its axis. Before you know it, your feet are soaking wet and you’re dancing in the middle of the street.

And there’s nothing in the world that could ever make you happier.

Lincoln Blogs

The other day I taught Penelope something that filled my heart with pride. I grabbed a large photo book of Abraham Lincoln, plopped Penelope on my lap, pointed to pictures of our greatest President and said: “Lincoln!” I flipped through the book and stopped at every Lincoln photograph, pointed and said his name. About the fifth time doing so, Penelope caught on. She pointed to the bearded sage and gleefully exclaimed: “Inkin!” As I flipped through the pages, she proudly repeated his name.

An hour later I grabbed the Lincoln book from the shelf. Penelope pointed at the cover and shouted: “Inkin!!” As an avid student of American History, naturally I was thrilled. My mind clouded with visions of the genius of my child. I imagined her first day of Kindergarten, where she would astound her teacher by pontificating on Charles Evans Hughes’ contribution to the Washington Naval Conference of 1921. I envisioned her first step onto the bus as her first step onto the road to Harvard, a ridiculously lucrative job and my eventual retirement to the sunny climes of New Mexico where I will sit on the porch, write and read novels, and play blues guitar under a starless sky.

Then Penelope gamboled over to the coffee table, pointed to her Dora the Explorer “Camera Contest” book, pointed at Dora and shouted: “Inkin!”

Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t see the resemblance.

I’m not one who gives up easily, though. Tonight, Bernadette is running errands while Penelope and I dine alone. Penelope’s eyes glaze over as she mauls on a piece of steak, so I flip open a book about Lincoln that sits on the dining room table. Inside the covers is a photograph of Lincoln reading to his children. On the opposite page, Mary Lincoln smiles dreamily. I point to the Lincoln photo and say “Pappa Lincoln.” Penelope giggles and repeats my words. I point to Mary Lincoln and say “Mamma Lincoln” and so does Penelope.

Again, I point to Lincoln: “Who’s that?”

Penelope yells: “Inkin!”

Opposite page: “Now, who’s that?”

Penelope cheers: “Mamma! Mamma! Mamma!”

Now, I have to explain to Bern why Penelope yells Mamma every time she sees a picture of Mary Lincoln. Again, maybe it’s me, but I just don’t see the resemblance.

Some of the lessons we teach are silly parlor tricks. Others are more vital. We decided not to move all the household items and electronic equipment out of the reach of our toddler because we want her to understand that “no” means “no,” and to have some measure of confidence when we visit someone’s home she won’t throw the family heirloom through a plate-glass window. The results, for the most part, have been good, but the occasional slip up does occur. For instance, one weekend afternoon I flipped on the CD player unaware that tiny fingers had cranked the volume up to 11. My eyebrows slapped against my hairline, and the beagles bounded away like dice down a craps table.

Eventually the beagles crawled out from under the couch cushions. They’ve spent a fair amount of time there lately. We continually monitor how Penelope behaves with them. Our two-year-old beagle, Sammi, has the sweetest disposition, but our older dog, Rudy, has a bad back and is basically the old man who yells at the cloud. We teach Penelope everything from how to pet the dogs to why it’s a bad idea to rinse her toothbrush in the dogs’ water dish (yes, she did that one morning). I think if she learns to treat the animals gently and with respect, she will develop a love for all God’s creatures.

Penelope discovered quickly that the best way to any dog’s heart is through its stomach. Once she discovered the dog treats on the second shelf of the kitchen bookcase, she’d dive into the bowl, grab a biscuit and run to the nearest available dog. Of course, after two or three treats our dogs are full and balk at any more snacks lest it spoil their dinners. (Just seeing if you were still paying attention.) If left to their own devices, we’d have two floppy-eared sausages waddling about the house. Bern ended this practice by relocating the treats bowl.

Penelope has taken it upon herself to feed the dogs their supper. She takes their dishes to the hall closet, scoops food into both and hands them to me. I take the bowls into the kitchen and break up a cheese stick to mix with the food. This bothers Penelope because cheese sticks are a favorite snack. I swear she mutters under her breath at me in Chinese.

Back in Fuzhou, when the orphanage representatives first handed us Penelope, I knew we’d have a million things to teach her. But I never considered how much I’d learn from her. Next blog, I’ll discuss one of those life lessons.

Family Matters

Sunday August 30:

I’m fascinated at how Penelope can talk a mile a minute, yelling gleefully about something in her half-English, half-Chinese babble until you stick a cell phone to her ear. Suddenly, she becomes quieter than Marcel Marceau at a funeral Mass. The other day we attempted to gently chide Penelope to say something — babababab, IIEEEYYY, dit down (anything but a rousing FUCK!) — when her Nana called, but all she did was look at the phone, look at us, look at the phone.

This means if any out-of-state family members actually want to hear our daughter talk, they must see her in person.

I’m generally uncomfortable having visitors stay for several days. I remember the first night after Bernadette and I got back from our honeymoon, I kept waiting for her to go home. And, while I’m grateful she didn’t, I have never quite cured myself of this guest-a-phobia. I have a friend who always admonishes that guests are like fish: After three days, both start to stink. Now I have nothing against family or anyone else staying for a few days. But guests always put me a little on edge because I always have to be thinking. I can’t just roll out of bed at 3 a.m. and wander sleepily downstairs in my boxers for a glass of milk, or to watch an old black-and-white movie or an infomercial on the colon-cleanser.

My mother-in-law, her husband Benny and my sister-in-law Chris arrived a week ago Sunday from Buffalo, which I fondly refer to as “The Miami of the North.” Apparently, they raided every Children’s Place on their seven-hour journey because I think Penelope now has more clothes than Mariah Carey. Their generosity astounds me. My mother-in-law also whipped up enough pierogies and nalesnikis to feed Krakow. I’m grateful that she shies away from cooking the pig’s feet in vinegar jelly that I’ve seen at family gatherings. (I’ll eat some crazy stuff but vinegar jelly? Sounds almost as bad as pork roll!)

Here’s the basic outline of their week-long visit: Breakfast, clothes shopping for Penelope, visiting family, wine, dinner, bed. Now the order of events may differ from day to day — except wine never comes before breakfast — but you get the general idea. I’m working most of this week so I get home at the end of the day for the fashion show. Penelope adorns a new outfit and twirls around like Yasmeen Ghauri on a diet of Red Bull and Pixie Stixs.

Penelope has struggled to sleep through the night while the family visits which leads to the theory that she’s worried she’ll be leaving with the in-laws. Now granted, living in Buffalo would worry me too! But it’s a warm feeling to know Penelope wants to stay with us and isn’t upstairs packing a suitcase full of diapers and shoes.

One night over a dinner of potato pancakes, I find myself contemplating the joys and ravages of time. I’m seated at the head of the table and look to my left where Penelope is gobbling down her third pancake. I’m excited about our future together. Although I’m not rushing things, I look forward to when she’s a little older and her personality sprouts. I suspect she will become a bright, funny and beautiful girl and I can’t wait to experience all that. I look to my right and watch Benny, who turned 86 in May. His withered hand shakes as he brings his fork to his mouth. He doesn’t talk much anymore. It feels like only last week that Benny would dig in the garden all day and then come inside and chat incessantly about his favorite subjects. And, although those subjects were the grasses of North America and 14th century Polish churches, the animation in his eyes and voice was enough to hold my interest.

Earlier today, my wife’s niece, husband and five children — yes, I wrote FIVE children — arrived to spend the afternoon as the denouement to their Cape May vacation. Five other family members — including our niece Kim from Massachusetts and my brother Russ from Doylestown — were visiting, so our home was buzzing with voices and bulging with bodies. Penelope plays football with her older cousins in the front yard, shares her toys with her younger cousins, visits each of the adults with a book or toy. She’s already a better mingler than I. But then again, if I started showing up at parties with a toy or book, I’d just get funny looks. (Yes, funnier than the ones I usually get!)

I marvel at how everyone has embraced Penelope so warmly. I think back on when we first decided to adopt a girl from China — before we had told a soul — and wondered a little whether she would be treated differently because she looks different and has someone else’s blood running through her veins. None of that ever mattered. When a family opens its hearts, anything and everything is possible.