Friday, August 29, 2008


Sergei in Moscow, playing with the money we'd brought to adopt Zhenya.
I found myself responding to this post on another blog, and realized that my response was becoming a post in itself, so I thought - why not?

However, I do not want anyone to think I am criticizing the original blog-writer. I am not. I am only sharing my take on it. I am sure it must be very different to adopt babies and much younger children. And a lot of that difference comes in a desire, perhaps, to protect your beloved child from ever feeling "different" or "set apart". Knowing that you love your adopted child just as powerfully, and from the same center as you love your biological children, you can't tolerate anyone seeming to not understand that...or the idea that your dear child's sense of being loved in the same way would ever be threatened.

But with older children it is very different. This was one of the big surprises I got when we first adopted ten-year-old Sergei. I guess I thought that his past would be left behind. Not his Russianness...but his family situation, those people, those places. But, unlike a baby or toddler with only subconcious memories, you can't erase true and conscious memories be they good or bad. Fortunately, Sergei's memories were nearly all good. And they intrigued me, and haunted, me and inspired me, and became somehow a part of my story, because he was mine and they were his..... I feel related to all those people who are related to him. I even love them, somehow, without knowing them.

Then, too....I suppose I am famously impervious to comments. I've certainly "stepped in it" myself once or twice, so want to be as forgiving as I hope people are to me! I go through life with a great fear of hurting anyone, so these gaffs torment me, anyway.

I do believe that when a huge thing happens to us, people want to say something, and if is something they haven't experienced personally, they don't know what... Undoubtedly some are secretly thinking we are crazy. Some are truly thinking we are "saintly" (it is this "take" on adoption that makes me squirm the most, frankly, as the joys of adoption are so great that I am constantly humbled by how lucky I am). Most are simply curious.

And I'd never want to discourage a question. They represent an openness to adoption that I want to encourage!

I have come to believe that it is a beautiful thing about adopting older children that everything really is already out in the open! I've found, to my surprise, that my adopted kids happily use the same language as everyone else. The kids are as interested in appearance as any stranger would be. Anastasia is happy to proclaim that she looks more like her adopted sister Lydia, than like her bio brother Ilya. So when my mom met Ilya and laughed "So finally a grandchild that looks like me!" we all thought that was pretty neat (Ilya and my mom have black hair unlike anyone else in the family, adopted or bio). I was recently stunned listening to a radio interview with a mom who has adopted a lot of inner city children as well as having a number of biological children that the kids talk about some being "chocolate" and some being "vanilla". I don't know why it initially bothered me. If kids can talk about the way they look in ways that have meaning for them - why not? Otherwise, we would be making race a "forbidden" subject and potentially making it seem shameful. So, too, my kids talk about their appearance. When people ask if Zhenya and Anastasia are twins, I just think it is cut - they look like twins. Only Anastasia is bent out of shape because she is a year older.

And the kids are not shy about talking about how much they "cost"...of course I remind them that their older siblings "cost" a lot too - in hospital bills! Actually, Aidan born at 26 weeks was by far the "most expensive" one of all.

When people say something like, "How could anyone leave her?" they are only echoing the thoughts I've had many and many a time. I share the fact that I pray for my children's biological parents all the time, because I know how horrible things must have been for them - and must be for them even now - to have lost having these most extraordinary people in their lives.

People who we know - from church, for example - who have not seen us for awhile, may well be surprised when we suddenly appear with five (or if Lydia is with us) six children. Of course they will ask if the kids are visitors or relatives. Some may have thought we were now empty-nesters or, remembering our adding Sergei, will not initially understand that they are "all" ours. I proudly tell them how blessed we are! By proclaiming our joy, I think we may encourage others to give some thought to older-child adoption. In fact, I know we have. And people may think it "happened so fast". Well, when I see those same people's children, who were 7 at our last meeting, and in high school now - well, I think they grew up pretty fast, too! I explain that each adoption took nine months! (The symbolism of this just delights me, frankly.)

The questions I get about the adoption process are pretty understandable....particularly when I read about people adopting from other countries, or domestically, and things are so very different. If we have not been around adoption before, we don't know the "rules" and we don't have the language. So the use of odd phrasing doesn't bother me; I'm just glad people ask. And people do wonder, most of all, perhaps about how we were matched with our specific children. I believe it was God's work, just as much as Aidan's and Lydia's conception was God's work. But from a practical point of view - people want to know. If they might consider adoption themselves, they really want to know! I was actually quite surprised to find out that not that long ago, families adopting from Russia, did indeed, just go in and "pick one out". (My friend picked out her sixteen year old daughter that way.) And though these days, in Russia, while another process is used, in many instances, when people have a chance to meet a number of children, it is possible to ask about the availability of a specific child, and then proceed to adopt him or her.

I don't mind people talking about adoption at all, even clumsily. My children can't be startled or hurt by it, or have things revealed that I wasn't yet ready to talk about. They know all about it - they're happy to talk about it! And, it has seemed to me that the more we talk about it, the more my children will understand that adoption is a glorious thing, and the more likely other people may be to consider this beautiful choice for themselves.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I hate the beginning of school. It adds so much stress to everyone. Maybe I hate school. But that's another post.

Just when I was reeling from the latest Maxim incidents, Ilya throws me for a loop.

More than the other children, Ilya gets hand-me-downs. Just works out that way due to a family we know whose son is just a size bigger than Ilya is. I got the impression that Ilya was really longing for something new, just for himself, so I decided to get him whatever pair of new shoes for school that he chose. Wisely, so I imagined, I took him to Value City. Limited choice (thought I) and good prices. This will be easy. Wrong.

Ilya was excited and ran ahead of me to the shoe section. By the time I found him, he was not in the children's section, but had gone into the adult men's section and had selected the shoes of his dreams. Nike AIR. Well. My initial reaction was to the cost. I flinched at even the Value City price, but then immediately realized that it didn't matter. Adult shoes would not fit Ilya. I urged him to go over an aisle. No. He was adamant.

I found the smallest pair and told him to please try them on. He did. They were at least two inches too big at the toe. I pointed this out. He looked at me as though I were crazy. He would grow into them! He was really in ernest, and I immediately realized that he was not being "stupid" or stubborn in the way some children would be. Iimagine that he was accustomed to being given shoes that really didn't fit and quite honestly had come to believe that "close enough" is all that is wanted in a new pair of shoes. My Russian simply isn't up to this kind of an argument. He would not give in. THOSE were the shoes he wanted, and no others. His anguish at what he perceived as my stubbornness turned to anger and things got ugly. Heads turned at his angry Russian imprecations and my clumsy half-English, half-Russian replies. I headed out of the shoe section, head down.

Unfortunately, I had to buy some sort of a red top for a dance performance Nastya was in the next day. It was already past eight at night and as much as I knew I needed to just get Ilya home, there was no other way or time to get the item for Anastasia. So, on fire, I whipped over to the girls' section and wildly searched for anything that would do. Ilya grabbed my car keys from my purse, and with some relief I thought he'd go wait in the car for me. No such luck. You see, my looking for something for Anastasia was just gasoline on a fire. For some reason (sibling thing) all the boys are jealous of Anastasia and have the idea I buy more things for her. (No hand-me-downs for her; that's one reason.) Anyway, Ilya began to try to scratch one of the racks with the keys. This was not successful, so he pulled one of the tags off a shirt. All the time, just looking to make sure I was watching. I was stoney-faced. Then he took my keys and began to swing them around, hitting the floor with my door opener. I could just imagine the cost of repairing that. I could see in his eyes, though, Ilya's recognition that this wasn't a good idea. I know he really didn't want to do significant damage. So he did, finally, go to the car.

I was blessed with an understanding that Ilya was simply trying to show me how he was feeling - that the torn tag, the scratched stand, the dashed keys, were his hopes dashed, even his sense of my love for him torn and damaged. But what could I do?

I bought Nastya's top. Was relieved to see that Ilya was indeed, simply waiting in the car and moreso that the door was unlocked and he let me in. We drove home. Then he got into the freezer and took out a box of ice cream sandwiches, taking the entire box for himself and proceeding to begin eating them. I ignored this. He kept eating and honestly, I think it did him good. The sugar and cream salved his soul and nerves. He eventually unwrapped one and brought it to me, then put the others away. I thanked him. Before I went to bed I told him I loved him. We'd look for shoes again tomorrow. That was it.

That was Thursday night. Yesterday Craig took him to another store and they found just the shoes he wanted [thank you, Lord!] in his size. Yesterday afternoon Ilya spent several hours cleaning the basement. And no one can work like Ilya. He did a tremendous job. It was only later last night that I realized that it was a sort-of penance he gave himself. I do love that boy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

BAD DECISIONS - More Adventures with Maxim

We got a great run at soccer this year....unlike last year when between our being in Russia, and not being on the soccer e-mail list, poor Maxim missed practices, games and even photos.

We were thrilled this year when he made the Varsity team as a sophomore. I bought him new shoes. Ordered "spirit wear". I devoted myself to a future of fall soccer and spent Saturday attending THREE scrimmages.

On Monday, however, clouds arose on our horizon. Maxim told me, cheerfully rather, that he was no longer on the Varsity team; no - he was needed on the JV team. Hm. I was impressed at how he was taking it. But really it seemed a good idea; I'd far rather seem him be the "hero" of the JV team, than sit on the Varsity bench.

On Tuesday he had the first real game. Unfortunately, we have an annual night with friends at the local community baseball stadium, and last night was the night. We'd committed to this event before we knew the soccer schedule, and, furthermore, we were given tickets. So we were going to the baseball game. Maxim would ride the bus to and from the game (which always seems to me like more fun anyway). However, Maxim was having all sorts of issues with this. Argument after insufficient argument finally led to: "My parents are dead, there's no one to come to watch me play - and now you won't come!" Say, what? (Has anyone detected in my posts so far, any great attachment in Maxim for me?) It was clear that he wanted me at the game, wanted it desperately, but his reasoning did not ring 100% true. Still, to my mother's heart, this was hard. I want to be his mother figure (and I suppose he knows it, clever, manipulative lad.) However, recalling that I attended only one of my dear Aidan's HS Lacrosse games, and that on occasion, I missed Lydia's dance competitions (which nearly killed me, because I loved them so much on every level), I withstood the assault. Nothing I said, though, had any impact on our Maxim.

I took him to the bus. He refused to leave the car. I initially was dropping him off in our "usual place" behind the dumpsters where no one can see that he gets out of my car. But I was in such a state [commitment! letting down the team! waiting for you! new soccer shoes! gas and time!] I stopped emitting the impassioned arguments that I'm sure he only heard as the meaningless yells of a crazy-woman, and drove right over to the main parking lot a few spaces from the bus. (Talk about courage! I was not sure I'd actually live through this, honestly....death by foul language, if not something more violent seemed imminent.) When we got closer to the bus, though, Maxim stopped yelling threats and made some effort to hide in the backseat. Yet he continued to refuse to get out of the car. Even when the team got on the bus in their beautiful new uniforms, he refused to get out.

How do I control myself sometimes?

Anyway, I took him home (mind you, I was supposed to be at work) and tried to figure out - what the heck??? Finally [dumb!] I realized that he wanted me there so that he wouldn't have to watch the Varsity game, rather than play in it. Pretty simple, eh? Why am I so slow?

Still. He is not on the Varsity. I cannot live in servitude to the soccer schedule. Seems to me that the value of HS sports is in learning lessons about joy, triumph, hard work and all - but also about pain, disappointment, humiliation and the courage needed to meet them.

I have toyed with the idea of "telling" the coach. I am 99% sure that Maxim will be cooking up some lie to explain his absence, probably involving not having a ride. [Oh, boy; I hope they saw him!] One mom already e-mailed me saying she'd be happy to help with giving him a ride if I needed it. EMBARRASSING. HE should be embarrassed, not me. But I am; he probably is riding on his fibs, forgetting the whole incident. Ready to do it all over again for the next game.

Meanwhile, the other morning I found my debit card out by the phone. Odd. Today discovered that Maxim had charged nearly $65 in X-Box something-or-other [points?] to our account. Any advice, folks? Silly, silly boy. All the while he should know. I wish he knew that there is a fault in our home and he is it. We cannot withstand too many tremors.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Nastya, ready to go!

I am so chronically exhausted that I wonder if I can write a coherant post - particularly with the ante upped by the fact that I haven't written for so long! But, think I, it will only get worse if I wait any longer... so I'd better give it a shot.

Last week, we went on what I think was really the first "normal" family vacation I can remember taking. And, I have to admit that it was just a two-day "vacation" at that. But - it was relaxing and fun.

We went to Cedar Point - a wonderful amusement park in northern Ohio - about 3 and a half hours from us. This little trip was a long time coming. My mom actually gave us money to go for Christmas 2006. Last summer, I kept delaying and delaying, and then SURPRISE! we got our call to go get Ilya, and the Cedar Point trip never came off. This year I think the children were beginning to doubt that it ever would. I felt rather guilty that their hope was nearly transformed to despair - so all of a sudden - I made the reservations, and we were off!

Craig had to work, but Lydia and I took the younger four. Maxim, coincidentally, had been invited to go with a Russian friend of his the following day. Well, that was fine. Great, even! Otherwise the van would have been packed to capacity and I am not sure my sanity could have borne the resulting behavior.

Aidan, Calvin and Lydia

We drove to Cedar Point on Wednesday afternoon after Lydia got off work, stayed in a hotel overnight and spent the next day at the park. The weather was lovely - perfect! - and Aidan, Susan and Calvin drove from Pittsburgh to meet us for the day. All in all - it was a lovely experience.

For most families this would be a fairly "run of the mill" sort of event. For us it was unique. I am not sure why, but I have always felt that vacations needed to have a purpose over and above mere "enjoyment". I am not quite sure where I got this stodgy idea that all endeavors need to have significance and meaning, but I have it! So ingrained, in fact, that I am really not sure that I could have managed TWO days at Cedar Point, for example. As it was I was sorely tempted to leave early so we could all go to the Edison Birthplace in Milan, Ohio. (Don't worry, I spared them - for this year.)

Our vacations have included some wonderful trips, though (however educational). I loved the road trip down part of the Mississippi River, in particular. This followed a winter of reading Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi. Then there was the trip that Lydia and I took with my mom to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. Best of all was the trip to all the other "Laura" sites from the Little House in the Big Woods in Wisconsin, to the Little House on the Prairie, and onto the Little Town on the Prairie in DeSmet, South Dakota. For good measure we visited the homes of Betsy and Tacy (of the wonderful Maud Hart Lovelace books) in Minnesota.

Most of our vacations, however, have been to explore my roots - Iowa history and family lore. I think Aidan and Lydia grew up believing that there really was no other place than Iowa to go on vacation.

Then, Irish dance came on the scene, and most of our "vacations" were taken in weekend trips to competitions around the midwest and Canada with dance and Irish culture taking center focus.

So. You see why this was quite a breakthrough, what with one thing and another. Everyone had fun, and believe it or not (Edison notwithstanding) I am honestly considering other "non-meaningful" possibilities for the future.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


If you have been to Russia, you have spent every day there in a non-litigious society - which could be a post all by itself!

But, I have noticed that here in the US, our "litigiousness" has blighted a good deal of innocent pleasure, to say nothing of learning experiences. However, one construction company has apparently failed in its duty to inservice all employees on the need for cold distance, and my children benefited.

The city is replacing the old lead pipes which have always brought the water to our house (the leaded water thus delivered through our tap undoubtedly the cause of Lydia's math disability). Anyway, I came home the other morning to find a crew of very friendly men digging a hole in the street right in front of our driveway. The happiest part of this was the news that instead of being in front of some screen all morning, or playing the "talk Daddy into letting us watch Disney" game, both Anastasia and Zhenya had spent most of the day with the workmen - even to the point of being allowed up on the [unknown name] machine. Why did this please me so much? I suppose because it brought back some of my own [pre-lawsuit-crazy] childhood when serendipitously, slightly dangerous but very interesting and educational things could, and did, happen.

The guys let the kids "help" them all day and we took the guys cold drinks and cookies. I like that sort of world.

Friday, August 8, 2008


That little rhyme is courtesy of my fourth grade teacher...
I took it to mean that one should not write on the walls. As an adult I wonder if we are speaking more of politicians.
In any case, my name (or title) appeared in this sweet message from Ilya on our driveway. I was so touched, as he thought of this himself. He is rough on the outside, but has the sweetest heart.
Now, as far as this version of my name - and another I found similarly carved on a door.....what to think of that? Aidan once scratched his name into the hood of our car. I knew what to say then! But "mama"? My goodness.