Friday, November 28, 2008

"REAL" THANKSGIVING

Yes! I made a turkey. And it really was nice, too. This is only the third turkey I've cooked in my life, and I haven't eaten many, either!

My mother really dislikes turkey and my husband dislikes turkey. So turkey has not been a feature of our holiday meals. Until Maxim came and on his first Thanksgiving with us looked at me with such shock and dismay when I told him I was planning to make stuffed pork chops - that I went right out and bought a turkey then and there. So as this is his third Thanksgiving with us, we've now eaten three turkeys together.

I please other people on other holidays. All the Russians like turkey, and I like it too, for that matter.

However.... food aside, holidays are rarely as lovely and perfect as I want them to be. I have always felt compelled - since childhood - to do everything in my power to make holidays sweet, cheerful, picture-perfect. Of course, they never are quite as nice as I want, but my parents usually would fall in with my plans as well as they could and attempt to coerce my brother into doing likewise. Aidan and Lydia were fairly cooperative...but getting all six of my presently-at-home kids to behave beautifully all day was not a goal I was able to achieve this year.

Things went pretty well until we actually sat down at the table. Ilya was very hungry and began to eat the moment his rear landed on the bench. I chastised him lightly and told him to wait until prayers were over. For some reason that was his cue to begin to scoff at the idea of praying before eating. At this point my goal of going around the table and having everyone say what they are thankful for seemed unreachable. Of course, I nevertheless insisted on prayers and took Ilya's plate. At which point he began to heartily swear at me in Russian and then refused to leave the table when asked. Craig had to bodily remove him and take him to his room. This is not exactly an easy task with Ilya.

Everyone else started to eat when they didn't come back. I later realized that we actually stopped only half way through the prayer. Lovely. The table conversation then centered on whether or not Ilya should have been made to leave, whether dad would come back to the table, and whether Ilya would calm down or escalate. Not uplifting.

I immediately felt that I wasted the day making such a nice dinner that could not even be enjoyed [by me, anyway]. Craig did come back and eat, but his heart wasn't in it. After, climbing out his window and "running away", Ilya came back in while I was cleaning up the kitchen and, frankly, ate with more enjoyment and appreciation than anyone else had shown. It occurred to me not to let him have the dinner, but I realized that part of the problem was that I'd not let them snack earlier, even though there wasn't really "lunch" only "brunch" - so Ilya really was painfully hungry and I'd tested his endurance.

After that "lovely" meal, Lydia, Anastasia and I watched "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" which was a pretty good movie, and then we had pumpkin pie. But altogether it was all a little too "real" a day for me.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY

Lydia and her teacher, Erin Quinn

For a number of [wonderful] years our Thanksgivings were very different.

In the tradition of Irish festivals being held on holy days, the most important Irish dance competitions are held on holidays. The midwest regional competitions are always held over Thanksgiving weekend. For six years Lydia qualified and we spent our Thanksgiving in another city in that rarified atmosphere of the Oireachtas, as a regional competition is called.

Here is Lydia (left) and two of the other qualifiers from the Quinn School at the 2003 Oireachtas. The Oireachtas was one of the most intense experiences I've had in my life. To begin with, it was an enormous honor for Lydia to be able to compete there. The practices in the weeks leading up to the Oireachtas were gruelling and non-stop. The pressure would build. Dresses, hair, shoes, everything had to be perfect. All the competitors, teachers, judges and parents would stay at one "Oireachtas Hotel" - so the whole place would be

shimmering and buzzing with the intensity of the event.

The dancing was amazing. The possibility of the judges fairly judging 100 competitors was absurd, and yet everyone acted as if this was GOD speaking. In a way, it might as well have been. If you are "recalled" at the Oireachtas, you qualifiy for Nationals - an even greater honor. The way this separating of the sheep and goats is done is like this:

The dancers dance two dances - all 100 some dance a soft shoe dance. Then they move to a different stage and all 100 dance a hard shoe. Then everyone waits, and waits, and waits. Sometimes a couple of hours. The tension is beyond belief. I would be ill with it. Shivering. Physically shaking as the moment approached. You'd see girls and their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, (occasionally fathers, brothers, boyfriends) sitting around white and tense. Then, everyone would gather in the ballroom where the "set dances" would be performed. Only dancers who "recall" get to dance their set. And, then - the numbers of the dancers who recalled would be read off, in number order. Imagine 300-400 people in a ballroom, all listening breathlessly, as these numbers are read. Frankly, it made me think of judgement day. I will never forget that ambiance, the stillness, the numbers being read, and the occasionally muffled squeels of joy, or gasps of misery that would be heard. Of her six Oireachtases, Lydia qualified at two.

Neither time did she go to Nationals, though. One time, the first time - I think we just felt it was too expensive to go. It was in San Francisco and that was so far away. Also, unlike Oireachtas, when you know so many people, we would have been more or less "by ourselves" without our usual friends to have fun with. Lydia was such a young dancer then, and I thought (foolishly) that she'd qualify every year after that and would have many other opportunities to go to Nationals. However....Lydia only qualified one further year - the year Nationals were in Toronto (as you can see, they weren't really "Nationals", rather North American Championships....but Nationals they were called.) Anyway, to our dismay that year she was injured. Oh, well..................

When her number was called.... When she qualified, it was like walking around on air - though our hearts would ache for the girls (and their moms) who didn't qualify. When she didn't qualifiy, it was such a letdown, such heartache. Sports really are silly, aren't they? But, just as on TV sports the music and manner and voice of the announcers make these competitions seem of world-shaking importance, and profoundly meaningful.... so did the Oireachtas seem to have meaning far beyond itself.

In any case, we were among our dearest friends of the time....and the support and love among us all was amazing. And there was fun, too. Another highlight of the Oireachtas was a formal dance. So everyone - parents and dancers alike, came with formalwear, often with a "thematic" flavor. The "dinner dance" was always hugely fun, with performances by the previous winners - usually by that point, Riverdance stars - and then a caeli - an old-style Irish dance with figures that everyone could join in. And, then just fun, fun, fun. Our whole family would come, and Aidan (who also danced, but never qualified for Oireachtas) would have a first-rate time, too.

So - can you imagine that Thanksgiving post-Oireachtas has been kind of a let-down? Prior to this experience we alway shared Thanksgiving with my parents. It was helpful, really, that the year my father died, Lydia went to her first Oireachtas.....and only for the last three years have we had a "normal" Thanksgiving. Whatever that is.

For all our Oireachtas Thanksgivings, I am truly thankful. I will never forget them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

DAY OF CONTRASTS


On Sunday I was invited to come to this parish - St. Joseph, in Adrian, MI to present a training session for their lectors. I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of this church, which unfortunately does not come across completely in the [strange] photo. I didn't take any photos, but found this one on line. I cannot imagine why the organ is sitting there front and center! It is certainly not ordinarily there!! It was appropriately over to the right out of this view. Anyway, you can see the beautiful dimensions and the paintings, etc.



The really rewarding thing about this opportunity was the chance to be myself. How rarely we can just purely use the gifts God gave us, without "faking it" or being in some way out of our comfort zone. I am a good lector. I do love Scripture. I enjoy presentations. I adore the priest who asked me to do this, and all the attendees (the attendance was good, happily) were very pleasant, appreciative and gracious people. Best of all, the Holy Spirit took up my meager outline and allowed me to really do a vigorous and enthusiastic, well-spoken presentation. (That's frankly, what I most love about teaching and speaking in church - the sense that I do 40% of it, then the Holy Spirit takes over and I'm just the mouthpiece.) Altogether it was a very nice experience. I found myself envying the people who can call St. Joseph their parish. Such a beautiful worship space; wherever my eye fell there was something lovely and inspirational. This photo really gives no good impression of the bright loveliness of the windows, for example.







Then - how perfectly the timing worked out! - I had just time for the two-hour drive back to Lansing to pick up all the kids (Craig was teaching Koreans) to go to a very contrasting experience at "New Beginnings" - an evangelical church on the west side of Lansing. They were hosting Alexei Kotchan, the missionary who works with the Shuya Orphanage where Ilya was. Alexei is wonderful - so supportive of adoptive parents, and so good to the kids. He was very honest with us, and we were so grateful that he was there to "watch out" for Ilya before we could come to get him - to teach him about Christ. Alexei and Tanya were also so hospitable to us when we were in Ivanovo.....we joined in their Wednesday evening prayer at their home, and he treated us to a wonderful meal at a traditional Russian restaurant. I was so sorry that Tanya and their baby, Mary, didn't come to Lansing. But Anastasia enjoyed connecting with Liza, Alexei's sweet daughter. It was just so very good to see them again.


This is one of the first times I've experienced "contemporary worship" - at least in a church service. We might do something similar an informal prayer service, but I'm accustomed to a much more sober and reverent experience of Mass as the usual Sunday gathering. There was a praise band which led us in at least an hour of praise-singing. I actually enjoy this sort of worship, but had to laugh because my boys are so stodgy! They sat there, for all the world as though they'd been brought up in Quaker meeting! Of course, they are embarrassed when I sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" - or whatever serious and measured hymn we offer up at St. Thomas. So, the idea of arm-waving and belting it out mortified them. They could barely make themselves stand up. Anastasia, though, got into it a little more fully, and at least sang. There was a very brief message by the pastor, then Alexei spoke and showed a lovely video of some of the work he is doing. Ilya must have been interested to see "what he was missing", and how his friends were doing. It was so odd to imagine that had we not adopted him or Anastasia, they would have been there in those photos. How different their life is now.


Alexei's comments were echoed in my blog-friend Elizabeth's recent post on ministry in Russia. He reports a distinct cooling. Sadly, there is a new director of the Shuya School Orphanage. The new director says that Alexei and his church can do whatever they want to serve the children, but cannot share Christ with them. Isn't that sad?


The most beautiful idea that Alexei and his church have had is starting a farm for graduating orphans. Initially they'd hoped to start a "center" in Ivanovo where the 15 and 16 year old kids (so young to be out on their own!) could come to live or get support. But watching how many of the children fell prey to all the sinful influences of city life, Alexei and the former director in Shuya hatched the idea of a farm. So many of the kids already have the farming and animal husbandry skills from their earlier, pre-orphanage childhood. Of course, the farm can be somewhat self-supporting, and an educational experience all in one. It is a brilliant idea! I hope so much that one day I can support this project financially, as well as (perhaps, with luck!) in person. You can read more about Alexei's ministry at http://www.russia4christ.org/


Friday, November 21, 2008

STAGES OF GRIEF


As I wrote in some previous posts, this has been quite a year. One of the "high" points has been coping with my imminent loss of the job I've held here at our church for over 20 years.

Our parish is merging with another one and the decision was made to lay off all the staff and create new job descriptions for the new parish. We "may apply if we wish". What an odd sensation - I "may" apply for my job!

The other thing coloring my thinking is that the new pastor of the unified parish will be the pastor of the other parish....and, of course, he's worked with his staff happily for years.

Back when I first wrote about this stuff I was in the throes of bargaining, denial and anger. Then, later this morphed into depression just as the model promises.

Now, I have really been in a state of acceptance for some time. Not that this peace will remain when things get right up to the wire, but it's working for now. I have even recognized some spiritual fruits. "Perfect love casts out fear." If I concentrate on love, I cannot fear. I lay in bed nights thinking - what is there to fear? Let's say that I and all my children are in the homeless shelter. Does that prevent me from loving them? From training them? Teaching them? Many great people grew up in limiting circumstances. OK. It won't come to that. [I don't think!] But, doing this sort of exercise is good practice.

One of the more difficult things about this has been that acceptance of losing my job has also caused me to rather lose interest in it. And that does not make it easy to do! The joy has always been in improving things, in getting bright new ideas for next year. Of course, the thing we are supposed to do it just "maintain". But that is hard without interest. I have the most difficult time focusing! I'll start to do something, then I'll find that I've wandered into searching jobs in Russia, jobs in Virginia, jobs in......wherever.

I am so sorry. This is both a dreary and a boring post. Unfortunately, to keep continuity I thought I probably needed to "catch up" with the big stuff that has sucked up my energy and in part, kept me from posting much this fall. I promise more interesting things to come..... There are a few!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

REPURCUSSIONS


This is a sequel, of sorts, to my post about Ilya's recent pugilistic experience. It ended up having some unexpected consequences - both good and bad.

If you don't care to go back and read the previous post - here it is in a nutshell: Ilya decked a kid who a) had been bullying him since the beginning of the school year and who b) had invited him "outside".

As a result Ilya was suspended for a week.

Here's the un-surprising result: After wearing out my knees giving thanks that Ilya was finally, this year, going to school regularly without problems! Alleluia!..... As I feared, a week's suspension ended up completely disrupting his sleep patterns and I suspect, also convincing him that they weren't all that anxious that he was in school every day after all, were they? So now I am back to begging, pleading, cajoling and doing my best to organize his time so he can go to bed and get up at hours conducive to actually going to school and staying awake there. But - it is still better than last year. He goes over half the time!

An unfortunate result. I went to Zhen's conference last week and his teacher struck me dumb with the revelation that "a mother" had come to her concerned that Zhenya might not be "safe". Safe? Apparently there is a sort of ethnic discrimination finding its way into the mothers' gossip.... Some of these nice ladies seem to have come to the conclusion that "orphanage kids" are dangerous. Fortunately, I am by nature unable to take offense. If I could take offense, I think I might take it now. Instead, I am just a little ruffled around the edges with anxiety. Fortunately, the staff knows that the bully of the piece was the boy who tormented Ilya.

Good result - for us, anyway. When the other boy's mother found out that he, too, was going to be suspended (not for the first time, by the way), both for starting that particular fight and for saying crude and rude things to Ilya, she retaliated by removing her child from the school (causing scarcely concealed rejoicing among much of the staff). Ilya is relieved that he doesn't have to deal with this boy any longer.

Surprising, yet good, result. I asked Sergei the other day how his social relationships were going. Sergei has a nice circle of friends, but a few of the boys have been very un-nice to him. He thought for a moment, his face lightening - he appeared almost surprised and expressed it - "Mom, I don't know why but suddenly they are all really nice to me." I asked him - "Do they know about Ilya?"..... Suddenly, Sergei's face showed both understanding and amusement - "Yes, they know!" And we both surmise that at least among the 8th grade boys, there is another sort of gossip going about, another point of view about "orphanage kids being dangerous" - but this time the result is not bad at all. Sergei, via Ilya, is finally getting a bit of respect.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A "MOTHERHOOD" SEVEN

Cris took a different "take" on the popular "Seven Unique Things About You" meme. She chose to answer it from a "Motherhood" point of view... That sounded fun, so I took up the challenge.

Aidan as a baby


1. I first met my four adopted children in person, but I met my firstborn biological child via a photograph!

2. Aidan was only 27 weeks gestation when he was born.....He spent a month in NICU.

3. Each of my adopted children arrived home in 9 months....except for Ilya at 8 mos - he was "early".

4. The first words said about Lydia were: "Look at those thighs!" (And don't I love to tease her about that!)

5. Of all my children the one who most reminds me of my dad is Sergei. My mom agrees.

6. Aidan was born by c-section and I was determined that Lydia would be v-bac. However, she showed some signs of the fetal hydrops which challenged, Aidan, so she had to be born by c-section anyway. For some reason this nearly broke my heart at the time.....but afterward, even when we hoped for more bio-children, I suddenly didn't care at all! Would have gladly had a third c-section. I put it down to the comment by someone at church, looking at Lydia's head, who asked in horror, "You didn't give birth to her naturally did you!!!" At that point I realized that - yes; the circumference of her head would have made her birth difficult at best, in any case.

7. One day in 1994, I prayed fervently for God to give us another child. I wrote about it in my prayer journal. When I didn't get pregnant I felt that He had told me, "No." Only last year did I run across that old prayer journal and realize that - the day I prayed amidst tears and pleading was the day of Sergei's birth. Little did I know how very affirmatively God was answering my prayer after all!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

FIVE PARTS LOVING-KINDNESS, ONE PART SELF-ABSORBTION

I am writing this from my sickbed. I have been suffering for the last couple of days from some sort of stomach flu... Miserable...chills, stomach cramps, dizziness, etc. Usually I pop back sooner, but I may also be recuperating from weeks of sleep deprivation...(due to those early morning phone English classes.) I've sure been sleeping a lot, anyway.

I woke up a little while ago...stretched out my arm and it touched something cold and hard...a Diet Coke. Some kind little person (or big person) was being thoughtful. So I lay here for a bit and thought about how everyone in our household reacted to having the main cog in their machinery break down.

Anastasia comes in from time to time, looking concerned, to tell me she loves me and to ask me if I want anything. Last night, she brought in her book and read aloud.

I have heard Sergei's voice in the hallway, "Shhh! Don't wake up mama!" He kindly gave me the laptop so I could look at my blogs, sacrificing his "Runescape" time. He was careful of his school clothes, wearing them twice, so I didn't have to worry about washing them. What a dear, good boy.

Ilya, not sure what to do, has come in a time or two, just to sit next to me, or lay on his stomach and look at me in concern. I've scared him off each time with affection. Can't help myself.

Lydia made dinner for everyone last night, and brought me just what I requested - a baked potato...but she went the extra mile and brought a little side bowl with sour cream and butter. It tasted just right. Now she's taken the three older kids out to get a birthday present for Zhen . His birthday is tomorrow. And she picked up Maxim from school.

Zhenya is cosseting love incarnate. Sweet little kisses every time he comes by the room, whether I am awake or asleep. He tucks me in; without asking, he made me a hot water bottle; he brings extra blankets.... His sweet little voice asks how I am, do I need anything?

And, then there is Maxim. Maxim had his heart set on my taking him to Game Stop to buy some new game for his xbox. Well, obviously, I couldn't. But he insisted, cajoled, demanded. He'd come in every twenty minutes (or so it seemed) yesterday afternoon, to throw himself on the bed (sending my stomach rolling) and then going into his litany of demands and reasons why I should give into them. He thought I should get out of bed and take him there. Really. I'd sometimes literally beg him, near tears, to leave me alone! But he woudn't. That boy has a one-track, totally self-absorbed mind. It was as though my being sick was only an impediment to his wishes being fulfilled, nothing more.

I feel that in many ways we've made progress with Maxim. But this trait of his worries me. He has some moral structure - I don't think he'd kill someone to get what he wants...but I know he will lie and steal.

For example, I was telling him that there would be no game in any case, until I checked out the unauthorized withdrawels from our bank account to xbox Live. There is just the slightest possibility, I suppose, that he accidentally bought something that invoves a repetitive charge without knowing it. But I doubt it. Foolishly, one day I gave him our credit card information so that he could buy something I'd agreed he could have. Have to admit, I am an easy mark. I assured him that I'd see if he used it wrongly (unfortunately, this was bluff, more or less, as I am not rigorous in looking over our bank statements, I'm sorry to say) . But yesterday I did look it over, and was stunned to see these xbox charges. Of course he denies everything, and obfuscates everything. But I am determined to get to the bottom of it, and if he knowingly bought things with my money....I'll have to confiscate the xbox. I don't even want to think about that. I think he uses it as a sort of drug to calm himself....so he'll go crazy. Oh, well. One nice thing about being sick....I can now just lie down and forget it - tomorrow is another day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

RUSSIAN FESTIVAL


On Saturday I took Zhenya and Anastasia to the Russian Festival in Kalamazoo. We had a good time, as usual, though there were fewer vendors, and even fewer visitors, than in past years. Sometimes you really seem to see the economic downturn in action. Or, perhaps this was not a good weekend in Kalamazoo. Previously it has been one of the last two weekends in October. I overheard someone saying that a lot of the vendors did not want to commit as she was recruiting them during the time of prohibitive gas prices.

In any case, it was still a great event with lots of variety - everything from Russian wrestling (!) to choirs, to a play by a local charter school of a Russian folk tale (Vasilisa and the Golden Thread). Frankly I was squirming during the play, as I felt I could have: a) gotten a LOT more out of the actors they had, and b) done as well if not better with our Russian School kids. Of course, that requires children who will agree to be in a play, and I do not think our Russian school bunch fits this description. Anastasia enjoyed it, however and so did everyone else.

Anastasia had a terrific time - she met an old friend from her Detski Dom, Vasya, whom she had not even realized was adopted! I enjoyed talking with Vasya's mom during lunch (and as we watched wrestling). Anastasia also enjoyed the delights of a Silent Auction! And she gave great amusement to the ladies overseeing this event. Though there are always some really neat things available (and most of my "purchases" were Silent Auction purchases) it appeared that someone had donated a bunch of items that were of questionable "appeal" (to say the least!). For example, there was a painted lid to a china box (whose bottom was apparently broken), and some worn and stained linens. There was also an extremely old and tired little ornamental birdcage, complete with fake bird. Anastasia took a liking to this, as did Vasya's sister. Well, they kept outbidding one another. [Unfortunately] Anastasia "won" and we are now proud possessors of this item. She also purchased a few other things (most of which I expect were donated by the same "generous" contributor). Hence the amusement and delight of the "Silent Auction" ladies who I had previously heard debating about whether or not to even put the items out. I gather they felt forced to display these donations as the one donating them was present, but they found doing so embarrassing.

I was able to get rights to a few new, Russian t-shirts that I think the boys will like for Christmas or birthday, and a few painted breadboards in various styles, as well as some painted ladles, spoons, etc.

All in all it was a worthwhile expedition, though nothing like the fun of last year when so many people with children from Ivanovo converged there for a get-together. Now that Anastasia has discovered the Silent Auction, I've no doubt we'll be back for more next year.

Friday, November 7, 2008

FLASHBACK FRIDAY - TWO


Courtney challenged adoptive parents to share their referral photos. This is not that - we met Ilya through a strange set of circumstances when we went to Ivanovo to adopt Anastasia. I've told that story in detail on our website: http://kitchingfamily.org/Ilya.aspx

This website is a little out of date (I got a new computer and lost the ability to add photos for a while, but I'll update it soon, I hope. Ilya's story is complete, though.)

But I'll explain this photo. This is a "miracle photo". We'd met Ilya briefly in Shuya, and when he found out his sister was being adopted he turned away, so I couldn't see him cry... Something in me caused me to rush after him, give him a hug and tell him in Russian - "Everything will be all right." Then, we were hurried away. Of course that little face was imprinted on my heart and mind. But I had little idea how I'd ever get in contact with him again....

One idle day I did an internet search for "orphanages Ivanovo" and to my surprise within moments I was looking at this photograph. This is Ilya front, center. Amazement doesn't begin to describe my feelings at finding this photo which had been taken by a missionary group. All I could think was that my own biological children, involved in sports and dance, and right here in the USA didn't have their photographs on the internet....but here was a mysterious little orphan in an obscure part of Russia - his photo was there, right there for me to see. That convinced me that we were meant to try and adopt Ilya, and though it took a couple of years, we did it! Obviously, during the waiting time, this photo was precious to me. (BTW, that is Ilya's and Anastasia's older brother Sasha on the right.)

Later, my wonderful Moscow friend, Alla went to Ivanovo to visit Ilya and his older brothers, and she sent precious photos, too:















Then another wonderful adoptive mom, Elisabeth, kindly delivered gifts for the boys:

















This is not Sergei's referral photo either, but also - as close as I got.
We met Sergei in a summer program when he was not selected by his host family for adoption - the best thing that ever happened to us!!!

This is the photo taken by a family who went to Russia many months before we did to adopt their daughter. I do not think anything was ever so welcome as these photos of Sergei and the other "waiting children". Isn't he adorable? Oh! the hours I spent looking at that little face...those pink cheeks, that dear smile.
And little did I know that Irina (in the hat) would come to be for me like the handmaiden of the Lord. I owe her my happiness. God bless her!

I've posted before the "first photos" of Nastya and Zhenya.... The photos that we have before we have our children...those photos that are all we have of children we already love, and long to know....what on earth can be as precious?

FLASHBACK FRIDAY


March, 2005.
I apologize in advance, as I cannot seem to get the photos so sync with the text. Sorry! My expedient is to number the comments.

1. Here I am with our dear little Zhenya...in front of a door I found rather beautiful just a building or two away from the American Embassy where Zhen was made a citizen and applied for his visa.

It was slightly chilly but I wasn't wearing a coat, as Zhen had thrown up on it on the way from Ivanovo to Moscow. He was totally unused to travel in an automobile and it took him a few weeks before he got over this. We'd been told however by the orphanage doctor, that "his stomach is upside down" and despite the fact that Craig and I both chuckled over this odd diagnosis upon hearing it, when Zhen took to vomiting, we did get a little concerned! Zhen also had a stack at least three inches high of x-rays and medical reports. He'd been hospitalized numerous times for TB and seemed a sickly little guy. But - to our delight and amazement, Zhen has not had so much as a cold since becoming our boy. He has an amazing appetite and I sometimes think all he needed was his fill of fruits and vegetables to be perfectly healthy.

2. Two of my favorite people in my favorite place. This is in front of the Hotel Ukraina in Moscow. We had taken Sergei with us when we went to adopt Zhenya. We were giving the boys some fresh air and they spent half an hour or so having fun among the pillars in front of this imposing building.

I hadn't yet fallen absolutely, madly in love with my Zhen, as I had with Sergei, but I did find him a scrappy, brave little guy.

3. The last photo reminds me of a highlight of this trip. In the lower level of the Ukraina there was a little restaurant "Children's Center".... Little did we know when we decided to visit it, what was there - a wonderful play area, far superior to anything McDonald's ever dreamed of, and this: a Circus! I swear that the performers must have been Moscow Circus performers on their time off because the quality of this miniature, participation "circus" was just amazing! As you can see there was only a tiny stage, and only room for maybe 30 audience members, but the show was tremendous! I was especially proud because at first the performers were having a hard time getting the children to participate, but Sergei first - and then Zhen, already in awe of his older brother - volunteered and soon all the children were having a blast. So were we!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

THE FUNNIEST STORY

For some reason last week a few of us started sharing the funniest stories of things that really happened to us. Here is mine:

Years ago I worked in a touring theatre and somewhere in the midst of North Dakota or Montana we pulled into some little town and hit the Target. My friend Jahnna needed some "feminine products", but Jahnna was not one to mince words, and our bus driver had given us only a few short minutes before we were to be back in the bus. So Jahnna strode boldly up to the first employee she could see. This turned out to be a young man. And, she said, "Where are the Tampax?" He looked at her and asked, "The kind you push in with your thumb or the kind you pound in with a hammer?"

Sorry; I want to laugh out loud whenever I think of it. I cannot believe we kept straight faces while we were in front of him, but about two aisles over we were doubled over and holding our sides with tears streaming down our faces.

Monday, November 3, 2008

VOTING


I absolutely cannot figure out voting. That phrase - "I can't wrap my mind around it" - which is not in my vocabulary, actually seems to fit my relationship to voting perfectly. Here are the facts:

1) I began to vote as soon as I was legally able and for years and years never missed an election. Voting is something "good girls" [good citizens] do.
2) I was not only a "good girl" as involved actually voting; I was a scrupulous voter. I would do my research, and if I really didn't understand an issue, or the position for which candidates were running, [what does a drain commissioner do?] I would not vote for those particular issues or contests.

Voting has been difficult, though, every since we moved to Lansing. I work 20 or so minutes from our house, and of course am supposed to vote near my home. On the other hand, I didn't want to cue up and wait for hours at night, ruining dinner, messing up homework time, when the polling place was empty during the day. So, I'd leave work, drive back to my polling place, then come back to work again. It would be at least an hour and a half, if not a two-hour event.

Then came 1996 and Clinton beat Dole. I had a particularly difficult time getting back home to vote that year. It was mammothly inconvenient...and the next day, when I was distressed at the result, an "evil" though assailed me.
"It didn't matter that you went to all that trouble to vote."
I looked through the results of all the elections, all the issues, and sure enough! (ha!) not a one of them passed or failed, not one candidate lost or won by one vote. It sort of washed over me....this idea that my vote didn't actually make one bit of difference. If I hadn't voted, my day would have been more peaceful, many things would have gone well that instead went badly. And my voting made no difference. In fact, because my candidate lost and because several issues did not go the way I voted, I felt BAD. If I hadn't voted, I would have been sorry, but I wouldn't have felt so miserable, small, outnumbered - tricked. Voting made me feel BAD, made my day bad, caused me to let people down - and it made no difference.
This seemed to be incontrovertably true. Yet, these ideas, going as they do against all I was taught about civic responsibility, I forced to the back of my mind. But remained troubled.

The next election, again, I left work and came to the polls. As I stood in the little vestibule waiting, several people were chatting among themselves. A woman said, "Hey, I didn't know you voted here!" The response, "Oh, I don't. I just came over to vote for my sister. I already voted. She don't vote so I'm voting for her, too." My good-girl blood ran cold. Surely, this was not what I heard! But it was! Someone else chimed in. "Yeah, my husband never votes so I vote for him by absentee ballot." You might ask - why didn't I say anything? Make an outcry? Even....tell someone? Well. Frankly, it was my own brand of racial intimidation, I guess. I was alone among a lively and in-the-bonding-process group of people of another race and I just didn't have the guts to speak up. As well as realizing it would make no difference whatsoever. Anyway, I was stunned. I voted. But went away feeling like my vote was erased by the "sister's" vote, undoubtedly.

Then, I went to the grocery store. Standing in line, here is the conversation I heard:

Clerk: You voted?
Customer: Yeah....
Clerk: How you vote for all those weird things no one understands? Like regencies all those universities? What about that?
Customer: Oh, I just go eeny-meeny-miny-mo.
Clerk: I just look at those pictures and I never vote for no one wearing glasses.
(Laughter)

I felt like I was in Twilight Zone. If my vote wasn't cancelled out by "sister" it surely was by these two nincompoops.

But that wasn't all. That night I had an event to attend at church. Among the conversation at our well-educated parish I heard this dialogue: "So how'd you vote on the doctor- assisted suicide proposal?" "I voted against it." "You mean you voted 'no'." "No, I voted 'yes' that was the way you voted against it, right?" "No. I think you had to vote 'no' to vote against it...." etc. I was sick to my stomach.

It was as though again and again I was being pounded with the message. "Voting is stupid." (Or, at the very least "Stupid people vote.")

Since that time, I've sometimes skipped elections. I've sometimes forced my good-girl self to go vote. But I've always noticed that it makes no difference. Whether I am there; whether I am not. Same outcome. And that's what I can't "get my head around".

We are told voting is so important. In fact, we see the candidates pulling out all the stops to try to "bring out the vote"....but if my own, individual vote makes no difference....(and the last Presidential election revealed how many votes are actually lost or not counted) then why should I vote? I suppose one can think that it makes a difference if "people like me" vote. But, come right down to it, there aren't too many people "like me". Pro-life, environmentalist, anti-death penalty, school-choice, anti-term limit voter.

It all leaves me feeling as though I ought to be able to understand it, if I worked at it enough - how my vote can "count" while a) appearing not to count, and b) being pretty much cancelled out by cheaters and imbeciles.
Even John McCain seemed to say my vote didn't count when he, for all intents and purposes, conceded my whole state to Obama several weeks ago!
OK I am honestly ashamed to write this post. I am sure that my attitude is bad. Yet, I wallow in confusion. So, I invite responses. Convince me to vote tomorrow. Convince me it will make a difference.
EDITED - Well, I did go vote. I think it was all of your "peer pressure" that got me there; I really do. So I am sure that the outcome will be changed. Anyway - Rachael! I hope you underwent all that inconvenience, too. Sarah - I feel sort-of guilty that you didn't. And, I really should vote absentee ballot....except in Michigan there are only a couple of acceptable reasons, and I kind of hated to fib. Though - who could it hurt?
Also - I hope no one is offended by the graphic. I wanted a normal little "I Voted" sticker, but this one seemed right somehow.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

THE CHALLENGE

Photo of the Deluxe Inn, from last winter, found on flikr



This post is written after reading Christine's "challenge" post.

We have a food pantry in my church - in the building where I work. "Building" sounds fancy...it is a very small building and the pantry is right down the hall. So when people come in to get food, I almost always greet them. (Though most of the food is taken to a weekend day shelter and distributed there, we do have ten or so people, mostly parishioners, who come in to help themselves.)

A fellow named "Ted" has come for the last few years and gotten food. I've been pleasant and warm to him, of course, but never tried to reach out a whole lot. Mostly because he is a single man and not anyone I'd seen at mass. I wonder if he used drugs in his youth, or had some sort of Vietnam injury. He must be on disability. He comes to us on his bike, so he is physically healthy in that way. But he has thick glasses, and radiates somehow "down and out". He has a crew cut. He stoops. A time or two he's helped himself to the bag of returnable cans that my children save for spending money.

A couple of weeks ago, he wanted to take with him more than he could take on his bicycle and asked if he could put some of it aside to get later. Something prompted me to suggest that I just bring it to him. To my amazment he lives much, much further from the church than I would ever have imagined (someone to travel on a bike!). Maybe 5 miles - and even more amazing, he lives in a sad sort of motel RIGHT on our way home. I drive PAST it. So, of course I agreed readily. That kindness caused him to ask me humbly if maybe we had any toilet paper I could bring him. Well, we didn't - in the pantry - but obviously I was going to bring him toilet paper! So the kids and I went to the grocery store and got him TP, and I had them each think of some other things that we don't usually have in the pantry that he might like....yoghurt, oranges and bananas, candy, nuts and paper towel. Then we went to the motel.

TheDeluxe Inn is a place of "ill repute" in our town, to say the least. At least once a week we see police cars there as we drive by. Last year there was a murder there. A woman I know adopted a baby who was abandoned there in a squalid room. The alarming thing (as one who toured in theatre for years and stopped frequently at motels off the highway) it looks OK from the outside and I don't doubt that they actually have regular travelers stop there and stay the night as well. But in finding Ted's room, I realize how one place can have two "personas". The streetside rooms appear to be reserved for real motel patrons. The inside rooms, on a sort of courtyard, are something altogether different. When we walked through that passageway we entered a completely different world. We were suddenly in a sort of community. People's doors were open; people were standing outside talking, or squating against the wall smoking. We were eyed curiously. What made it clear we didn't belong there? Just their all knowing one another? On the way to Ted's room, I glanced in an open window..... a heavy-set, very young woman, 16 or 17, sat cross-legged on an unmade bed. Disposable diapers falling out of a bag, a box of cookies.... She was talking on a cell phone. A toddler of maybe 28 months, clung to the window, looking out. Dirty little face, dirty shirt, dirty hands, matted hair. One glance. I can't forget.

We gave Ted his sacks, and didn't wait for him to open them, but scurried out. But we have gone back a time or two since. Once at his request. Another time at our own suggestion. Then last Sunday night at Mass, during the sign of peace, Ted is behind me, touching my shoulder, wishing me peace. That is good.

But there are always ragged edges. Maybe I should have warmly greeted the girl on the bed. Ask if she could use some baby clothes. Last week Ted showed up with a crew of guys. How can I reach out in special ways to them all? Especially the most needy are not needy in terms of money alone, but needy in terms of social skills, ability to cope with the world. I took Ted groceries and now see endless need.....

I suppose this is why we must pray diligently. Respond to the promptings of the spirit. I can't do it all. I really can't do much. Go through that passage to the other side of the Deluxe Inn and risk being sucked dry. I've decided it is only with God's help I can make the right decisions about how, when, who to extend myself to. Never, as a young woman would I have accepted for a moment such limitations. But I have to accept them now. To be consumed, it seemed to me as a young woman, was to be like Christ. And, perhaps I haven't really changed in that. I just realize that it is my family that has the first right to my energies and I have the responsibility to them, to give of myself wisely and in measured ways to others. Mother Teresa said, "Love begins by taking care of the closest ones… the ones at home."