Friday, February 27, 2009


degenerative changes

When Maxim came to live with us it was with the assurance that "several families" were interested in him, and that we would only have him with us for a few weeks, at most. And things were urgent for him. Simply because there were no foster homes for teens available, he was in a residential treatment center for adjudicated youth. Now, that is a whole post in and of itself. What a God-forsaken place. Obviously, it was urgent to spring him from there. So the suitability or not of our house was not really considered. Only our willingness and the availability (if we shifted around) of an extra bed.

His adoptive parents had suddenly divorced, and the mother was thrown for a loop. The dad was suddenly and hurtfully no longer in the picture; mom traveled for her work. Her emotional stability was challenged. I'm sure Maxim, feeling abandoned by his new father figure, was also volatile. Frankly, while I hate what she did, I have met her and she seems like a person who certainly never meant to hurt Maxim. However, they disrupted the adoption.

Because of Maxim's horrible situation, we worked our way through the "system" to get our home licensed, and spent the summer driving an hour and a half each way, every Sunday afternoon, to spend time with Maxim in the "visiting hall" of this nasty place he was in.

I overlooked the fact that there was no maternal chemistry between Maxim and me - because there didn't need to be. Frankly, I'm not sure I am alone in this or not....but I feel a strong physical bond with each of my children, adopted and biological. A crazy mother-love that would have me leaping in front of trains to save them, and so forth, with no second thoughts, no thoughts at all. Cleaning up their bathroom messes, eating after problem. For me it is just a sign....we are meant to be together. With Maxim this was lacking. Yes; I found him nice; smart - all kinds of good qualities, etc. but no mother-love flooded my being. But , again- it didn't matter because he was only with us for a short time. This was simply a good deed.

However, as the weeks passed, one by one those "other families" we'd been told about sort of faded away. They adopted another child, they were in another state, so it would be too clumsy, the wife was into it; the husband not, the number was disconnected....etc. For a while I called the agency pretty frequently, "Anyone interested?" No. And possession is 9/10ths of something....

So, Maxim stayed, and I have to admit, he grew on me. But, as he did, I began to realize that he is a human version of a Bermuda Triangle. Resources of all kinds seemed to disappear into, food, belongings (i.e. the "good" pieces of furniture, the "nice" CD player, the softest mattress, etc.) but, mostly my time. He is a great boy, a smart, thoughtful boy - enthusiastic, athletic!....because of this it was all the easier for him to succeed at being a magnet for the best of everything, and for attention - all the attention that he missed as a tiny boy. My theory, anyway. For the longest time I was unaware that he was pulling me away from my own children.

"Books! Time to read!" My favorite time of the day. Nastya and Zhenya and Sergei would pile onto our bed for a couple of chapters before bedtime.... But then Maxim's urgent face might well appear at the door, "But, Mrs. Kitching, can't you read to me? I have to have twenty pages by tomorrow, and can you help me with my vocab? And, Mrs. Kitching I need you to look this over"...and he'd throw himself on the bed and show me his paper, which needed my attention...and soon I'd realize Zhen and Nastya had fallen asleep. Sergei had left.

I might have mastered that clear conflict, but then basketball came, and the multitude of games. Home games were easier, except Maxim would have a fit if I brought any of the other children to watch. He demanded it be only me. Not Mr. Kitching, none of the kids. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? And occasionally I'd "disobey" and bring Nastya or Zhen....and he'd usually have a tantrum about it. The away games were really killers. They were usually 45 minutes to an hour away and the driving, fast food and the game would obviously take the whole night. Craig would put everyone else to bed.

To this day Maxim never ceases to complain about the other kids. They "embarrass him"; no one has such a "big family" (though several kids in his class had a bigger family). He would go to great lengths not to be seen with me, particularly if any of the other children are in the car. Perhaps I should have addressed this - confronted it, so to speak. But I kept feeling, and really feel still that the reason for these odd feelings, is hidden in some great depths in his psyche and it is something better left to be untangled delicately. I don't think it has to do with our family being "large" or embarrassment.... It is something else.

Then Ilya arrived and things got much more difficult. Not only did Ilya need my time, too, but for Maxim our adoption of Ilya seemed to have a "sign value". Despite the fact that we were working to adopt Ilya when Maxim moved in with us, when we actually did it he took it as a personal affront. He all but asked why we'd go all the way to Russia to get Ilya when we had him!

And he tends to take these feelings out on Ilya....who has just the wrong personality. Ilya is not the quiet peacemaker that Sergei is. Ilya is also "top dog" material and these two alpha males began to fight it out under my roof. At first physically, in play, like puppies - big, loud puppies. Then in other, less appealing or appropriate ways. And Maxim, older and stronger would prevail over Ilya, younger but as stubborn as his sister. "Never give up until you're dead" must have been their family motto.

These interactions have not always been bad, but overall it isn't a good mix. And Maxim has never ceased to ask me to find him "another family". He seemed to have the idea that if I looked around enough, worked at it, someone would appear who had it all: the big house, the Athletic Club membership, trips to the Bahamas, cool cars, the cabin up north - but who lacked a teenaged boy. Hasn't happened. And actually because of his desperation and ours, I really have been humbly asking anyone who expressed any interest in him at all if they might want him in their home???

Our situation is such that the family described above - very well to do, is the type of family Maxim would most see at school, and spend time with when with his friends. So if only for this reason - our humble home, and moderate means - he wanted OUT.

To be continued..........

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Lent begins tomorrow. Truly a time to humble ourselves. And just in case I was not prepared to do this on my own, our parish merger transition process is here to help me out!

The committee which focuses on Religious Education decided to take a survey of parents and got lots and lots of comments, many of which mentioned me by name. If there are not very many jobs where people get publicly and anonymously evaluated by the people served, then I say - GOOD! This is such a depressing process! It really takes the heart out of one.

This, despite the fact that in conjunction with my colleagues (Joe who does Adult Education and David who does Youth Ministry) I got loads of really wonderful and positive comments. Such as:

Annie Kitching, Joe R, David M are all invaluable resources.
The religious education program at St. Thomas Aquinas parish is among the best in the nation because Joe R and Annie Kitching are among the best religious educators in the nation.
Annie K, David M, and youth team are wonderful!!!
Annie K does an outstanding job!
Annie has a wealth of knowledge to share.
Annie and Joe are great.
Annie and Annie's staff are amazing.
I wouldn't be a catechist if it wasn't for Annie Kitching's leadership.

And, to be honest there were many, many more in this vein. I only copy the above so you can see that I ought to be warmed through and through, wouldn't you? But what is it about human nature? Why are all of those positive, kind, encouraging comments blotted out - made to seem empty, frivolous, and meaningless by this one:

To put it bluntly, the Head of Religious Education, Anne Kitching, and the Youth Minister
both need to go! They may mean well but are not suited for there [sic] positions and are doing a great disservice to the Catholic Youth.

I cannot begin to tell you how my stomach flipped and fell on reading that! And, in fact, though it has been a few days, I am still physically sickened by reading it. This was worse than the anonymous forgiver of years ago. This person could not have been mistaken. This person truly means ME. Knowing I'd read this, knowing that his/her comment might actually have some impact, this person chose to say not only that two people should be out of jobs - but that they were not only failing in their life goal, but doing the opposite - "a disservice to Catholic Youth"! And one of those people is me.

I wrote this for Tami, who is pained when she loses one of her followers. (I'd be pained, too....remember I'm the person who didn't want to use the follower application because I was afraid I wouldn't have any!)

What's the message? Life is full of hurt. Some of it pretty darned stupid and meaningless, all tangled up in our vanity and ego. Were I truly humble, I'd relish such a comment. (I bet St. Francis would...) Were I truly confident, it wouldn't phase me. Were I filled with inspiration and mission 100%, without any trace of a desire just to please and be liked...such a comment could be taken in stride. Evaluated, used or not. But I am none of those things, I see. I am like a weak, self-centered, little child inside wanting to please people.

I want ME to be out of the mix. I want to be so LED by God in my work that no negative comments could touch me because I'd be so confident that what I was doing was His will.

So - here comes Lent. Let's see if 40 days can improve me any.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Today Maxim and I had a command performance at the Oakland County Circuit Court. Children available for adoption in Michigan are "overseen" quarterly by a referee and this was the day. However, this was the first time Maxim was required to be present. This particular referee, so I heard, is fussy and a little difficult.

We were told to arrive at 1:30, which meant I needed to leave my office at 10:45 to pick up Maxim from school and drive the nearly 80 miles to Pontiac, to a not-really-known location We got there with ten minutes to spare. (Or so we thought.) Actually, to the Oakland County Circuit Court apparently 1:30 means 3:15 because that is when we finally went in. And, the really irritating thing is that we were sitting there all alone for a long time before any of the people who were supposed to be there arrived. These people included: Guardian ad litum (lawyer), Adoption Worker (sent a proxy), Case Worker (said she sent a proxy, but no proxy came), and our Court Appointed Special Advocate. (For whom I thank God frequently!)

Maxim was really ancy, but frankly this was a place for people watching like no other! And once I was told that this particular court was only for cases of abuse, neglect or child endangerment, let me tell you - it beat a soap opera. I did flinch a bit to realize that as I imagined all of the people there as child neglectors, abusers, or endangerers, they were visualizing me as the same. Maxim's case is in that court because he was abandoned by his adoptive family and thus fell into that category - to stay, apparently. Well, I won't complain, it made for interesting waiting. My particular favorite scenario was the very attractive and initially poised young woman who came in wearing jail uniform and handcuffs, who blew my initial impression "She looks really nice." by hissing "Did you enjoy it?" to a set of people she passed. That was certainly good for imaginative mental play.

Eventually, we got to go in and the referee was, indeed, brusque, crisp and irritable....but, heck! I've been to court in Russia! This was nothing. She is an amateur!

She was not one bit happy with the "workers" in our case, but was polite enough to Maxim and me.

So, we were in the chambers for all of ten minutes (long enough for me to notice that the chairs in there were ten times more comfortable than the ones in the waiting room) but we didn't get home until six p.m. long hours and half a tank of gas, after we left.

Just one more benefit of being a foster parent!

I did have one moment of amusement, however. No, have to admit more than that. As we were entering the court house and trying to figure out where to go, we started down the hall toward the "Family Division". Maxim looked at the sign and read it out loud..."Family Divison - does that mean they separate families?" It took me a second, then I had a hard time controlling my laughter. Well, maybe it was nerves....but I still think it is funny.

Friday, February 20, 2009


A few months ago I wrote about one of the funniest things that ever happened to me. In that conversation we went on to relate some of the weirdest things that ever happened to us...and this is what I shared:

Years ago, after I'd only been working here at the parish for a little over a year, one evening as we were all sitting down to dinner, the phone rang. I answered and it was a woman who introduced herself by name. I recognized the name as being a parent of a child in our program. However, our Religious Education program was mammoth. There were nearly 400 families involved so I would recognize names but not necessarily put a face or even details to it. So, I am sure I greeted her pleasantly, but curiously, as people rarely call me at home...

But she had a special reason. She called to tell me they were moving, leaving town - but before they moved she wanted to ..... forgive me.

Long pause on my end. My mind spun around wildly opening every door in the memory no avail - nothing but empty rooms. "Uh....." What can you say? Someone in the most serious way, calls you to solemnly tell you they forgive you. Can you really bring yourself to say, "What for?" On the other hand, you have to say something!

I finally did say something, along the lines of "Well, thank you... I hope never to offend anyone." (Truer words were never said....I am obsessed with not offending anyone!) This was clearly not sufficient. Long...displeased...silence. I am suppose to apologize now! I suddenly knew what my part was, but I could not for the life of me figure out how I could have offended this woman. Let alone, to the degree that she'd call to forgive me before leaving town. So how could I apologize?

Once again my mind ran back in time...what? where? how? I could not imagine myself ever offending anyone to the degree that it demanded a forgiveness call! After the fact! Especially doing so and not remembering it! Turned around and ran into someone? Maybe. Called their child by the wrong name? Maybe. Didn't have their child on the right class list? Conceivable. But nothing, nothing, nothing that required forgiveness!

I suppose it is thinking back to my mental gymnastics that I find most intriguing! How to be courteous, kind, appropriate when receiving uncalled-for forgiveness! Eventually, after a few more vague attempts, I had to admit....

"I am so sorry; I really don't remember what I did to offend you."

If I thought this confession would make all right - was I wrong! Now my caller was as dumbstruck as I had been. Clearly, by her horrified and confused silence, I could tell that my offense, whatever it was - could not have been forgotten. Or, at least, should not have been forgotten! Finally, she offered a far less sincere version of apology and hung up in a flustered huff.

For years my mind went round and round in circles over this. I asked everyone I trusted if they could imagine how I might have offended this woman. Never, ever, got a clue.

It was only this year, thinking of it again, that I think I know what happened. The person who had my job before me was notoriously abrasive. What I now guess happened is that my caller was offended by my predecessor and didn't realize that the person in the position had changed, and called me, thinking it was her. That is my only guess.....but there's no mending it now. No explaining. Only wondering.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TINKIE - A Snippet Post

In my house no one escapes about twenty nicknames.... The one I use most for Nastya is "Tinkie" from "Nastenka".

Here is my Tinkie in her corner this weekend...not feeling so well. I think she had a touch of the flu, with little energy, and body aches.

She spent some time crocheting, and liked for me to sit in "my" chair crocheting, too. She looked so pretty that I had to take her picture.

A bit later we got to chatting, and she revealed a few things to me that she'd never told me before. When we adopted her there was some reference made to the children being removed because they were "eating out of the garbage." Anastasia overheard Irina telling me this and denied it heartily. A few times after that she'd bring it up, getting all huffy and dignified (pretty cute when she was only 6). But a year or two ago, driving down the street one morning, we drove past a gas station, and behind it was a large dumpster and a man was looking into it. I heard her say, "You can find good things in the trash...." then immediately, "I shouldn't have said that." Of course, that made me wonder.

But on Saturday, as I talked to her, Nastya told me about the day she was removed from her home. She said she and her mother were looking through the garbage for food - and they'd found a watermelon. The people came, and wanted to take her. Her mother stood in front of her but the policeman said he would shoot her, so she let them take her. She was sitting on some woman's lap in the car and she was kicking and made the lady's stockings dirty. (My sweet Tinkie, could it have happened this way? Did a policeman really threaten her...or was it important for you to remember it that way?)

She also remembers when they were living in a "burned out house". (How burned out could it have been, really?) They lived there with an "old man"....and they all slept in one bed, Nastya in the middle. She didn't like the old man, but one time kissed him on the lips, but she didn't remember why. (Trust me, I probed about this one, but it appears the sleeping and the one kiss is the limit of it all....)

What memories to have. My poor little girl.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The other day I was shuffling through all the stuff in my wallet, as I do at least once a day - looking for the coffee shop card, or the receipt for the candy I bought for the 8th graders, or some such, I did something I do at least a couple of times a month - I picked up this cartoon, looked at it for the umpteenth-zillion time, and laughed usual.

Then I laughed a second time at the dummy I am to find such a simple cartoon funny - and not just ONCE, no! Over and over again. So much so that I've kept it in my wallet now for two or three years.

What can this possibly say about my personality? sense of humor? intelligence? I do know that the only jokes I remember are infantile ones, yet, I still find them funny. For example: What happens when you blow hot air down a rabbit hole?

You get hot, cross bunnies.

Lest you think I completely lack in depth of character, the other item which I keep in my wallet, and read over and over is as different from this cartoon as anything can be.

It is this is a clipping which I found in The Catholic Worker, the newspaper founded by Dorothy Day. This clipping is a copy of a copy....the original, first clipped by me some twenty years ago, eventually dissolved with age and wear. Somehow in this snippet, Thomas Merton puts into words what I feel about life here on earth. Reading it reminds me to wake up, be aware. I am a bit of a mystic, I guess.

A mystic with a stupid sense of humor.

What is in your wallet? What does it say about you?

Friday, February 13, 2009


Gwangju City Photo courtesy of internet NOT Craig
Every morning I look forward to a long e-mail from Craig in Korea. He is doing very well there, and enjoying himself.
While most couples in this day and age would be using the phone or chatting on-line somehow the comparitive formlity of a Dear Annie/Love, Craing e-mail every day is just our style.

The "Craing" originated as he arrived in Korea:

When I got through customs for the 3rd time in Seoul I got my bags and walked into the lobby and there was Mr. Kim with a sign reading in bold black letters, CRAING KITCHING.

This is just the sort of thing that he and I find endlessly funny, so of course the name has stuck, as (probably not the first to think of it) has "Seoul Man". I would undoubtedly have chosen the immediacy of chat on facebook or some other IM mechanism, but it turns out that Craig is extending himself even to learn how to e-mail. I should have expected this; it is not like I haven't known him for 26 years!! Why did I think he would suddenly become computer-savvy? Still, in denial, I blithely made him a facebook account before he left, showing him how to use it, but failing to drill him sufficiently. Oh, well. As I say, the e-mails suit our "nerd couple" personalities and the benefit is that I can put together an elited version and make a little book out of it.

The biggest frustration for me is that despite our purchase of a nice, new digital camera before he left, he seems unable to send me photos. At first he said he couldn't seem to find the cord, but then he found it and it seems he can't use it. I beg him to ask one of the undoubtedly tech-savvy teachers at his school for help, but so far - no go....or, at least no photo.

There are some surprises. We expected, as most people I've discussed this with, that he'd be working with a classroom of stellar, motivated, even academically driven students. Well.....not exactly:

From what I have seen this is not anything like teaching in America. They let all the dinks sit together and hit each other, students just start conversations with other students you may be addressing. The real problem kids just sit together and smirk and watch the others act out. Once in a while one will pull down a window an spit out, contemptiously, then slowly smirk back at you to make sure you were watching. This during just an introduction, the lead teacher totally oblivious to the little girl just pounding the crap out of her boy friend next to her with her legs crossed indian style on her chair for all the world to see. Man...I won't even begin to tell you the bad stuff. ....Mr. Bean's Vacation in Korea.

Despite things not being organized in quite the way we expect here, he has had some teaching successes: [He refers here also to his toilet being plugged....they failed to tell him that in Korea, as in Russia, it is not always possible to flush TP.]

This country does things in a very happenstance, haphazard style, then they get all bent and start shouting and pointing fingers when things like plugged toilets happen. They did the same thing to that little 7th grade girl in the speech contest. The head of the English Dept. sat on that project and did nothing for 2 and half weeks. Then, the week before, on Wednesday, they give me the rough draft of her essay in pencil and ask me to correct it into a speech. No problem, it was kind of right up my alley, 50 dozen corrections and changes and spelling and grammar and every thing later. About 45 minutes or less for me. I give it back to Kim (English Teacher) and she acts surprised and gets all, "Oh you got it done!" as if they somehow had been waiting for me to do something for 2 weeks. Anyway, then I meet Sul Be Li, the girl, and after Kim has typed in the changes, we start working on her speech strengths and all that stuff. She got to see the speech she would be using at this big all-city speech contest on Thursday! The contest was on Monday afternoon. This was a pet project of the Vice-Principal and he was saying in public and in meetings and to me and whomever else would listen, that he would accept no lower than 4th place out of the 14 contestants.

I went into coaching mode fullspeed, I worked with the girl twice on Thurs., twice on Friday, came in Saturday morning for 2 hrs. Sul Be Li is an intelligent hard working dedicated student, she did everything possible to do her best. My sources tell me she nailed it cold at the competion, winning first place . Sorry did not get to see her. She won a beautiful crystal trophy, a two-page diploma type certificate in a leather binder, big gold stamped embossed... I don't know what , if anything else, but she really solidified her place at the top, as a great student. I was given proper and dignified recognition in private with the Principal, all English staff were pleased. Vice Principal was calling everyone Monday night apparently to tell them about the good news. He had a wide smile and warm handshake for me. I deflected any idea that my coaching won the trophy and placed the credit soleley on Sul Bi. I do wonder what would have happened if God had not put me over here just when he did. It makes me shudder to think of. But getting back to my toilet, it's the same thing, everyone makes a big deal about how well American teachers are treated over here and they won't even fix a plugged gob whizzer. I don't want to be a PIA but I had to come to school today to use the teachers' bathroom; good thing I am friends with the janitor.

I thought these two bits illustrate some of the agonies and ecstacies of the teaching end of his experience.

More about his life in general at a later date.....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I tell my speech students that an arresting opening sentence is important. In fact, one whole assignment is devoted to creating a good "Opening Sentence". However, it has recently come to my attention that if your opening sentence is too interesting, you might lose your audience for the rest of your talk!

A friend shared with me recently that she attended a Mass where the opening line of the priest's homily was a question: "Who has what you want?" She admitted that she spent the rest of the homily thinking about how she'd answer that question, and had no idea what his homily was actually about. I realized that she is not alone. I find this to be one amazing question to contemplate.

I came to a sort of odd realization. Most of you - my blog friends - have something I want.

When I think of my "real-life" friends, this is not the case. But - you....friends I have chosen via your written word, and visual sensibilities as revealed in your blog design and all have to one extent or another, something I want. So. What does that mean? That I am attracted, intrigued by those I envy? Or, that perhaps by keeping up with your lives, I can live vicariously and in some way "have it" myself? Or that I admire those who have what I want and want to know them better?

And why don't I feel the same way about my real-life friends? But I guess I've come to realize that on a much smaller scale my RL friends do have something I want....but as I "know" them through the vicissitudes of everyday life and not simply via blog-cameos, the intensity is not quite the same. Also, simply because they are here, and living a life not all that dissimilar to mine, the charm of contrast is necessarily lacking.

So....dear blog friends. What do you have that I want? (And please realize - this is not an exhaustive list! Either of blog-friends, or of the qualities that draw me to you all....)

Christine, Courtney, Elizabeth, Ginny, Cris, Karen, Stephanie - I envy you your active, articulated, day in, day out Faith.
Tamara, Elizabeth, Kate - you all know I envy your life in my favorite country!
Christine, Courtney, Ginny, Sarah - I envy you your large families!

Sarah, Tami, Karen, Mamaporuski, Courtney, Christine, Ginny, Cris - I wish I had your at-home-mother lives!
Kate, Mamaporuski, Christine - I wish I had an adoption in process! How I want to be where you are! Even though it is hard, it is so hope-filled, such a potential-laden time.....
Tamara, Rachael, Kate - I want your way with words! How I'd love to be able to amuse, to describe, to charm, to move hearts as all of you do on your blogs!
Fioleta, Rachael - I want your talent with art, crafts, pottery, jewelry!!!! yes, I do!
Cris, Courtney, Sarah - I want to be homeschooling.

Tamara, Kate - I want to be teaching!

By the way - see why so many people have what I want? I want more than one person could possibly have!

And all of you who are moms....I want your discernment and insight as mothers. I feel you are all so centered and wise compared to me.

But there is more than just you "having what I want". You also have what I admire. You are all good, kind, supportive, creative, loving people. I find that you have amazing mothering skills that give me inspiration.

You are people whose judgment I trust, whose advice I would seriously consider, whose words have a real impact on the thoughts I think, the decisions I make. I am lucky to have you! As friends, role models, encouragers, inspirations!

Monday, February 9, 2009


Hm.... Is that actually a cent symbol up there? Somehow I don't think so. But it is close enough! And that's what this post is about! Making something work - well, making it even better, perhaps.

I got a SWEET little award from my blog friend, Elena's mom. I'm really flattered, too. And it came at such a timely moment, putting an end to a time-wasting, self-pitying bit I might have otherwise shared with you all today.

I'd like to think I make lemonade out of lemons, (though I just make funny posts out of them) yet that sweetens me up, quite a bit....gets me ready to go suck another lemon [i.e. interact with Maxim]!

The Lemonade Award is for people who have positive attitudes, are upbeat, show gratitude and when life gives them lemons, make lemonade.The rules for this award are that you post the graphic, write about the giver and link back to her, and pass it on to up to 10 others. Leave a comment for the receiver(s) so that they know what's going on.

Elena's mom is a loving single mom to her precious three-year-old daughter, Elena, adopted from Kazakhstan. She has been a true example for me because she was treated quite horribly and unprofessionally by her employer last spring, yet rather than dwell on the bitter rind of this treatment, or let the acid bath sour her on life, she courageously moved away from her long-time home, friends and family for a new job and is cheerfully and sweetly, making lemonade with a new job for herself and her daughter in a brand new community. I do admire her pluck, and as my own job came into jeopardy this year, I found Elena's mom's courage, fortitude and faith a real example for me. So getting this award from her, really is heartwarming.

I would like to pass it on to Cris of "Peters' Peapod". She has spent months as a single mom, for the most part, hanging in there, homeschooling, taking care of everything, including trying to sell their house, by herself while her husband worked a new job in a new city. Then, once there, they've had to manage on only a few unpacked bits and pieces, in a borrowed house, for weeks as troubles dogged their search for a new home. Cris' handling of this past year has been particularly inspiring to me because she is so obviously a woman who loves the joy of family unity, and who relishes the peace and security of the beautiful home she creates for her family. I've sensed the pain of having these outlets for nurturing her family blocked, and the strain of those months of being alone, and "doing it" alone. But throughout, Cris has continually been her loving, bright, inspirational self. She is a person who is CLEARLY relying on Christ (rather than her own understanding - and druthers) and letting His love strengthen her and shine through her. Her writing and her point of view has always been in keeping with the smiling face on her blog header. As I undergo a similar separation myself, I try to let her example by my guide - and keep that lemonade flowing.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Well, last week was the big "JOB INTERVIEW". All I could think was that it was a lot like being in a romantic comedy without the romance.

Somehow I just couldn't get angst-filled about it. Perhaps my Awful Autumn events upped my threshold for pain. I'm not sure... but rather than prepare for the questions we were supposed to answer by studying the Bishop's statement or the pastors' letters about "What Success Will Look Like" my colleagues did... I decided I needed to get my hair done.

Somehow, envisioning the interview, all I could imagine was Father sitting there - unable to listen - distracted, wondering why I hadn't done something about my roots.

So.... I made a last-minute appointment. I had to really work to get this scheduled in between the speech class I teach at the school and the interview itself, but I managed it. pure romantic comedy style, when I arrived for my appointment, there was another customer in the chair. She didn't quite like the back.... And then she needed a little more off the front....and then - well, it wasn't quite dry, was it really?....and on, and on, and the clock kept ticking under my anxious eye. Finally, when I arrived in front of the mirror, it had already become clear that there was not enough time for color. So, I made do with a trim and style and a wish that she "please try to hide the roots..." I was glad I hadn't tried to get the color as this stylist was SLOW. Furthermore I was beginning to regret not preparing better for the actual content of the interview..... What if he asked me what "success should look like" and I clearly didn't know! A few jitters were assailing me.

So, I shot out of there, looking indeed somewhat improved, but thinking the perhaps I'd have a few moments to look over some things before my 2:40 appointment. As I pulled up in front of our building, my colleague, Joe, did likewise, and met me with a questioning smile "Did you have your interview?"

"No," I responded, "Not until 2:40."

I saw an anxious look on Joe's face. "But all the interviews start on the hour."

OK. Numbers aren't my strong suit...and in this case, I had looked at the schedule of interviews, but someone had walked away with it and I'd I had been just a little leery about relying on memory..... I guess I should have been a whole lot leery! I glanced at my watch, "1:55 pm" Meanwhile Joe had ascertained from his schedule that, indeed, I was supposed to be there - at a hotel, alien territory to employees of both parishes - at 2! Five minutes from now!

"I'll run you down there!" says my dear colleague. I jumped in the car. He started to take off, then I cried, "No!" I'd forgotten the packet of materials I'd prepared to take (I did do a bit of preparing.) I ran into the building and back to his car, tottering on unaccustomed, but professional-looking heels, feeling extraordinarily unfit for just about any job.

In the end, due to Joe's kindness and the intervention of my Guardian Angel ( who caused Joe not only to arrive there at that moment, but ask about the interview) I made my appearance in the appointed place at precisely 2 p.m.! But, as one might imagine (under the circumstances) Father was deep in talk with someone and I sat on the little couch trying to appear job-worthy for fifteen minutes, anyway.

So. We began with prayer and he asked me the opening question and ..... my cell phone went off. I whipped it out of my purse, opened it and slammed it shut. [Why did I think that would work???] Of course, I'd no sooner begun to recite my brilliant version of a new, combined parish mission statement than..... my cell phone rang again. Yes. "Excuse me." (sick little smile) I opened it and this time looked at it - Maxim. Of course. He was home with a sprained ankle.

I desperately whispered to Maxim that I was in a job interview, hissing "Don't call again!!!" But Maxim, being Maxim... I got out half a sentence to Father, and - the phone rang again. I muttered something apologetic, "New phone. I don't know how to turn it off."

I slammed it shut, made an embarrassed one word explanation "Kids..." and then rather wildly opened it again and began to tap and push all the buttons I could think of that might conceivably silence the thing. I could swear I read "RINGER SILENCED". But, no sooner had I put it down, than it rang again. I opened it and, hopefully only I could hear the beginning of a stream of obscenities regarding my leaving him home alone without food. (Obviously, there is food in the house - ramen, bread, bologna, peanut butter, fruit....lots to eat...but nothing appealing, apparently.) At this point I had a vision of myself opening the door to the hallway and throwing the phone into it. But that did give me an idea and I, excused myself as gracefully as possible, and ran out into the lobby where I deposited the phone in my coat pocket to ring, unanswered. I'm sure it drove the poor receptionist of this financial firm where Father had borrowed a conference room, crazy. I looked later and he'd called several more times.

But, after that things went well. I think. Other people said that during their interviews Father talked a lot and asked a lot of questions. After sharing the mission statement, I went on to the question about what I most loved about my job and those effusions (as I love it ALL) carried me to the end of the interview. So, I hope I didn't talk too much!

In the end Father talked a little bit vaguely about possibly hiring everyone from both parishes, and (this is what it sounded like) letting us sort it all out among ourselves (job descriptions, I mean). Well, that would certainly be interesting!

So, I suppose one could say that I feel moderately hopeful that we won't lose the house, end up in the line at the shelter. I really have no idea what will happen, but I feel at peace with almost anything.... So long as I can avoid the social workers, anyway.

Monday, February 2, 2009

ANNIE'S AWFUL AUTUMN - 2008 - Blessed Amnesia

I haven't completed this final "Awful Autumn" chapter because, frankly, it was so traumatic and so painful that I soon began to remember only parts of it, and now those parts don't even make much sense anymore.

But perhaps part of that trauma from the beginning was that none of it made much sense.

Once again my fatal error was in presuming that the social service people have our and Maxim's best interests at heart....or at least that they have the time/desire/creativity to "help". What would that mean - listen....advise....share what others have done...refer....suggest books? I don't know! But I do know that this is not what happened.

I guess I have also hesitated, because to tell this story, I have to explain the "back story" this may be longish.

One night most of us went out for dinner. Maxim and Ilya had chosen to remain home. We arrived back at the house and somehow Maxim had gotten the mistaken impression that I would be bringing him food. Don't ask me why; I'd made it clear that wasn't an option. Hope springs eternal or something. So he was peeved (and hungry) and demanded that I cook him something. I explained that there was no way I was going to do that as it defeated the purpose of eating out, and I said that there was lunch meat and cheese, hotdogs and left-overs all available. Of course, he was not in a good mood about this. However it was now bedtime for the younger children and Craig and I were getting them sorted out upstairs while Ilya and Maxim went down to get something to eat. At some point, I heard a lot of pounding and banging, but didn't think much of it (a house full of boys, after all). But soon Ilya ran upstairs upset. Maxim had grabbed him and cut off his breathing! He really did seem upset. Craig and I both talked to him and it turned out that they had some altercation over a hotdog. Maxim left it in the microwave and Ilya was just taking it out so he could cook something himself. Unfortunately, another "hot button" of Maxim's is anyone touching his food. I was frankly, very upset that he got physical with Ilya....but Ilya had just gotten expelled for fighting himself, he is clearly not some fragile little victim, even though he got bested this time. We brought Maxim up. They acted out what happened. It was clear that to protect himself from Ilya's blows, Maxim got Ilya in a hold where he couldn't breathe but Maxim couldn't really tell as he couldn't see his face. As soon as Ilya stopped kicking him, he'd let him go. We chastised them for a) not getting along and b) resorting to violence and sent both immediately to bed.

However, a day or two later I made a huge mistake. I e-mailed Maxim's adoption worker (no end to the different "workers", I tell you...but he had always been very easy to talk to and Maxim's life since we met him, unlike any of the others). I explained the situation, and my frustration with these "hot button issues". I asked about coverage for anger-management. I knew someone at church who had had her son take some anger management training from a local woman and swore it was practical and life-changing. I didn't get an answer from the adoption worker and forgot all about it.

A few weeks later Craig got a call from L, Maxim's "real" caseworker. She said she'd scheduled a TDM. (That stands for "Team Decision Meeting".) It means that all kinds of people sit around a table and pretend to know Maxim, when he is really just a name on paper to them. But usually these are only called for serious reasons. When Craig asked why, he was told that they just wanted to make sure that Maxim knew everyone who worked with him was "on his side". What????

A few days later, after I'd e-mailed her wondering why we need to take Maxim out of school, take off work, and drive to Pontiac for that.... L called me and explained that she just thought this would be a good idea, and that it would be a chance to ask Maxim if everything was OK with him, etc. I was exasperated, and all the more so when the meeting was scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving - at 4 p.m.!!! That meant we couldn't go to Pittsburgh, which we'd hoped to do. Our family counselor was supposed to attend as well, and she suggested that perhaps we could meet by conference call, if it couldn't be postponed.

So, at the appointed time, Maxim and I show up with our family counselor at the DHS office for this phone-meeting. Craig was allowed a pass, and decided to take it.

The first thing that happened is that someone I never talked to before, someone assigned to be ringmaster of this meeting, I guess, formally began the production by stating that this was a meeting to decide whether or not Maxim should be removed from our home and placed into residential treatment. WHAT! Our counselor later revealed that she, too, was blindsided. L had also called her and explained that this was going to be a friendly, supportive conference. My heart started beating triple time - I looked at Maxim and could tell he thought I'd tricked him or lied to him. Meanwhile this man was talking... And here is where the amnesia comes in. I really don't remember how/why/when it all became so ugly, so awful. I do remember thinking that I was being my usual, professional, articulate, generous, loving self. I mean, I didn't get aggressive with anyone, or rude, or uncooperative. I only tried to state our case, and to defend Maxim as any caring person would. But as far as I can see, L came with an agenda...the same get him put into residential.

I remember her talking about a "pattern" of violence.... What pattern? Two incidents? Then, someone said that I had been out of compliance, or some such thing, since I am a "mandated reporter" and didn't report this "attack" of Maxim's on Ilya. I tried to explain this wasn't an adult attacking a child! This was two teenaged boys having a brief physical altercation. But they wouldn't drop this idea. Even our counselor was chastised because she knew about this and didn't contact the police. The police???? No one was really hurt. Nothing was damaged. The kids involved are more or less the same age. Why would anyone call the police? But all I could hear were these angry, accusing voices....telling me that I apparently didn't know how to "keep my children safe". I have to tell you - at that point my blood ran cold. I really began to see this new door open up - these people could not only hurt Maxim; they have it in their power to hurt my own children!

Nothing that I or the counselor, or the CASA worker there in Pontiac could say, made a bit of difference. I felt like the world was spinning out of control. They started talking about removing Maxim immediately "for the safety of the children in the household". They got their department head on the phone; he was clearly not happy to be called. He said that they must report this to CPS! Good Lord! All I could think of now, was the previous complaint! I had visions of these people - people who seem impervious to any rational explanation of anything - taking all our children away! I could see our children called out of their classes again, I imagined that now there would be no chance anyone at the school would ever believe we weren't unfit parents!

The room would seem to fly around me, spin and lurch, and I'd suddenly get this vision of that night, and a not-otherwise memorable tiff between the boys.... No one hurt. Forgotten by them within the hour. But NOW - this incident was being discussed by all those people as a serious attack..... "strangled" was the word used. I was too distraught to try to explain that it certainly couldn't be what they envisioned! I think I tried to defend myself - for not reporting this "attack" to CPS....but when the man who was running the show yelled at me that I was to "Be QUIET!!!" I WAS being reported! And I'd be cited for interfering with their authority in a minute! I just lost it, I leaned over in my chair, head to the floor and exclaimed..."Oh, my God I can't believe this is happening; I feel like slitting my wrists." Yes. This was stupid. It meant nothing other than an expression of absolute desolation. I wish I'd thought to pray instead, but that would probably have made them decide I was crazy, too. I don't know. At that point [suicide threat] they threatened to come and take all the children away from me that very night. Quite honestly, if I didn't lose consciousness I don't know why. Nothing in the world made any sense to me at that moment.

Eventually the "big boss" they'd called, made his decision. We would be reported to CPS. I had to have a PLAN to keep my children safe. Did I HAVE ONE???? Frankly, I didn't know what they wanted me to I'm sure I sounded uncooperative, once again. They were safe, in my view.... But THEY constructed a plan: Maxim was to be watched by me every moment except when sleeping, at school or in the bathroom. Sure. I agreed to this nonsense.

I staggered out of there, hoping that I'd be coherent enough to try and calm Maxim.

The next morning (Thanksgiving), someone from CPS called, and spoke to both Craig and me. By the grace of God, a sane person, she just laughed, said she couldn't imagine why anyone had thought a fight between two kids was a CPS matter, and that was the last we heard of it.

I suppose there is one more chapter..... But not nearly as awful....just my realization that I can't go on like this.