Sunday, May 31, 2009

CHARMING TRADITION

While I have been using Sergei's autobiography to accomplish a brief blog "vacation" for myself, I have been hyper-busy with everyone's end-of-the-year stuff, particularly his.
The Memory Book
But I have really been enjoying all of the end-of-the year things. How charming, appealing and fun traditions can be. Our little school is nearly seventy years old, and has developed a wonderful set of traditions. Frankly, having experienced Maxim's graduation two years ago, it really motivated me to keep the children in this school, despite tuition anxieties...just so my other children can participate in all these delightful "excellences" that the school has developed over its many years.


Over time, of course, some things have been eliminated (people of a certain age still bemoan the elimination of the traditional conclusion of field day, which was basically a mud wallow.) When year after year the showers got plugged up with the remains of this activity it was changed to a Cedar Point Trip. (The enormously wonderful amusement park a four-hour drive away in Ohio.) And while some things are lost, bit by bit things are added, of course. I have to say that the results are splendid and provide so many pleasing memories for everyone.


As I mentioned, May begins with May Crowning, a prayer service honoring Mary. The eighth grade students vote on which girl should crown Mary and which boy should be her escort. I think it is always gratifying to the staff to see that the students seem to unerringly select a girl and boy who are truly serious about their religion and serious about living it. All the other students participate as honor guard in a pretty service that involves not only prayer, but the reading of essays, and the presentation of flowers. The whole student body is invited to bring flowers that day and leave them at the doorways of the school - they are arranged around the statue of Mary in the church. If I actually had any flowers to offer, I can see how it would be a true expression of devotion to clip them for this purpose....the first flowers of May.


There are other end-of-the year traditions which are special, too - including a lot of assignments. As they are all writing assignments, I'm afraid they were the cause of weighing my Sergei down a bit, but for most students they are wonderful: writing a poem about their days at STA, writing a letter to themselves four years hence, telling themselves what they hope they'd accomplished (the English teacher then sends these when the time is ripe), an essay about why they appreciate STA school, and their autobiography.


The 8th graders get out of school early - before Memorial Day, an extra little "delight" of 8th grade, particularly for those with younger siblings who continue on this year until June 5th. The Tuesday after Memorial Day is the Cedar Point trip. The following Thursday is graduation.


The graduation Mass is gorgeous. It is so rich with these little beloved traditions, all burnished to a warm glow. I don't see how anyone could remain untouched, or unmoved. Mass begins with the eighth graders, the boys in suits, the girls in lovely dresses, processing down the aisle carrying their autobiographies, in beautiful keepsake books. (Sergei's is masculine - in a simple binder, but we added lots of photographs to illustrate all his writing....many more than I can manage to put into blogger.) The students lay the autobiographies at the foot of the lectern. One of the best of the poems is now read by the writer, and if there is a musical child (this year one of the girls is an amazing pianist), there is a musical piece and Mass begins. At the sign of peace (when ordinarily everyone turns to those around them and offers a brief handshake of peace), the students all bring their mothers a carnation tied with green ribbon. It is very touching, and I was all the more gratified to receive the carnation from Sergei this year, remembering one of the more pungent moment two years ago when Maxim, unable to bring himself to respond in this public way to me as "mother", gave his carnation to a teacher.


At the Presentation of Gifts (a part of Mass when ordinarily only the bread and wine and the collection is brought forward) each of the students not doing something else special, brings forward a symbol of what the school has meant to them - an apple for teachers, a textbook for studies, a trophy for sports, a heart for friends, a candle for their faith experiences, and so forth. Because the children and their parents have truly experienced so much together, each of these symbols honestly prompts fond memories. Perhaps that is what I most liked about the entire event - while it was all so pretty that it might easily have been done simply "for looks", everything truly held significance.


After Mass, the graduation occurs. There are three awards for excellence, that are not merely academic or talent based, but speak to the students' character. There is another poem or two, and perhaps another song or musical performance. And one of the best essays about the years in the school is then read. The students receive their diplomas at the right side of the sanctuary, and then greet all of the teachers of the school who are then lined up along the platform... I noticed that some teachers who are no longer teaching at the school came back to congratulate the graduates, which warmed my heart. And then the teachers gather and sing a little song of blessing to the students. As they poised themselves to do this I was fearful, but they sang well (it was the Irish Blessing set to the tune of Edelweiss) and it was just the right length. Then there was a brief speech by the principal, then the teacher who has been at the school longest (nearly 30 years!) then bid farewell to the families whose youngest children are graduating, mentioning them all by name. And finally the students themselves gathered and sang their "class song". This year the gifted pianist played, so with no adults in the picture, it seemed truly a gift from the students. It was lovely. And this is cleverly the conclusion, as the students remain there in that position for photos.


The reception has its own set of traditions. One is the class gift, and this year Sergei's class gave what I think is the most beautiful and best gift ever given. In the fall they put new doors on the school, and the class had lovely and meaningful stained class windows put in the top of the door panels. We passed through these doors going into the school for the reception - they were installed just that day. How beautiful! The newest and the best tradition at the reception is the DVD. Of course there is a nice array of tables prettily arranged, and a cake and so forth; when everyone is seated the DVD is shown on a large screen. The DVD was a bit of a challenge for us for both boys, as it begins with three photos of each student - a baby picture, an elementary-aged picture and a current picture. Of course I didn't have baby pictures. Our agency found a photo which "might" be Maxim, and we used that. For Sergei we had an age-regression photo done. But it is really fun for everyone, parents and students to see those baby pictures and figure out what child it is. The video then includes lots of school photos of the children in elementary, intermediate and middle school. Sergei has only been at the school since 6th grade, but they invite us "latecomers" to give them photos of our children in earlier years wherever they were. So I submitted a couple of Sergei in Russia which they used. He didn't seem too mortified.


There is also a memory book. Each student prepares a page with quotes, photos, etc. and these are duplicated and bound in a book. My job this year was on the "Memory Book" team. That was one of the things I was doing when not blogging. Being the proud possessor (in my office) of color laser printers, we did the Memory Book in color for the first year. It is very nice.


All in all, I found myself touched and heart-warmed by all of these things. There were moments when I was ashamed, sorry, heartsick that Sergei was not ever designated to do something special or given an award. But that is the way of the world, and I've gotten over it, but I haven't gotten over all of the good feelings generated by these traditions....the sense of being a part of something positive, meaningful, memorable. Not perfect. Not without hurt. But good, all the same.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

SERGEI WRITES ABOUT FAITH

Craig and I visited this church in Suzdal with Sergei


I do not want to write about faith. I will write about church. I am not a very open person. I like being private. You can tell by people's handwriting. My handwriting reveals this about me. So, writing about faith is hard for me.

The first religious thing I can remember that has anything to do with God is my church in Russia. I was about four years old and my calves must have been strong. I stood there forever. You go in there at noon and when you come out it must be like dusk. I remember that communion was different. The Body of Christ was a bread that was softer, and they dip it in wine and give it to you. really like that better than in the United States. It tasted fresher and more real. The church was a large room; it had icons. It felt like the Orthodox church that we went to for the field trip, except that there weren't any pews, and it was darker. The only light was natural light. It felt holier; it smelled like incense. The trip to church was long; we had to walk. My godmother was in pretty good shape too even though she was very old. My godmother was very religious and holy, but she was modern, too. She was not holy in a strange way. She had a big garden in her yard and a German Shepherd. There was a red wooden fence, and there was her dog and her house and outside the fence were pebbles leading to a road. She had me baptized. I really don't know how she knew me. Randomly my sister took me to her once. I kind of wonder who she was. My sister said that the dog died a few years after I left, but my godmother remembers me and asks about me. Who was that lady. I wonder. She probably prays for me.

Church here is different. The sitting part makes it more relaxing, but you get sleepy if you are not careful. I am really bad at that so in the middle of any homily at any Mass makes me sleepy. At St. Thomas the echoes and vibrations of sound make me sleepy. I like going to Mass by myself because I am not a very open person. I don't like being with other people I know. I like being alone. Sometimes I go to Mass alone at Immaculate Heart. It is better than going with my family or going at school.

I think a person should just enjoy their life and if they make a bad choice, think about it. I go through life having fun, but not too much fun. Don't mess up. There is no point in hurting people. I like things to be just. I like right and wrong. I don't like people who only think about themselves. My grandmother and I have a lot in common like this. We know right and wrong.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SERGEI WRITES ABOUT HIS FAMILIES

FAMILIES

I have two families, my birth family and my family here in America.

The area where my ancestors lives in Russia was originally part of Ukraine so I am actually Ukrainian. My last name was Trush. My father's name was Valeri. My original name was Sergei Valerievich Trush. The middle name in Russian for boys and girls is their father's name. My mom's name was Zina. I remember her looking like my new mother, except with short hair. My sister says I look exactly like my father. I have two siblings; they had the same mother as me but a different father. My sister loved my father, and said he was a really good man. I have a brother who I only vaguely remember; when I was at home he was in the army. My older sister is named Nadezhda Albertovna, Nadia for short.

We did a search for my sister last year because I had not seen her since I was seven. Fortunately, she stayed in the same village so we could find her. We found out that she is married and has a little daughter named Yuliana, so I am her uncle.

When I was adopted, I came into the Kitching family. I met them when I was on an adventurous trip to America with some other boys and girls from my school. I don't really have an first impressions of my American family that I can remember since I was so curious and so excited about everything. I remember things about the trip. There weren't enough tickets for all of us children to stay together. I ended up sitting on the other side of the plane by some American businessman who shared candy with me. He let me watch movies on his laptop. He gave me a box of Kit Kats that he told me to share with my friends. In Michigan, I ended up visiting with four different families before I ended up with the right one.

I can't remember a lot about coming to my house the first time. I remember American strangers picking me up (in Ann Arbor) and I remember it felt like forever to get here. My mother tells me that the man in the house they picked me up from told her to watch me because I"d get into drawers. I remember that. I liked to look in all the drawers and find things that were interesting. Everything was interesting. Especially electronics. My mom took me to the office at St. Thomas and I saw a copy machine for the first time. I loved that! I can remember copying and I couldn't believe it. There were two songs I loved: "Macarena" and "Who Let the Dogs Out?" My mom made me a tape of them and I played them all the time.

I waited in Russia for my family for nine months. Of all the children who were adopted from that trip to America, I was the very last one to get picked up. In Rostov Nadia would sometimes come
randomly to the children's home to see me...so I waited. I didn't know how hard it would be for them to get me.

My American family has a mom and dad, an older brother Aidan and an older sister, Lydia. When my parents came to get me one of the first things they told me was that I was going to have a little brother. I'd been asking for a little brother, but I didn't meet him for almost a year.

My sister Lydia was nice to me, helpful. I used to help her with electronics. I could fix things for her and she was impressed and said that I was a lot more helpful than dad. Aidan was not living at home when I came, so I haven't gotten to know him very much. I hardly know him well enough to call him a brother. All my memories of him he has lived somewhere else. I do get excited when he comes, though. He is cool to have around. He treats us (Ilya and me) like guys, peers, not like little kids.

After I had my family for nearly a year my mom and dad took me back to Russia to get my little brother, Zhenya. It felt weird to be in Russia again, but was exciting to see the things I'd seen before. We went back to the same hotel in Moscow, the Ukraina, where I had been with mom and dad before. It was great to see the things in Ivanovo that I'd seen before. My parents took me back to the Interdom for a visit. I wanted to show myself to people that might have underestimated me when I was younger, kids mostly. I let the kids play with my hand game. We went out in the snow and ran around like the old days. I visited with the director.

I don't remember much about getting Zhenya. The first night we got him we were in the hotel and he couldn't sleep. He kept getting out of bed to light up his shoes that had the little LED lights in them. I remember that he wasn't used to cars and we all were driven in a van from Ivanovo to Moscow. Zhen threw up on that trip. Twice.

That summer we had a visit from a little girl who ended up becoming my sister Anastasia. That was such a nightmare. I don't like Anastasia. She has no common sense. She isn't smart like Ilya and me. It doesn't even seem that she and Ilya are related. She has nothing in common with any of us except Maxim.

Maxim is not part of our family but he has lived with us for longer than Ilya has. He came on a short visit in 2006 and stayed, but hopefully he will move out soon.


Ilya has been my brother for a year. He started out very shy like all of us (except Anastasia). He really likes working; he and I go together into a job that needs to be done and we have fun together and do a good job. We work when we are bored. We do the work, we get it done and we feel proud, and sometimes we get some kind of a reward. Not always.

My American parents are nice. I haven't stopped to put words to how I feel about them. It just does not seem right to write about them though. It seems insecure. Some things are private. I don't think about things that are obvious, right in front of me. But I think a lot, more than people would imagine.

Monday, May 25, 2009

JUST A PHOTO

Sergei and Danile with one of the "mamas".

Before seeing her in school, she met Sergei when he was with us on the street. She was startled to see him out of school, then so delighted to see him with us. It was so clear that she really loved these boys.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

SERGEI'S SCHOOL DAYS


Sergei in the Interdom hallway. He said they enjoyed playing here and throwing paper airplanes.









Sergei's bed. He shared this room with three friends.




Here is part of Sergei's autobiography regarding his school days. I cut the part he wrote about school here in America as it isn't as interesting as this part.


SCHOOL DAYS

We traveled to Ivanovo by train and the trip took four days. We got there very early, probably two in the morning. The weather was very cold and the building was huge. They showed us our room and we went to bed. The beds at the Interdom were a lot more comfortable than in the children's home!

Next morning a nice man showed me and Danile around the school and guess what? We found out we had to wear a uniform! These uniforms were a suit - pants, shirt and a jacket. They didn't have enough of the jackets so I got lucky and didn't have to wear one. The food was really nice.

One of the people who was one of my best friends was the gym coach. He was a middle-aged man. The funny thing is that I remember he and my dad looking alike. I don't knwo if they did or if I just remember it that way. He was a nice and understanding guy. He pushed kids and made them work, but he could see their limits and he gave compliments. He got people to work hard and succeed. This school was special because it had a big gym, tennis courts, and a big swimming pool, a weight room and other things. There was everything from weights that were perfect for beginners to equipment for the best and oldest high school students. I later found out that this school had been a school for the children of Soviet officials. I was lucky to go there.

One of my best memories was of the guy at the Interdom who was in charge of electricity. He had a room full of electronic stuff; he loved it; he had so many different things in there. He was one of the people in my life who most inspired me. He was awesome. He gave me my first electronic game...some old thing, but I loved it. He had a telescope in his room and he'd let us look through it. I can remember looking through it and seeing the planets close up. It was so cool.

Our classroom was just like those in America, except of course everything was in Russian. There were maybe ten or fifteen students in each class. In Russia children don't start school until they are seven, but then things are very serious. You have to have everything perfect, very neat and clean. You have to write your letters perfectly in order to pass. I didn't have a problem. The day was straight school. There was no recess, but we stopped for a lunch. School was out at one. WE had several hours to play and then we came back to school and did independent work (like homework) except with the teacher there to help us if needed. We had to do math and memorize poems and things.

When I got to the United States the main differences I noticed were, of course, the language and the fact that we didn't have to wear uniforms. My first school was Donley in East Lansing. My teacher was Mr. Barry. School was very, very exhausting the first weeks I was there. I had to pay so much attention to everything, because there was so much that I didn't understand. One thing that helped me make friends at school was being on a soccer team. I got onto an East Lansing team and was a good player. In Russia we called soccer "football" and we played all the time. I didn't need to have good English to play soccer because I understood the rules. I didn't have that experience with baseball. Baseball is a sport that requires knowing a lot of rules. My mother's Russian was not good enough to explain all the rules to me. ..... The rest of Sergei's schooldays are probably not that interesting to general audiences.

Friday, May 22, 2009

SERGEI TAKES OVER


Sergei has the assignment of writing his autobiography for the conclusion of his 8th grade year (I told you his school does it up big). The students carry their autobiographies with them as they process in for the Graduation Mass, and leave them at the altar.

It has been very interesting reading what Sergei has come up with. I don't know if I will share all the sections, but I want to share some. I even learned a few things.

INTRODUCTION

When I get too close to memories I get scared because I had some bad moments in life. I don't like thinking that far back; if I go far enough it scares me. I like to think about the recent past. I hate thinking about things in Russia. Those memories are from when I was maybe five years old. That was a long time ago for me - ten years.

One thing that I have had in my life was luck. Maybe luckiest of all I have survived a deadly disease. I have been at the perfect times in the right places to have the best things happen to me. I have met the right people. I have been lucky to have been chosen for great opportunities.


EARLY LIFE

I was born in February and my parents brought me home from the hospital in the middle of a huge snow storm. Maybe that is why I have never been cold like other people, even when I am out in the cold weather I do not usually want to wear a coat.

I do not have very many memories of the time before I was in school. These are very old memories. It is hard to get them to come out. Maybe because when they occurred I was thinking in another language.

I remember some people that were important to me. I remember that my dad cared for me more than anyone I ever knew. My sister remembers my father well and says that I look just like him.

I had tuberculosis when I was four years old. I can remember being put into an ambulance but for a long time I didn't know why that happened. I remember my dad coming to visit me in the hospital. He would bring me candy but he could not be with me face to face. We had to look at each other through a window. Later he was sick with tuberculosis, too. One night before I was going to go to bed, my sister told me that my dad had died. I had just seen him only two days before so it was very strange.

Later I was in the hospital where my dad had been. It was near night. In Russia they don't have all the electric lights that we use in this country, so the room was dark and I was looking out of the window at a cemetery across the street from the hospital, knowing it was the hospital where my dad had died.

My sister, Nadia, was seven years older than me. She read to me a lot when I was little. She says that I never stopped bringing her books and asking her to read them to me. I also had an older brother but he was in the army in Afghanistan. He is almost a dream to me.

I also had a godmother who lived in a house down the street from my house. I remember her taking me to church with her. What I remember about that is how far we walked. She had a big yard and a German Shepherd dog. It looked like it would eat me, but I got closer to it and we became friends. My godmother had fruit trees in her yard. I loved fresh fruit. I would eat so many apricots during the daytime that I'd dream of eating them at night.

After my father died my godmother took Nadia and me to children's homes. Hers was for older children, mine for preschool children. This was not a bad place. When I was living there Nadia would come and visit me and this time it was she who would bring me candy. She wasn't supposed to give me candy, so she would take me into some other room and give it to me secretly. I had friends there. We used to make slingshots out of pieces of metal and strong rubber bands. We would go up on fences and fire them at random people. I did not feel guilty about it. I must not have known I shouldn't do it.

A frightening thing happened there. A drunk or crazy man came in and ran around and chased us. There were no adults around at that moment. We were very afraid. Poor children in the neighborhood who had no food would come there. One girl came who was disabled or something. She would get food but sometimes the older children would throw things, like fruit, at her. That is a bad memory.

Being at that particular children's home turned out to be very lucky. People came there to choose one or two children to go to a special boarding school in Ivanovo. This boarding school (which we call the "Interdom") was sponsored by the International Red Cross and children there would be guaranteed a good education. My friend, Danile, and I were selected to go because we seemed to be the smartest. We were put on a train for four days to go to Ivanovo where my school days began.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

MAY


May - the weather gets warmer... There are flowers on the sidewalks in front of the stores - ready to buy and plant in rich-smelling earth. They are cheering us all with their bright colors and potential. We are longing for more freedom, not just to plant our flowers, but also from all the "usual" burdens of winter, and work, and school, etc.

So, why - instead of truly lightening our load, do we end up making May one of the most difficult, stressful and exhausting times of the year?

Every year I look at the lovely flowers and itch to plant some. But, do I manage it? No! Why? Because May is so darned busy, I'm meeting myself coming and going. Of course I am in charge of two big events in May! First Communion, which ushers the month in and Confirmation, this year ushering it out on May 30. I might almost fool myself that one or the other of these two special days are the focus for the people attending. Yet - how wrong I am!!! They might like to focus on them, but how is it possible?

Don't forget that the flute teacher is thinking of her big recital as that pivotal May moment. And thus reasons the piano teacher, the dance teacher, the gymnastics coach and the track coach as he readies his team for Regionals, League and State meets! And if you have a graduating senior (from High School or College - or, as I mentioned from our Catholic Elementary school) then there are an array of critical May events! Baccalaureate for our High Schoolers, in addition to graduation. For our Middle School, May Crowning, the Night of Reflection, the Awards Assemblies (Academic AND Athletic, held at different times) and of course the Graduation ceremony, itself. But, don't forget the Art Fair! Awards are presented there, too....as well as at the Grandparents Day and the Spring Choir Concert!

Like many others, Aidan and Susan got married in May. That was two years ago, the year when Anastasia made her first Communion and Maxim was Confirmed, and graduated from 8th grade. Could I enjoy any of those events to the full?

Plus - you have Mothers' Day in there. And Open Houses to attend for all the children of your friends...and Bridal Showers. Saturday was the Deacons Ordination. After the Ordination each of the two ladies I attended with were off - one to a Baby Shower and then to an Open House, the other to a Piano Recital and then an Open House. All I had was a baptism class....don't forget the ongoing responsibilities, too!

Why do we do this to a month that just cries out for peace and tranquility? Why has Sergei been walking around like a wraith with so much schoolwork weighing him down that he feels unable to cope? Final book reports, papers and projects due whichever way he turns. Why do we still have volleyball twice a week, track every day, lacross twice a week? Come on! Can't we just have a few moments to walk under the blossoming trees? To sit on the porch and enjoy finally being outside? Why does everything we do have to have a momentous concluion? In May?

Friday, May 15, 2009

LETTER TO SERGEI

Sergei at May Crowning

There are big doings lately for Sergei. The May of 8th grade year is huge at our parish school. The first of the "big events" is May Crowning, which was held last week. I finally gave in to the inevitable and bought him a suit, though we can little afford this. At least he'll get some use out of it this month. (And he looks sooooo nice.)

The second "big event" was last night - the Night of Reflection. I didn't go to this with Maxim; it's intended as a touchy-feely thing between parents and their child, and that wouldn't have worked at all. I intended to go with Sergei, even though he has a bad cold, and has been lacking energy and stamina (as well as having a deep and hacking cough). He stayed home from school yesterday, but I planned to take him to the Night of Reflection, nevertheless.

It turned out, when he got in the car and we began to talk about the event, that being sick and all, he had failed to do a key part of his preparation for the evening....write me a letter. The central event in the Night of Reflection is the exchange of "deep and meaningful" letters between child and parent(s).

If you want to know the truth, this is a bit contrived for me, anyway. I suppose I feel that any emotion shared "on command" has to be suspect. I have never been shy in telling Sergei my deepest feelings about him, and he is simply not comfortable being vocal about that sort of thing - like every other man in my life (husband, father, other sons). Forcing it out really doesn't appeal to me, so I wasn't upset at all. Still, I had written a letter to him. But, between the fact that he had not written a letter to me, and realizing we would be late - and that he would be most likely disrupting with his coughing fits - we bypassed the school and went out to eat instead. We had some good discussions about things in general, and I did give him the letter to read. It was heart-warming to see that despite the fact that he has already has heard everything in it, he was still pleased. He beamed, and blushed and sat up a little straighter. When he'd finished he said, "It's good." A man of few words - but it meant a lot to me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

WANTING

I want this green wallpaper and those pictures on my wall. I want that shelf of books. I want a vase of pink peonies on the table. I want a table with little on it besides the vase of peonies. No stack of bills. No forms to return. No messes. I want windows that open onto a balcony. I want the perfect, fresh and sweet-smelling air to waft in through the window to the room where I lay. And I want a little daybed on which to rest.... I want this evening quiet. I want this sense of peace. I want nothing to do - if for only a half-hour - but lay on the daybed and read, feeling the breeze on my arm. Smelling the fragrance of spring flowers as it floats into the room. I want a quiet cat beside me. I want to look up and not see anything that must be done, not see anything that makes me disquieted, causing me to think, "I shouldn't be sitting down; I should be...." I want to lay on the daybed with my book, entirely present in the moment. No great worries. Nothing to dread. Nothing to fear.

I want the coverlet. I want the rug. I want that year. I want that time. I want that simplicity. I want that peace.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

MOTHER'S DAY TAG

One mother

RML tagged me. I am never tagged....and it brings up all those feelings of being picked last for someone's baseball team in 5th grade so RML has made my day, especially as this tag is so appropriate for today.

My five are surprisingly (?) like hers....or are all mothers the same?


Five things I love about being a mother...


1. Participating in the discovery and growth of the gifts and talents God has given them. When Lydia danced, or sang at church my mother's heart was fluttering with joy. (Aidan - I won't hesitate to say that I also rejoiced when you sang and danced - though I could tell you were not sure they were manly activities!) But when Aidan found out that he was a good goalie - first in roller hockey and later in lacrosse, it gave me the same pleasure. His success in the army filled me with pride. This winter when I sat on the cold folding chair in the school gym watching Zhen play basketball, it was with such burgeoning delight that I realized....this boy is GOOD! To see Anastasia's organizational skills and responsibility makes me so happy.....as does Sergei's mechanical abilities, Maxim's running, Ilya's artistic talent. There is almost a physical feeling .... little bubbles and frizzles of joyful pleasure when I admire my children.

2. Giving them pleasure - Just now I gave Zhen a big bowl of strawberries. There can be no child on earth that loves berries more than Zhen. His tentative question, "Mom, are they expensive?" only enhanced my delight in giving them to him. Zhen is a thoughtful, kind and loving boy who truly appreciates what I do for him. Last night I made borscht for Ilya and had the joy of seeing his smile of not only gladness, but recognition as he entered the kitchen. He is a boy whose "love language" is acts of kindness, so my preparations for him hit home. And the pirogi were very much appreciated by Sergei - who told me so! It is so important to Maxim to get my attention - so when I go to his track meets I can see how it pleases him. A week or two ago I went to a meet, but he must not have thought I would. He called me to see if I could see his final race, anyway, and I said "Maxim! I am here already! I saw your last race!" He was so pleased! He did the unthinkable - he came over to the stands to find me and sat by me for three or four minutes. If you have not followed this blog, you will have to take my word that this was BIG. For Maxim to be seen with me in public was a sign of the gratitude and joy that my presence gave him.

3. Seeing their goodness and holiness grow. Some of my children are more spiritually sensitive than others. Zhen is extraordinary in this regard. He asks such penetrating questions about life and about God. [Sadly, though, he does not seem drawn to worship at all...] Lydia and Aidan gave me such joy when they attended Mass so easily and with such openness. I will never forget the moment when we were having some sort of conversation and Aidan quoted something Msgr. Murphy had said weeks before in a homily. And, when he so eagerly and beautifullly served Mass, my heart was warmed to see his reverence.

4. Watching them mature. And of course it is especially heartwarming when I have been able to help. Anastasia had such problems regulating her stress when she first came. But she wanted so much to be better and she listened to me, and learned strategies for helping herself. When I see her use them, it makes me feel that my efforts, my presence on earth even, has been worthwhile. Maxim, too, listens to me. He lets me help him. He has so much growing to do, to repair all the damage done to his mind and heart when he was younger....but he works at it, and he lets me help him. When Aidan calls me and tells me how well he is doing in his job, I am so proud of him, and gladdened that the values I tried to instill - stuck!

5. Snuggling....cuddling....loving them up in whatever way they'll accept. My mother once noted how much I touched my children. I hadn't realized that she really didn't cuddle or snuggle me much. But that is just her. She'd give me hugs and I certainly felt loved. But I cannot keep myself from giving those kisses on the head, strokes on their arms. Anastasia is the best snuggler in the world. Sergei very kindly accepts hugs. With Ilya and Maxim, it is massage that allows me to show my love physically. Zhen is the dearest and most affectionate boy - he will come and find me to give me hugs and kisses. And those kisses are a special little gift from God.

One had better never become a mother hoping to be loved. The greatest joys of motherhood - and the only sure ones - come from loving. I am not sure that most young children are very good at understanding that moms enjoy loving-up as much as anyone! Perhaps it takes some maturity - and I have been so fortunate in having children who show their love. Aidan calls me several times a week, and Lydia extends herself often to express her love for me, writing to me on facebook and even sending me flowers for Valentines Day. How grateful I am for such wonderful children!

And I want to tag you all! (Though I know that when someone else tags everyone, I always feel like "She doesn't mean me.") Well, I do mean you. I am curious about how different or similar we are.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

EMBARRASSMENT

No. Not the embarrassment caused by children - I'm still not used to that. But the embarrassment of public speaking, public mistakes, looking ridiculous.....those kinds of embarrassment - they don't bother me so much anymore. So long as only I look bad. I would do just about anything to prevent myself from embarrassing another person. (That is one of the great land-mines of teaching, I might add.)

But...personal embarrassment.... Happily my "life in the theatre" such as it was, took care of that! It occurred to me one day a few years back that I don't have a lot of fear of public embarrassment because I have already been embarrassed in just about every way possible - and lived through it! That will cure you quickly! You realize that you live. People still like you. You can still like yourself. In fact - life is easier than when you were overly self-conscious.

On Sunday something which years ago would have mortified me, worked instead to my advantage. As I mentioned in the last post, I have all of our Confirmation candidates deliver a homily. Students have over seven months to work on the 3-5 minutes homily, and several activities over that time in which we aim to help them grapple with the meaning of their passage. Still, I worry a bit about making them do this. It doesn't seem like an enormously awful assignment to me, particularly considering that I teach speech to about half of this group over the year and they don't seem particularly overwhelmed by those assignments. Yet - perhaps it is that they truly take-in the enormity of speaking about Scripture, or that they deliver these homilies in the Chapel, or that they do indeed have all that time to work on it - which rightly suggests that the result ought to be worthy.... For whatever reason, this "homily project" seems to truly distress some of the kids, and certainly gets the attention of the rest of them, whose demeanor seems a bit more chastened than usual.

So, Sunday afternoon, we were listening to homilies in the Chapel, and in fact a young man was delivering a truly wonderful one when - horror of horrors - my cell phone peeled. "Peeled" sounds nice; there is nothing nice about the sound of whatever raucous ringtone assaulted our ears at its loudest volume. And - was my phone next to me? No! My phone was on the other side of the Chapel. I was so relieved that the boy speaking was more or less unperturbed. But while my snafu definitely registered as embarrassing....it didn't feel all the embarrassing - not with the pain I would have felt years ago, anyway. Somehow I am now [thankfully] relieved of the torment of embarrassment.

The next student got up to speak, and admitted that she had not brought her Scripture passage. She tried to find it among her things once more, she tried to locate it in the lectionary; she tried to find another student who had a Bible, rather than simply their own copied-out-passage.... No luck. This was taking a while, and this poor girl was becoming more and more distressed. Finally, the youth minister said he'd run downstairs to his office for a Bible. While we waited, Alyssa stood in front of everyone and finally said, "Wow; this is embarrassing." At that point I laughed, and said, "Alyssa - this is nothing compared to the way I feel having my cell phone go off and ruin Even's wonderful homily." And at that moment my embarrassing situation was transformed into a boon. Somehow the fact that I'd done something that horrible - and could talk about it, made Alyssa feel fine. I could see her calm down and become herself again.

When all the homilies were over, and we were getting in to cars and so forth in the parking lot - up drives a mom, dad and young homilist. The look on Quinn's face was the picture of dismay - as well it might have been. He was arriving to present his homily. He is presently in my speech class and made the mistake of crying out - "But Mrs. Kitching! I asked you and you said to come at 3!" Fortunately, three of his classmates were in earshot and relieved me of the duty of denying this. At that point, somehow I felt rather badly for him - and once again pulled out my cell phone incident as an example of my doing something MUCH worse than he had done! He could certainly come back and deliver his homily later in the week! My error was infinitely worse. Again, my admission of stupidity healed the situation, salved his feelings and somehow seemed to calm the troubled waters with his parents, as well.

By this time I was honestly glad that darned phone had rung! Odd how that one thoughtless act of mine ended up having such healing power. And somehow I see that not being incapacitated by embarrassment allowed me to use it to my advantage.

Monday, May 4, 2009

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY


Sometimes I get into a mind frame where I think each post must be either funny, deeply moving, or at the very least - thought-provoking. Maybe it was better when I aimed to write each day....that way, clearly the day-to-day stuff would have to make perfectly fine subject matter.

Well, I warn you - no humor, emotion or thought-starters here.....just nattering on.

This past week has been overwhelming. Maybe even the past two weeks can fit into that category. Perhaps this can best be measured by the amount of "fast" food we eat....or at least food I haven't cooked at home. I believe I cooked at home once this week - and that was pathetic. I ran home, made hamburgers and slaw, and ran back to work.

This reminds me of something Sergei said last week, though - I hardly knew how to take it. He was commenting about a boy in his class, who he described as "chubby" and said, thoughtfully...."his mom is not like you, though - she cooks dinner every night". And he said it, for all the world, as though this was a bad thing! Well, nice to know he thinks I'm going my part to keep him fit!

However First Communion (a huge event in our parish that I am in charge of) is over (!), and we've had one week of Confirmation homily presentations. Each of our 8th grade Confirmation candidates must work on one passage of scripture from September up until now, really delving into it, talking it over, researching it, praying over it....and then they present a 3-5 minute homily in the Chapel. I get to listen to all 76 of them! Actually, I like it. I have been really overwhelmed this year at the variety and quality. Only two amused me to the point that I had to control myself during my comments. One was the boy who apparently did his at the last minute and furthermore, must have felt that the research he did for his paper on Somalia could work here, too. His outline was pretty much: 1. Scripture, 2. reference to JPII, 3. on to Somalia. The first few items seemed to tie in - barely....then more Somalia, pirates, history, facts and figures....I begin to feel seriously confused, and then he seemed to stop cold, stutter, stammer and stand there mute. We were all stunned.... what had happened? We seemed to have been transported into a social studies class and dropped there! Apparently, the idea of tieing the Somalia project back into a religious context for the conclusion had failed to occur to him until that moment. And it was more than he could manage. Well, I needed some comic relief! Previously a young man had delivered a homily that might have been delivered by Benedict XI, himself. The preponderance of historical reference, deep philosophical content and large stumbled-over words made it clear in the first couple of sentences - as did the worried and anxiously puzzled expression on this boy's face throughout - that some pretty erudite relative had written this for him. Even more so when I caught sight of his notes and saw that he was reading from a printed-out e-mail!

Back to Communion: Prior to the Solemn First Communion Mass, of course, there are rehearsals! They have to learn how to receive communion, and then practice doing it. They have to practice being in the opening procession. We have five classes that had 3-4 rehearsals each, so I spent a lot of time in the cold church. This year, because our theme is "Many Are the Lightbeams" I got the bright idea that the children should process in with vigil lights which would then be placed in front of the altar. So, I was teaching 87 seven-year-olds to walk down the aisle, at the right speed, in tandem with a partner - "carrying fire" - as one of the children put it. Whatever possessed me? However, it came off! No catastrophes (only in my imagination for the five days previous!), and the result was truly beautiful and meaningful, too, I think. For those who were not in on the preparation, anyway.

Last week we had first communion "retreats" really "activity mornings". We have these every year and it is a fun thing for me, as I get to think up projects and activities that coordinate with the theme. We always have the children make bread, starting with the grinding of the grain. And we have a game with hoola-hoops - sort of the opposite of "musical chairs". Each child starts by standing inside a hoola hoop laid on the ground. They move around the circle of hoops as the music plays and when it stops every one must be in a hoop. A hoop or two are removed each time, so more and more children must share the hoops until, at the end, everyone is somehow - usually by helping one another - standing on at least one foot inside the one hoop.

I was just so excited about the craft project I came up with this year (photo included). Each child decorated a candle. I had heard that you could put designs from tissue paper on a candle, so I wondered if I could manage a way for us to put our own designs on....and I figured it out! I print the designs on my laser printer on vellum, and then we tear out the designs and lay them against the candle, cover the designs with wax paper, and then use an embossing gun to melt the wax paper. You can then tear the paper off and the design adheres. The children could pick their design and then place that and their own names on the candle.

Next on my agenda is packing up all the gifts I bought for Sergei's sister, Nadia, and her daughter, so I can send the package off to Rachael, who will take it to Russia with her for posting there. I've not managed to get together the long and meaningful letters from all of the children to their Russian family members and caretakers, but at this point must abandon those plans in favor of sending something...... And I need to do it now! I don't want to miss the boat (plane).