Wednesday, July 29, 2009

WHERE IS A RUSSIAN WHEN YOU WANT ONE?

Flower sellers on the street in Ivanovo
Today I got the bright idea that I will forever regret it if I don't take advantage of "Cash for Clunkers" and redeem Craig's idle car for $4,500 before my van dies, leaving me in a world of misery.

So, ignorance in hand, I took myself to a Ford dealership. The gentlemen there were kind, with a civilized demeanor, and absolutely did not try to pressure me....but to my dismay - Ford no longer makes vans. Bad news. So, off I went two doors down to the Chevy dealership. Different! So full of "buzz" - they were actually shooting a commercial (the usual sort with the fast-talking owner) at the time. "Shawn" appeared and shook my hand "warmly" (I'm sure he thought). He asked my name and then used it once or twice every sentence for the next two hours...... Whenever he left me alone I entertained myself by imagining his face if the next time he called me "Annie" I crisply asked him to please call me Mrs. Kitching! It was icky. So was his false grin....and the false grin on the face of every other salesperson in the place. Ick. Ick. Ick. When I got tired of imagining being rude (assertive? whatever) my mind wandered into other territory.... I began to imagine what it might be like to buy a car in Russia.

This brought to mind a recent post from a new ex pat in Moscow in which she compares many of the differences between Russia and the US. It was fun to hear her perspective. All told, I've probably spent about nine weeks in Russia. Not nearly enough! Not enough to please me, and undoubtedly not enough to really know what it is like to live there.....but enough to understand even more of the culture that influences my children than I was able to glean from all that Russian literature I took in over the years. These are some responses that came to me on reading Katbats' post.

Language and lack thereof - I was very glad that I have experienced the time I did in Russia...and especially feeling first-hand what it is like to know something of a language...but not enough! It is one of the most exhausting things imaginable. I expect not knowing ANY Russian would have been much easier than understanding just enough that I had to keep working at understanding all the time. This is why I can have so much compassion for the fear Ilya experiences in relationship to school. It is bad enough going to school in your own language when you are 14. Imagine doing it when you are so very apt to make a stupid mistake that will cause everyone to laugh at you every other moment...it really must be nearly untenable. And then there's that other phenomenon, that I would experience again and again...... Someone would be talking to me - fast and furious, and I'd be understanding some of it; but, I'd have to decide - do I keep listening in hopes that all these words and phrases fall into place and I finally understand what is being said? Or, do I stop them now and ask for the meaning of this word or that? You know if you stop them, there will be at least a little flash of frustration on their face....so you hesitate. And there is always the possibility that - YES! - you understand! and when they stop talking and look expectantly at you, you can reply intelligently. But - it is really awful when they have talked and talked and you've nodded and given them intelligent expressions, but when they stop talking.........you still have no idea what they have been saying. Though, perhaps it is worse yet, when you think you know - and you reply. And see their face look at you blankly, confusedly. And, you know. You just said something completely stupid.

GOOD CHILDREN - Katbat notices that Russian children are well-behaved. Ilya notices this too, and it is another reason he doesn't want to go to school. He cannot believe the disrespect that the children display and the chaos in the classroom...and this is a Catholic school that has SIGNIFICANTLY more structure than the public school. He'd probably self-combust if I sent him there!

GARBAGE - Katbat thinks Moscow is dirty? She should try Ivanovo. I will never get over the piles of garbage EVERYWHERE....a beautiful river walk, with a picturesque array of people strolling, chatting, groups of young people singing a a friend plays a guitar.... Ah! What an idyllic scene! Except that they are all gathered around a bench that has garbage surrounding it as high or higher than the bench, itself. I say I will never get used to it, but actually this last trip I sat on one of those benches watching Ilya play in the river, while idly analyzing the garbage surrounding me (including a few interesting pill bottles) without being judgmental about it at all.....

SIMPLICITY - Katbat notices that her life has become simpler, particularly her shopping. She says she has lost weight. One reason I long to live in Russia are some of the ways she described in which things become less complicated.... Less food in the house, simpler meals, eating less, buying less. I love that....I actually envy my Russian friends their tiny apartment with no decor to speak of. There's a lot of freedom in that! But somehow can't put it into practice here.

SMOKING - On the down side, there is the smoking....no; I can't blame my older boys for thinking they should smoke. It must be one of their clear images of growing up and becoming a man. When we first got here Sergei would occasionally sigh, longingly.... "It smells like Russia!" And we would always have just walked past some doorway where some employee was hunkered down smoking...

STYLE - Russian style is so different. Katbat amusingly describes some of the usual "types". In her recent post another ex pat, Tamara, addresses footwear. Women do dress up. Everyone dresses up. You rarely see people running around in t-shirts and athletic shoes - unless they actually appear to be exercising. A casually-dressed man might wear a t-shirt, but with dress shoes. I like this; I really do...though I would probably much rather dress like these babushkas in my illustration photo than like the fashionable ladies.

But probably the most noticable difference, to my mind, between Russia and the US is that false smile. Russia - a glorious land where no one grins like an idiot. Granted, they may frown. They may snap at you. They may be brusque. Yes; even sales people! I believe a Russian would rather be right than make a sale. They will criticize what you are wearing, frown and shake their head at your choice of what to buy, even refuse to give you what you have chosen.....but somehow all of that is a breath of fresh air compared to "smarmy".

Monday, July 27, 2009

BIRTHDAY PRESENTS



Saturday was my birthday, and I got some presents. From "Craig" (well OK - an item I bought for myself), I got the gift of the absolute best cup of coffee anyone could dream of. This is a completely unsolicited testimonial for this little delight. I had to go to a day-long meeting at the local community college a few weeks ago, and they had a few of these set up in the conference center rather than pots of coffee. I expected nothing but a cup of coffee - imagine my surprise when I tasted the best coffee of my life, I think. It was like one of those commercials where someone is suddenly whisked from earth into a realm of singing and angels, surrounded by little dancing stars. That good. I mean, I was not there are the conference....I was with the coffee..... Well, as long as it lasted. I came home from the conference and looked it up on the internet, and immedicately bought one for the office. Since the magic has never ended this was earmarked as "Craig's" birthday present to me. Yahoo! I can now stop driving all the way to work just for a cup of coffee on days when I intended staying home. I think part of the secret is in the coffee that I chose - Timothy's French Roast. Yes!!


From Anastasia, I received another little giftie that I saw at Williams Sonoma and coveted, like (very, very like) a baby and her rattle. These are my new measuring spoons and cups and there is just something about these bright colors, and especially about the super-hard plastic from whch they are made that just strikes my fancy. I kept walking past them and picking them up. And then going back and picking them up. Anastasia finally asked why this fascination - and I told her how much I loved them, but that no one spends that kind of money on measuring cups and spoons for no reason at all. At which point she practically suggested that she'd use her money to get them for me for my birthday and keep them for me until the day. Well, she did buy them and "kept" them in their sack in the car until we brought them in Saturday and I got to see them again in all their glory - their shape, their cheery colors, and the feel of them. The boys kept asking me if they weren't glass. Maybe it is their "retro" feel I love; they feel a lot like bakelite pieces from the 1930's. They are really cool and they make me really happy.



And surprise, surprise!!! From my distant friend Nora (and frequent respondent on this blog, though not a blogger herself) I got a very darling and thoughtful gift


Some wonderful little pastries from the local Italian bakery (courtesy of her husband who is in town and brought them to me personally.) And....this gorgeous little desert plate and mug. (Now, didn't that work out nicely with the coffee and all.)


I also got a banana cream pie from my mom and a generous gift of money to spend only on myself.




From Sergei and Ilya I got a card. The front has a photo of a toddler with a cigar in his mouth and a bottle of whiskey next to his high chair. It reads, Mom, I know I am not the easiest child to raise..... and inside:






I got sweet phone calls from Aidan and Lydia, which made me a happy mamma.




The day itself was spent running around doing last-minute things to get Sergei ready for his Army Cadet "Basic Training" camp.




Then I had to drive him to Detroit (the nomenclature we use for Detroit-proper as well as all of its contiguous cities). Nastya went along to spend the night at her friend Olya's house (Sergei is going to the camp with Olya's brother, Misha). Ilya regressed on his sleep hygeine, which he came to regret deeply because we could not wake him to go along with us. That is how it came about that Zhenya and I had a "date night" at the wonderful Russian restaurant in Farmington Hills [you know - Detroit]. It was another of those being-swept-away moments as the sound of Russian being spoken, the smell and taste of Russian food and the uniquely Russian decor (really Russian, the decor most appreciated by its owners) took me in. The borscht, the "Russian Summer Salad", golubtsi, and the most amazing bread on earth made for the most marvelous birthday dinner. So...all in all...a happy Birthday for me. (Thanks for all the sweet good wishes from those of you who are my facebook friends...)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PERSONAL COMMENTS



My e-friend Deb, wrote a post today about her daughter, O, adopted from Ukraine. O has some disabilities, including limb differences....the post explains some of the questions and feelings related to people's comments, observations, etc. In the post Deb explains O's disability and describes her prosthesis. She says that one friend made a comment, "Well, that's an interesting contraption!" O's dad translated that, "She says your hair looks nice." Sweet daddy.

But my guess is that this woman had probably thought a lot about what approach to take when meeting O for the first time. She probably asked herself - Do you mention a disability and just clear the air so it is not hanging there all the time? Or do you just try to look away? Do you school yourself to look "through" it....seeing it but not seeing it, so to speak....so that your feelings, whatever they may be - of admiration, distress, curiosity, perhaps, don't show. Problem is that if you read the opinions of people with disabilities you read all sorts of different advice! Some welcome comments and straightforward questions (and seem to think that everyone would); others are offended to have their disability mentioned or referred to at all. Surprise! People with disabilities are as varied in personality as everyone else! But that doesn't help with the basic difficulty the rest of us have in knowing what to say, what to do. My guess is that Deb's friend had read an opinion from one of the former thinkers - get it out in the open!!! But, clearly, that approach is not going to be comfortable for everyone - those with disabilities or those who meet them. In fact, it is my opinion that the "let it hang out" "be open about everything" approach is becoming far too common. Nothing is considered private or personal anymore.

When I read Miss Manners she says that it is NEVER appropriate to make personal comments. HOW I wish this was an etiquette rule generally taught and followed!

When I first read her approach to this, even I balked! WHAT? No personal comments? Surely POSITIVE comments are OK??? Of course, everyone likes a compliment, don't they? But, amusingly, I learned nearly immediately that this is not the case. Coincidentally, that very day someone came into my office and said, "My! You look nice today!" Was there something in her tone? I don't know, but while I said a polite thank-you, I was thinking, "What did she mean? Does she think I usually DON'T dress nicely? Does she think I don't dress appropriately for the job? Am I too dressed up today?" And so forth and so on. Was my heart warmed by her "compliment"? Nope.

Another "compliment" I occasionally get about a certain dress in particular is, "That looks comfortable!". What do they mean by that? Too comfortable for work? Frankly, I took the comment initially at face value, but one of my assistants took offense on my account, and kindly told me, "I think that is a very pretty dress; it doesn't look like a housecoat at all." Right.

And, don't we all want to be thin? I'll never forget the uncomfortable meal we spent not long after my husband had lost significant weight as a result of diabetes. He'd been fit previously, but suddenly began to lose pound after pound. (His disease became full-blown after he'd been talked into an "apple juice flush" by a "naturopath"...just a word to the wise.) In any case, we were greeted by the waiter in our oft-frequented Chinese restaurant with cheerful compliments about his weight loss. Embarrasing, and not brief, but....finally over. Got through that! we thought. But then out comes with waiter with some colleagues to point out how much weight my husband had lost. All beamed and complimented. More strained acceptance on our part. Then it seemed everytime water was brought, food was served, there was one more cheerful comment, or request for advice about how this miracle of "healthy living" was accomplished. By this time, it wasn't possible to say - well, actually, I'm really ill. So, the entire meal was ruined. In fact, we never went back to the restaurant, which had been a regular spot of ours.

When I told my daughter's boyfriend that I used to be best friends and acting buddies with Emily Kuroda (who played Mrs. Kim in Gilmore Girls) he exclaimed, "Wow! You are well preserved." Well preserved????? I said I thought that Emily had probably been wearing make-up so that she appeared older than our years. Sheesh! (I wish I felt well-preserved!)

My mother has always held a grudge against the wife of a friend of my dad's. My mother is a wonderful seamstress, and wore a dress she made to an occasion both of them attended. This woman apparently complimented my mother's dress by saying the fabric reminded her of some curtains she had. Now, I don't see much wrong with this. I'm sure the fabric of those curtains was lovely. But my mother clearly found the remark as insulting as anything she'd ever heard.

So....my point? Let's follow Miss Manner's ! Keep the personal comments to a minimum. Even when someone manages to come across with a well-spoken, clear compliment sans double entendre, we still wonder - did she mean it? So, what's the point, really?

NOT ALL THORNS


My life, that is - there are roses, too. Last week Anastasia and I went to visit her godfather in his parish which is about an hour away from us. This parish has the loveliest and most idyllic little garden attached to it. Here Anastasia sits on a rosary bench.

We had a particular purpose in mind for visiting that day. We wanted to have the icon which she is holding in this second photo blessed. This is pretty exciting for me - this icon is not some reprint from a religious goods shop - this is a real icon of St. Anastasia, painted by a very holy woman - just for me.


Surprisingly the artist, Anna, is a Polish Catholic, and not Orthodox. She studied art in her native country, but has not done anything professional here. I actually never knew she was an artist, only that she was amazingly sweet and very, very pious. (A trait I admire.) She asked me one time who my favorite saint was, and frankly I do not know why I said "Anastasia" because I have actually always been strongly attached to St. Francis de Sales and St. Therese of Lisieux whose writings have inspired me. But I think the day she asked I had just read a little booklet about St. Anastasia to Nastya and she was foremost on my mind. When Anna asked this it seemed the natural conversation starter of a pious person. Little did I know that I would be the recipient of an icon a year later! I wanted to go ahead and post this, but hopefully later I can take a picture of the icon itself so you can see it better.



Fr. P. blessed the icon and took N. and I to lunch and then asked if we'd like to see his school...the school associated with the parish. I politely said, of course, privately thinking that if you've seen one catholic elementary school, you've seen them all. Not so! I was absolutely amazed by this place. In fact, I wish I'd taken my camera in! This school was retrofitted into an old GM office building and it is the most beautiful, spacious, attractive school I've ever seen. The best part, maybe, is that it abuts some woods, and almost every classroom has at least one wall nearly taken over by windows out onto the woods. What a peaceful, beautiful atmosphere! No; sadly it is not in commuting distance.

There were a few thorn pricks subsequent to this visit. As I have noticed before, and perhaps even noted here, Anastasia is very emotional about her godfather. Previously I have put it down to a bit too much excitement surrounding his visits. Too much attention. But, I now think it must be more than that. All I can think is that her godfather must awaken feelings she had for her own biological father, and arouse the sense of grief and loss there. I know she was very fond of her father, and I believe that he visited her in the orphanage a time or two, unlike her mother. But, she told me once, she couldn't live with him because "Aunt Tanya" (his wife) didn't want her to.

In any case, Anastasia had a few days, after this visit, of the worst crazy-girl behavior imaginable. Or, is it just that a void must be filled....and Maxim's negative energy was absent? Things are better now. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

WORRIED

OK. A free vacuum cleaner can only keep me happy for so long. I turn around and remember -

My life is changing. I am not safe. My children aren't safe. I'm scared. And my stomach lurches.

Well, it isn't that bad now, is it? I have a job. I have healthy children, a healthy self, a husband who is still alive and sends money. What more can I ask in this economy?

Well...for one thing I found out today that the conditions under which I will be asked to do my job this coming year are even worse than I'd previously thought....and frankly, in a way that seems insulting and almost degrading. My office is being moved to the school, and in the midst of huge construction over there a beautiful new state-of-the-art preschool is being made, and the library is being beautifully re-done. My "new office" is the old VP's office about two-thirds the size of my actual office (which is only one room in the two-story BUILDING that I presently have to do my work in). Furthermore, rather than having some basic cabinets built for our materials (previously promised) they are going to rip out of the walls over here some old cabinets, which were obviously hacked together by volunteers back in the '50s when the nuns moved in. They are mis-matched, crooked, worn and generally depressing. Yes; I can use them. But frankly, I want to sit and cry that I'm being treated like this. [And I know I am allowing myself to show general selfishness and bad-attitude....like Essie, I should just go eat worms and stop complaining.] After all, the VP whose office I will have got fired just due to economic reasons. Pretty low of me to complain about the furnishings.

Anyway, I could probably have "eaten" this bit of bad news and be working on continued good cheer had the evil demon not completely taken over my home this evening.

Background: There has been an ongoing fly in our ointment: Ilya and school. Children lose their ability to quickly learn a second language at about the age of 11....and Ilya is the perfect illustration of this; he has had a completely different experience than our other children. The first year he was here I wrote about how he had a major melt-down and refused to go to school. Since he was clearly getting almost nothing out of it, we allowed him to homeschool at our Russian teacher's house all year.

This past year everything started out just great, to my delight. Then came.....the bully. And after Ilya finally confronted the bully, it resulted in his being suspended for a week. Unfortunately, that suspension convinced him that a) life really was vastly less stressful when he wasn't at school and b) they didn't really care if he was there or not...in fact, perhaps he wasn't wanted. So, we had another year of no school. He has been improving his English, and this summer, in preparation for seventh grade (I presume) I've had him tutored in math. I figured math is one subject where he can shine. He is also using the Rosetta Stone English computer program.

Well....last night I approached the new principal and mentioned some other ideas I had considered for Ilya (getting a tutor for him, for example, who would assist with the difficult-language subjects). But we hadn't gotten too far into the conversation when the principal said, "But of course Ilya hasn't passed sixth grade yet." My heart nearly stopped. What does he think? No; and furthermore, I don't think he could "pass" it in the ordinary way if he spent another year in it!...in fact, I don't think he could pass fifth, fourth, third or even second grade. I'd give him a shot at first. I had suddenly this vision of Ilya never, ever being promoted until he aged out of the system. My heart sank. But, I vigilantly held up the side, attempting to explain the various models of ESL that I'm aware of.

BTW - the only model I've see that was successful for a child older than twelve on arrival, was the district that had a full-time tutor with the child for a couple of years until she was fluent enough in English to venture out on her own. But, those two years kept her from missing all the curriculum that she would otherwise have completely lost, and it enabled her to begin learning that specialized subject-area vocabulary because she had translation help and therefore was really able to do the work.

In the district my other children attended as schools-of-choice students they simply mainstream the child with twice a week pull-outs. And because this district is home mostly to ESL learners whose dads or moms are at MSU, and who are studying in their own language at home at night in preparation for a fairly prompt return to their country of origin, the ESL classes are more in the nature of a culture class. What do American songbirds sound like? What are different ways we eat noodles in your country and in the USA? Really sweet lessons - but by the second year Sergei was nearly in panic mode because each time he went to ESL he lost time in his classroom and fell even further behind.

I got so desperate last year that I even checked out the program in our home district. They also have the mainstream version, but their primary ESL program is in a designated school where all the kids are ESL and they have teachers and aides that speak Spanish and several Asian languages...but no Russian. Well - that would be ridiculous! He'd not only not get help from a Russian-speaker, he wouldn't even hear proper English from the other students! Even the director of the program hinted rather broadly that they really didn't have much to offer Ilya.

So - where can we go if our parish school isn't going to work out? I'm trying to allay my panic. I suggested to the principal that I might call the university Dept. of Education, and try to connect with the ESL specialists and see if they could give us some support or advice. Even occurred to me that some student might make working with Ilya an independent study class. I did this one year long ago when I tutored a girl and it was really a great experience. But - oh, I am anxious about this. Ilya has now gotten as much out of the informal out-of-school English acquisition as he can get, I fear.

And tonight I learned how serious all this is. I made the most royal mistake imaginable. Tonight Ilya is having the math tutoring (as I write this, actually). But he didn't want to go. I was exasperated and suggested that not only does he need to do math, but I really ought to get an English tutor for him, too, since Mr. M, the principal thought he might even have to finish 6th grade! Well, as a motivator this was about as good as decapitation. I'm surprised we are here, and alive, if you want to know the truth.

I had sensed how stressed Ilya was about school, but even I really didn't understand the depth and breadth of it, I guess. Somehow his unwillingness to go to tutoring had made me briefly think that I was wrong and he just wanted to shine school on. But this bit of information/threat I offered had a dreadful result. Ilya told me he'd never go to school, certainly not this school, and if he had to go to sixth grade again he'd kill himself. Why did I ever bring him from Russia? He wants to go back. He doesn't need to go to school here because as soon as he is old enough he is going back, and on and on in similar distressed and depressing ways.

Then at some point he took the camera from my purse and tried to erase the photos of himself. Things had been going so well since Maxim left that he actually let me take some movies of him the other night when they were having fun catching crayfish. It was a really horrible melt-down extravaganza, I must say. And this sort of behavior is very rare in Ilya. He is more prone to silence. But he was nearly crying - raving. Of course I was crying and Anastasia cannot allow anyone to be more dramatic or to draw more attention than her. Eventually it evolved into fisticuffs between the two of them and basically..... I wish I'd never mentioned the idea of repeating sixth grade! At least I know to tell the principal in no uncertain terms that we will not allow that suggestion to be considered.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

SUPER EXPERIENCE!

I've had some very difficult experiences with vacuum cleaners. My first vacuum had an interesting provenance. A nun in my parish saw it on the street and picked it up and she used it in the convent for several years. When she was going back to the Motherhouse, her replacement Sr. Elaine, had a vacuum - so Sr. Nancy gave gave the vacuum to me. So for years and years when I was single and into my married years I used "Sr. Nancy's Vacuum." But, time passed, and Craig decided Sr. Nancy's Vacuum could go down and be the basement vacuum, so that year (about five years ago) for Christmas he bought me a Kenmore upright, which I swear is a lemon. I took it back the first week, and multiple times after. It has been in the shop so often. It is heavy. But why haul it up and down anyway? It doesn't clean!

The following Christmas Craig bought me another vacuum (how romantic, right?) but here is the romance! He didn't just get the upright! He went whole-hog and got me the little portable vacuum (the Sport) and this little guy, who for obvious reasons we nicknamed "Blue Baby". These are all Simplicity brand products and have all been just wonderful. But - sad to say! One sad day Blue Baby fell down the stairs and his little handle broke off. Sergei did his best with duck tape, but the results were not good and a few weeks ago, I gave up on Blue Baby.

Today I went to the Kirby Vacuum Shop on South Cedar in Lansing, MI to buy some bags for the Sport. I mentioned how much I liked my vacuums and also that, sadly, Blue Baby was no more - and!!!!!!!! He gave me a new one! Now, if that isn't the coolest thing! It really made my day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

REAL LIFE AND E-LIFE


There must be many Masters Theses and Doctoral Dissertations already underway exploring the psychological impact and the social implications of blogging and other sorts of electronic social networking.

This is not something I thought about before I began blogging. But, lately I have wondered....is my blogging a good thing? Or is it detrimental to my "real life"? Is it something my inner mother should be rationing? Forbidding? And while I do not even do the daily post with which I began, I do have a greater reliance on my e-community now than when I began and an always-greater sense of belonging with my e-friends. Sometime this past year, I realized that I don't, actually, have as many close IRL friends as I used to have. Yes; I have friends. But, I don't break my neck to spend time with them. I don't make the same effort that I did before I had my "on-line community". It is a little difficult to judge this, honestly, because an ever-enlarging family and a distant husband changed my equation, too. However....


A bunch of my friends have a standing Wednesday lunch date during the school year. I only went a time or two this past year. Why? Well, from a practical point of view it was clumsy to interrupt my work and leave the office. [Of course you can drop everything and check a blog soooo much more easily.] I also had to accept another feeling - I like them, but I don't actually find them as interesting as all of you. Is it easier to find "soulmates" in blogville? Why do I find you more fascinating?

Those reasons we "make" and "keep" friends is certainly enhanced in e-land. We all have something in common.... among my blogfriends, it is usually adoption, or love of Russia, delight in motherhood, or faith....and of course, it is the desire to explore and share thoughts and feelings. Among my blogfriends I can find a love of life and delight in the ordinary and everyday... I can't find these combinations in such perfection and intensity so easily IRL. Let's be blunt about it.


My IRL friends are from my parish or from Russian school. I had such lovely Irish Dance mom friends....but when Lydia was no longer dancing, those friendships faded away. Natural. e-friendships don't have to undergo those sorts of buffets...at least they are not quite so vulnerable to them.....the opportunity is always there to connect - so long as you pay your comcast bill.

In e-land have the unfair advantage of being able to take the time to express yourself in the best possible words. That is unfair! Perhaps if my IRL girlfriends were writing, not just chatting away - they'd express themselves more perfectly, too. And share more deeply. And, your topics, your reflections are well-chosen. You do not have to take my opening greeting as your post topic for the day. If that were so, blogs might well be a lot less interesting. We are always able to surprise, delight and intrigue one another without rudely interrupting someone or changing the topic.

We can also get to the point. Right away. We open up our heart and lay it out. A fairly extraordinary case (or, is she a typical case???) in point is Jen. Jen is the one blogfriend who is also an IRL friend. Well, sort of. She worked with me as my assistant for an entire year. I never knew she was interesting. Believe it or not. She was nice, good-natured, capable. I had school-aged children, and she was expecting her first, if I recall correctly. So, we weren't at the same stage of life, quite, but that is no excuse for my "knowing" this girl for a year without actually knowing her. At all! I never got anything like "a little honesty about depression" (her current post)! Far from it. We simply did not get to know one another. I am embarrassed to admit that I thought she lacked the quality that I now most enjoy! Amazing as it will seem to anyone who has dipped into Jen's blog (this present post is quite an exception, actually) she is uproariously funny, with a huge does of the irony and sarcasm that I love....and I would probably have said, if asked to describe Jen pre-blog that she "lacked a sense of humor"!!! She certainly did keep it under wraps. I must have done the same. So what is that about? We are blog friends, but not IRL friends even now, though we are actually in the same parish, same city, same circle...or interwoven circles, at least. What does it all mean? Perhaps that for some of us, blogging is an easier and more comfortable way to share who we are. We don't risk rejection in the same way. We don't have to see the expression on someone's face as they read our post. We don't know how many click on our blog, only to read a bit, grimace and click out again. And we don't have to arrange anything.... where to meet, what to do with the kids, etc.


Jen? I should have joined her for her yard sale, as she invited me to do. If only to give a shot at spending as much IRL time with someone as e-time. Is it creepy to hang on the words of someone's blog, and not spend time with them IRL? When you logistically could? Since I've started reading Jen's blog, "following" and all...we've seen each other precisely once, down at coffee and doughnuts after Mass. Was it uncomfortable? No...but startling, almost. Like seeing Julia Roberts in the airport right after seeing her in a movie. Unreal real.


So..... there is another aspect of it all that worries me a tiny bit. If my e-friends knew me IRL, would we be friends? Mybe not! For one thing, on the internet it is much easier to ignore some basic things we can't ignore in person. One of my e-friends, Elizabeth, is probably the age of my son. IRL there seems to be some implied "rule" that we must stick more or less to our own age group in choosing friends. We might "befriend" an older person, or a younger person, but to just "be friends" with them....that seems odd. Not "wrong", but there is something in our rules for or habits of socialization that seems to keep it from happening much.


And in e-land... we can happily visit one another even if one of us lives in an apartment, and the next in a beautiful "mini-mansion". Somehow, I notice that these relationships are slightly harder to maintain (certainly to make grow) IRL. There is something, even in a church community, about vastly different financial states that makes friendship clumsy. Ordinarily, when we see only the corner of someone's kitchen, or their yard in blog photos, these differences aren't apparent. One blog friend moved in this past year and posted photos of her lovely new home. And, while I am actually ashamed, that has made me feel almost unworthy to be her e-friend. It is "easier" to be friends with people when our neediness or plenty is not interfering in any way.


Then, too, there is always that little, niggling fear..... Would we like one another in person? Would there be some odd tic, or way of dressing, or mannerism, or energy-level that might put us off of someone we totally adore in blogland? Or, perhaps this person I admire so much, find so inspirational, or so enchanting, or so fun - wouldn't like me if they "really" knew me. Would the words "old", "fat", "stupid", "dull" come to their mind?


I am going to try harder to be better to my IRL friends....one thing about them, they know exactly who they are dealing with! Or do they? Actually, now I think of it, they don't know half what you know.

Friday, July 10, 2009

WHAT I'M FEELING

I miss him. All the warm feelings I have for Maxim flood over me a few times a day, and make me almost feel like crying....

Yet.....I worry that he might want to come back.
I feel as though God has placed this boy in my care and I will always feel responsible for him... Sometimes I ask myself - Do I have some "savior complex"? Am I trying to be heroic? I hope not....but in the end, I just feel that I can't let someone be worse for knowing me.... I want him to feel, not rejected by me - but led by me to this better situation. If it doesn't work out, I feel I must be there for him. But it is a worry, that responsibility....because balancing his needs and those of the other children is nearly impossible.

Our counselor suggested that I waste no time moving rooms around. She didn't need to say that! Anastasia was into Maxim's room in a flash, and Ilya was down into her room. These last few days we've been painting the trim pink. Took down the awful heavy curtains that he insisted I buy to keep light out during the day. I love sunlight coming into a room! And little did I know that he'd not just occasionally want to play video games in the light of day - but nearly non-stop! I have a sort of puritan abhorrance of watching TV, movies, or playing video games while the sun is out and something active can be done!

I miss him at dinner time. Though he was the first one to complain if I made something he didn't like - he was the most vociferous in praising everything he did like, and thanking me profusely. He particularly liked for me to make hamburgers, and when I made them last night I swear I felt guilty for serving them without him.

I happily put some Diet Cokes in the fridge, knowing that I'd actually be able to get one when I went back. I'd had to completely stop buying soft drinks, because Maxim would go through them so quickly....and carelessly, sometimes taking one sip and leaving the rest. I even tried hiding them, but if he found the hiding place, he wouldn't hesitate to clean me out. And to add insult to injury, the cans could be found all over his room, empty, half-full, spilled on the carpet.

Sergei seems notably happier and lighter. The biggest difference is in Ilya. He is suddenly interacting with me so much more. He is doing his best to be a "good boy"....making his bed, cleaning up after himself, watching out for me. I hadn't realized the extent to which he was hiding in the corners.

But, the house seems empty without Maxim's energy. Is also feels safer and calmer. Had I almost gotten accustomed to that sense of impending storm?

He called me the other night from the distant state where his new family took him on vacation. He had begged me to not make him go on the trip, it was "too soon" he pleaded. And, I could feel for him...taking off in a car with virtual strangers.... Since they were going to visit the grandmother and aunt and uncle, Maxim interpreted this as some sort of formal introduction to the family. Perhaps Mr. P tried to make it seem like that as a way to be welcoming, but I assured Maxim that they were going on this trip anyway, and since he was there, he'd be going too...and I thought he'd like it! He loves traveling. I really think it was the "introduction" part that had him scared - as though the trip was in celebration of a commitment that he wasn't quite ready to make. He told me on the phone, "These are really nice people. It's not as bad as I thought. It's good."

So I was so glad to hear his voice - his best voice - warm, relaxed, safe, happy, sweet. Of course he was asking for something. Minutes for his phone. Sheesh.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

TRANSITION - I THINK, (Part II)

The intense one

A couple of you dear blog friends have big families.... nine or eleven children....some from adoption, some biological...but in both cases (and in every other large family blog I read about) I never hear about the children resenting one another. Particularly the adopted children resenting one another! Yet, it doesn't seem so surprising that it could happen. Adopted children, in particular, might well have a kind of "love deficit" that makes them need, crave, long for one-on-one, totally devoted attention from their parents.

From day one, Maxim craved this kind of attention from us - particularly from me. I think this might have been the genesis of his never-ending claim that he was embarrassed by "all these kids". And, as I have written before he is a master at getting what he wants....not by manipulation (though he can manipulate!), or through bad behavior....but just through force of personality, I think. Of course the child who is enthusiastically involved in every sort of sport and activity would seem to draw to himself the resources to support these activities...and the focus of the adults in his life. For Maxim it was vital that I saw every basketball, baseball, football, soccer game, every track meet, at home and away. He made it seem so natural a wish!

And it is surely the child who hangs on your every word, who asks you for advice (and takes it!), who begs for help with homework - surely that child will claim your attention and warm your heart, too. The child who asks so urgently, the child who expresses gratitude so warmly will tend to get what he wants. Maxim could do it all. I felt torn, sometimes, and wouldn't quite know how to handle situations. I'd just call the younger children for our bedtime read-aloud...Maxim would come to the door and beg for a "legal guardian talk" (his words exactly)....and when I pointed out that the little ones were waiting, he'd plead gently, "Oh, please, Mrs. Kitching....just for a moment; I need your advice." So, I'd go in for a moment....and come out to find the littles asleep. That was a typical sort of pattern. I'd start to look at their homework....Oh, Mrs. Kitching, could you help me for just a minute? He longed for my attention; they were trying to escape it. Those are some of the obvious things....but in every way Maxim seemed to become the focus of the household. Yet; it wasn't a bad thing, necessarily. There were problems - theft, a lot of disrespect of property, rule-breaking, but things were going moderately well, until we went to get Ilya.


Now, Maxim knew from day one that Ilya was "expected". He had no problem actually saying things like, "Why do you need him?" Toward the end of the year, when our court date was nigh, he actually began to be a little threatening about it. "If you go to Russia, Mrs. Kitching, you'll be sorry."

When we came home I was sorry. It was while we were away that he took up smoking - and he admits he did it to hurt me! Worse yet, after a while he lured Ilya into smoking too. This is only something Ilya explained to me lately. He'd smoked before, of course, but never regularly - until Maxim pulled him into it.

For the first school year that Ilya was with us, things were tense. Maxim and Ilya would get into physical altercations. And, about this time Maxim underwent a sorrowful experience that comes to many teens, I suppose..... a realization that the dream he'd developed (of being in the NBA) was not going to be a reality. His coach more or less told him during summer league that he was a "project" and might not make the JV team. For a boy who had told himself he'd make Varsity, and whose best friends would make Varsity, this was a heart-wrencher. Then came the fall soccer season and its upset. Bit by bit, Maxim became depressed; he became addicted to xbox. School faltered...no longer was he begging me for help. In fact he was not doing homework at all. I tried everything and fell short of helping him. Because his other behaviors were enough for me - smoking (and in the house), stealing, bad language, basic disrespect to everyone and everything at home. About this time Gwen came into our lives and said that she agreed with Maxim - he needed a new family. Because - even in the good times - he never stopped saying this.

As, I previously said, she located a family and one night last October, Maxim and I went to their house for dinner. A very quiet family - a family that makes ours look almost rowdy. Musicians all. A pastor, his wife who gives piano lessons, their grown daughter who is a music teacher at a Christian school. Very quiet, very peaceful, very Christian people. Further (as far as I could see) along the continuum of a family that Maxim would not fit into. Yet, he was drawn to them in some ways. We got into the car after the first dinner and he said, "Mrs. Kitching, if I lived with them, I'd be a better person." I agreed - I would too!

He spent a few more evenings and afternoons with them - he became intrigued by some surprising features - the pastor's motorcycle, the ping-pong table in the basement, the mom's good cooking. Though one day he actually suggested that perhaps all the other children could go live with this family, and he could stay with me...eventually he agreed it was a go. And the family, too, liked him and began the process to become licensed foster parents. ..... Ha!

Here is my rant! WHY would anyone in this state - or certainly in this area of the state, advertise for people to become foster parents when it is nearly impossible to do so??? This family contacted several agencies... Finally, they received from DHS, a letter giving instructions that they should attend a series of required classes. Right. Every class in the series listed had already taken place! That was all the response they ever got! They called; I called; the counselor called. We were told that Maxim could not even spend a night at their house unless they had an initial home visit done. Could we get anyone to do the home visit? No! Finally, his own caseworker did it (not her job; it was supposed to be done by a "licensing worker"). But it would "get things rolling". Ha! Things never got rolling.

I won't describe all the ins and outs. But long story short: they changed his category (on paper only) from "adoptable" to SIL (Semi-Independent Living) only because this way his new family would not have to be licensed as foster parents.... So, now he has a whole new set of "workers", and a whole new "agenda"...an agenda that is offensive to me and to his new family, who want to be a family for him. They want to teach him the things an adult needs to know - not have some "worker" from the state come in and do it.... But that's what happens when the state takes over. He might as well be living in a group home with a bunch of delinquent teens....the state is blind. SIL is SIL.

So, Thursday was the day, finally. He was depressed, anxious. I was depressed, anxious. He'd changed his mind by this time (didn't you see this coming?) But, I assured him that what was done was done, that though I love him, he really doesn't "fit" with our family. I point out how his grades slipped, how he'd not succeeded in quitting smoking. I said, that I was clearly not the right adult to help him. But he would always be in my heart, he would always be a part of our family... we'd call him, invite him over when we had nice food, take him to Russian school. His new family is only a half-mile or so from our house.

Funny, he spent Thursday night with them, then called me early Friday morning, reminding me that I'd promised I'd take him for coffee. So, I picked him up....he spent the time begging me to not make him go on vacation with them this week. (Actually, I thought the planned trip was just what he needed to help him bond with them, away from us.) After I dropped him off at his new house, he apparently got on his bike and drove right over to our house. Then a Russian friend of the boys' came over, and of course if "M" was there - he'd have to stay the night! So while "M" was with us, he stayed, finally going "home" on Sunday....and now, presumably he is with them on vacation.

Yes, I miss him. My stomach turns every time I realize he isn't with us. It is as though 2 or 3 family members are gone - he had the energy of that many people. But, Sergei and Ilya, in particular are so relieved. Little did I realize how he'd been "running the show" with them - taking their things, monopolizing their games, their rooms, their belongings....as well as their mother. He thought nothing, apparently, of strong-arming them out of their privileges, their money, whatever he wanted.

As I think of Maxim I really think that he missed out on some of the critical lessons that people usually learn when they are toddlers and preschoolers - taking turns, everything is not yours, sharing, respecting others' property. In some ways he is very moral - almost moralistic, but in those basic ways he is amoral. Instead of learning to respect others, he was learning that he could not expect to get what he needed unless he took it, or got it for himself. And that is the way he lives life. Frankly, I think Maxim will make a marvelous politician some day.

Meanwhile, I feel as though I am actually starting over with my family. So many things I let slide. I realize now that I wouldn't enforce certain rules because I knew that I could not make Maxim comply. I didn't give Ilya, in particular, the mothering he needed. Wish me luck. And Maxim, too....

Monday, July 6, 2009

NEW HEADER

You know I hate new headers.

I don't know that I can stick with this one. I think the softer look reflects my personality better.

What do you think?

Friday, July 3, 2009

FIND ME ANOTHER FAMILY, Part 1

Hanging on
When Maxim came to us three years ago it was at the pleading of D. at our agency. "Just for a couple of weeks - a month at most. There are several families interested in him."

He had been through two disruptions, and really, now that I know him very well, and know much more about those situations....neither should have happened. That's MY opinion. Maxim did nothing to deserve it.

But....somehow those other families promised by the agency didn't come through. One adopted another boy from a disruption through their agency. Another got their referral for an 8 year old in Russia. When Maxim had been with us for a year, we took him to meet the third family. They were a great fit for him! Active, sporty, attractive, disposable income. But by this time Maxim had a great set of friends and a school he loved. He didn't want to leave our city.....and they lived in one of the most beautiful places in Michigan. Oh, well. I had to admire his priorities.

Maxim is a boy who has given us an enormous amount of challenges, which I wrote about here and here and here. (and in many more) But I do love him and see so many amazingly wonderful qualitites in him. Our first year together was really pretty good. He was a good student; he was polite, parents, teachers, everyone loved him. There were some meltdowns related to his anxiety about abandonment. But, with God's help we began to work through those and it was so rewarding to see him work with me to make real progress.

Yet, from the very first he begged me to find him another family. "I don't fit in this family." What did he mean by that?

Well....he's a kid. I think he meant that we didn't have the money he wished we had, We don't have that "liberal" lifestyle that includes lots of "entertainment" and social life. We don't lavish ourselves or our children with "stuff".....unnecessary clothing, electronics, etc. I never felt boring until Maxim came....and actually he has stretched us a bit. We now go to movies more than once every few years! I've made a few "indulgent" purchases such as the trampoline

I think he meant that our "focus" is more on work, study, church, home....and not on sports teams, recreation, travel, etc.
I think he meant that our tastes are different. I don't believe a house full of antiques charms him.

I think he meant that energy levels are not the same. Sergei is a "fit"....he was just telling someone that his idea of a perfect evening is puttering about his room, looking up tutorials regarding little electronic or mechanical experiments on youtube, trying them. That's so akin to my puttering about with an embroidery project, or Anastasia rearranging her "babies", or Zhenya in a corner playing with his toy soldiers. Maxim would rather DO SOMETHING. Go to the health club, swim, go to a game, etc. His only form of quiet activity is playing video games.

But "find me another family"? When the families that the gency had in mind, one by one disappeared from the picture, I settled in to thinking Maxim was "ours". We asked him to be adopted by us. That's when he started articulating all the more clearly that he "didn't fit". He'd frequently say, "I don't like all these kids; it's embarrassing." Frankly, I never quite figured that one out. We're Catholic, for heaven's sake! One of the girls in his class has eleven siblings! Having a big family is not unusual in the setting in which he now finds himself....so I figured he was really trying to say something else. The best I can come up with is that he wants more attention. I think he has a deficit of attention from babyhood and is driven to "make it up". One of the great challenges of parenting (or more precisely "fostering") him is this need he has to monopolize my attention....particularly if another of the children needs it. So....I agreed; perhaps he did need another family and I put out tentative feelers.

Someone would compliment him effusively (for example the lady who came to school to do a presentation on Right to Life) - I actually said...."He is a great kid, and if you'd know anyone interested he is looking for a new family...." That sort of thing happened more than once. Oddly, whenever the person would show interest, I'd run them by Maxim and he'd always react like I'd suggested he live with the dogs at the shelter. "Mrs. R! Mrs. Kitching! Are you kidding? I couldn't live with her! That would be too embarrassing!" or some such. Eventually, I realized that his "new family" would have to be completely new. No one we knew. I broached the agency....but you can imagine how it is......a home for a teen boy is not easy to find, and this teen boy seemed situated, whereas I am sure she usually had a more urgent situation on her caseload.

Enter our Family Counselor. After Ilya came to us, and Maxim's behavior (see links above) came to be detrimental to our family happiness, I searched out a family counselor. (Wouldn't one think that the "people from the state" - the foster care workers, DHS would have helped with this? Forget that!) Anyway, Gwen is magnificent. After talking to everyone she came to the conclusion that Maxim needed precisely what he said he needed - another family. She pulled some strings, talked to some people, and within a few weeks a family had been located! A local minister and his wife.

As this is getting looooong, and is primarily exposition, I will stop here and finish in the next post!