Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TOO TRUE TUES - Pomposity is Me


I have previously written about my aversion to TV.  And in a TTT, at that!

OK, I admit there might have been a bit of fussy pomposity about it.  (I'm mellowing in my old age.)  Anyway, when Aidan and Lydia were young, we did not have TV around and one year their Montessori school participated in  "Turn off TV Week".  They handed out bumper stickers which read "Turn off TV, Turn on Life".  Even at Montessori school, I think I was the only parent who actually put this on their car - but I did so happily.

Meanwhile, we were into literature!  I read to the kids every night, and we discovered audio books at the library.  One summer we were listening to a wonderful book - Cheaper by the Dozen.  If you haven't read this, and its sequel, With Bells on Their Toes, you really should.  It is a charming book, full of humor and warmth, and containing some actual good practical advice for big families.  We were all really enjoying this book, and one afternoon were listening to it as we ran errands.  I pulled up in front of the fabric store as we happened to be listening to a particularly exciting part.....we all sat listening with rapt attention when suddenly, there was a knock on my car window.  I started.  Saw a stranger standing there and reluctantly turned off the cassette player, and unrolled  the window.

The woman leaned over, a tad confused,  "I just wanted to say, I love your bumper sticker!"

I meanwhile, was adjusting my face and trying to remove the look of irritation that I know was on it from having had " our story" interrupted.  Suddenly I reminded myself of one of the members of AA who come Sunday night to the basement of our church, and spend half the meeting outside the doors smoking.  Had I just traded one addiction for another?

"Thanks,"  I replied, sweetly.....and humbly.  And a bit shamefacedly, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ANOTHER COUNTRY HEARD FROM

I've moaned about this before, but we bought a nice new digital camera for my technologically challenged husband before he went to Korea.  I wanted to experience EVERYTHING second hand - I couldn't wait for photos of everything from his school lunch to his bathroom, to his grocery store aisles.

None of this came to pass because - he said - he "lost" the cord to connect the camera to the computer.  "Go buy another one."  I admonished.  To no avail.  For all I know he lost the camera.  Or he has it all and can't work it.  Sheesh!

Anyway, I got a glimpse this week because, apparently, someone both a) came to take pictures and b) was nice enough to put them into the e-mail for me.  So...............at long last!!!!!!

Here is Craig with the other English staff at Goam Middle School in Yangju City, South Korea!


And here is the hallway leading to what they call the "English Zone". 

Attractive and cheerful isn't it?

I wish I could visit, but alas!  It's not to be.  All I can hope is that:
a) he has the camera
b) he's been using it
c) there will be photos to view when he comes home in December!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

THE KEYS GO MISSING AGAIN - A Maxim Story

As I mentioned, I've been spending some time every week with Maxim.  In order to avoid Presbyterian Church, and to have an opportunity to get things out of me, he thoughtfully decided that he'd go to Mass with us each week. His "order" was that he wanted to go with "just you, Mrs. Kitching - no kids".  Well, I am silly enough to have complied with this absurd request for a couple of weeks - ignoring totally the underlying idea that Mass is all about unity and community.  However, I fondly figured that he just "wanted my undivided attention".  Sure.  He wanted me alone all right, so he could terrorize me at will as described in this previous post about a Sunday Mass excursion gone awry.  So, rather than go to Mass twice a weekend just to accommodate this young criminal, Sunday before last I just picked him up with kids in the car.  He wasn't happy, but he came along.

Mass was fine; I dropped Sergei off at home, and kept Anastasia and Zhen with me as I drove to drop Maxim off, figuring he'd have to "behave himself" with them in the car.  This was not the way it worked out, unfortunately.  In fact, we had a near reenactment of the horrific episode I described in that last post....except it lasted longer since he didn't accelerate the nastiness of his behavior quite as quickly due to the witnesses.  I'd actually pulled up in his family's driveway this time, too....  But I was persistent and he eventually got very ugly, upping the ante in terms of threat.  Finally, when he began to use profanity every other word, became threatening, and refused to get out of the car,  I told the kids to get out and go up to the P's and I grabbed my purse and ran after them. 

I didn't tell the P's the whole story, but frankly was too upset to be able to pretend I was just dropping by to say "hi".  As I stood in their vestibule I was wondering if we'd need the police to eject him from the car....but no.  As we talked I saw him get out and walk away.  I could certainly understand why he didn't want to come in!

We left, I dropped the kids off at home, and as is my constant burden this time of year headed back to my office.  I dropped by the church first to pick something up - and realized.....my church keys were not where I thought they'd been.  In the console.  Well.....I'm not the most organized person.  They could be anywhere.  I checked the purse, under the seats.  

Actually, I hadn't really finished checking the car before the vision came to me - that is all I can say.  A fully-formed vision of Maxim taking my keys with him from the car, with the intention of holding them ransom.  I even knew somehow where he'd taken them - he'd taken them to the empty house next door.  But my conscious mind told myself I was hallucinating;  that was crazy.

I spent the next couple of days with the periodic fearful lurch of my stomach at the idea of having lost the church keys (I'd just put those three bright, shiny new ones on this ring, mind you) and the memory of the relief of finding them again was still new - HOW could they be gone AGAIN?????  I searched all over, but frankly, I did in a perfunctory way.  Because that vision was so clear.  Maxim and the keys. I knew why he'd taken them; I knew that hadn't worked out for him (holding them ransom for cigarettes, because I'd left and he wasn't going to do something like that over the phone.)  I was fearful that he might just throw the evidence in the P's dumpster.  Yet, in my other life I was also looking under couch cushions all over my office, etc.

I went to far as to call the P's.  Mrs. P hesitated to ask him about them, as she'd just had a wonderful talk with him, felt close to him and didn't want to jeopardize that.  Believe me, I'd been there and understood.  A day or two later I asked Mr. P if he'd happened to have seen them, or mentioned it.  No.  Finally, my distress was out of bounds.  And I was having trouble doing my work as I could only be in my church office during office hours (I have to tell you there is no way I can get my work done during office hours!)  So, one night I called and asked to speak to Maxim.  As they went to call him to the phone I could hear his cheerful voice in the background.  Good.

"Uh, Maxim...[pause] Any chance you've seen my church keys?"  I somehow knew he'd confess and he did.  I asked, "Are they where you could give them to me?"  He said they were; I came and got them.  I saw him run out of his house and lope (yes) to the house next door where he retrieved them from the porch.  I nicely thanked him and gave him a coke and a bag of candy.  To my surprise, he gave me a handful of Russian candies.  That was big.  Quite a sacrificial "sorry" from him.

I do not know why in retrospect this episode amuses me.  I think it is just because I realize that I know him so well.   I knew he took them.  I knew why.  I was pretty sure he'd give them back, if possible.  And it all worked out just that way. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TOO TRUE TUESDAY - ODD ADVICE

As if coming up with self-embarrassing stories wasn't hard enough (I mean - don't we try to eradicate those from our conscious minds?), this week our taskmistress has demanded that we share the worst parenting advice we ever got.

Immediately what came to mind was not parenting advice (though I am sure the givers would have enthusiastically said that it would apply in the parenting arena, too), but it was the advice chucked at my head when I was in education classes.(Over and over, I might add!)

The word is that "children want to be good". This was about as far as they went at Southern Oregon State University in giving me anything like "classroom management" training.   Really.  My disclaimer is that I got my teaching certificate before I had children and as I now have a couple of grown-up children, that was a long.....time.....ago.....  So, feel free to take education courses at SOSU (which was actually SOSC, when I was there).  Undoubtedly, when they took on more depth and breadth in the area of classroom management strategies, they were able to upgrade to true university status.  So, I am not actually trying to criticize them in their present configuration.

HOWEVER, looking back - I think I took ONE useful course (from a visiting professor) during that "Professional Year".  Other than that it was absurd. 

For what it is worth, I think I do, rather, know what they were trying to say when they said, "Children want to be good."  What they mean is the children are happier being good.  However, it really is up to the teacher and parent to manage the situation so that the children will have little choice other than to be good.  Because if there are opportunities not to be good - most children will take them. 

I still feel for all those pathetic, wide-eyed education majors stepping into classrooms, thinking that if they were just "interesting enough!" - the kids would be SO GOOD! 

After spending about two months of my first year of teaching, going home and crying every night, it came to me one day that this advice was for the birds.  In fact, I reasoned, these kids would not be good unless I made sure they did.  So we had a little "paradigm shift" and not only did the kids begin to be good - they liked it, too!  However, it did have to be teacher-generated.  Sorry for the bad news.

After that experience you'd think I wouldn't be so starry-eyed anymore.  But I am!!!  (Here's where the TTT aspect of this takes over.)


Not long ago I checked out a link I got off the Connection Parenting site.  Now, I love the concept of connection parenting and have gained great insights from most of her advice/recommendations/links/etc.  HOWEVER, wishful thinking springs eternal.  This article she suggested, insisted that "children want to help".  The idea was that if you feel overwhelmed with the housework, and so forth - you don't need to have a system of assigned chores, or allowances, or charts or any of that old-fashioned stuff!  No!  You simply need to sit down with the children and explain to them all that you are so busy you cannot possibly do all the work yourself.  Explain that you need help!  Look your dear children in the eye.  Ask for their support - their help with the household chores.  You will get it, I was assured.

Yes - I was that stupid.  I tried this.   I gathered them round, and explained the situation, as outlined above.  (This author did write inspiringly, and I am an optimistic sort.)  I finished and I looked up to see a circle of  aghast little faces around the dining room table.  I knew right off that this approach was not going to hit pay dirt for me.  In fact, they all began to argue rather impassionedly themselves that they didn't care if the grass was cut, or the bathroom dirty!  They didn't mind if there was dust in the living room or the carpet wasn't vacuumed!  And, as for putting the clothes away!  Heck!  It was much easier to just strip down in the laundry room, and take clean clothes out of the baskets anyway!  Why bother putting the clothes away!  What a bother!  I simply wasn't managing things right.  If I would just lighten up on myself, my load would not be so heavy!

Right.  So.  I am here to give my own advice:  Let it be known that - in the ordinary way children may want to be good, however, they require parents and teachers to make them so. Furthermore, if my recent experience is anything to go on - no ordinary child will choose to do chores.  However, they might be extremely good at talking you out of doing them.  

Sunday, September 13, 2009

RUSSIANS HAVE ANOTHER IDEA

I intended to write this post a few weeks ago when it occurred, but forgot and was only reminded by this "s'mores" post by Courtney. My boys built a little fire in the backyard not long ago... To say our back yard is rustic is making is sound charming in some way. No. Not rustic. However, know that there is no "fire pit" or anything fancy. Just a circle of ground surrounded by stones, Ilya set up for fires. We pulled 'round the rickety benches and since it was a pitch black night there was a certain magic about it.

They'd been asking to build a fire, so I had prepared by purchasing (and hiding) s'more makings. I've never liked them myself. Well, I only had my first one a couple of years ago, and perhaps...the forty years build-up caused them to not quite live up to the hype. But I know that most people love them, and that they are quintessentially "American" so it seemed like a good thing to do and I anticipated delight.

We found the sticks and I showed them how to put the marshmallows on and the patience necessary to hold them just above the flame, turning them carefully, to get them puffy and golden-brown - just right. I demonstrated the application of chocolate and cookie. We ate. Ilya was open-minded all this time, but he is not a person to mince words. After eating a couple he had to tell me: "That no good, mom." He gestured dismissively at chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers.

He ran into the house and returned, arms full of potatoes - he put them in the fire, careful to dig each of them in deep and cover them well with burning embers. I was surprised at how quickly he got a stick and brought them out - blackened beyond recognition. He broke them open and applied a big square of butter in the middle of each, and a sprinkling of "Russian" salt (he has some idea that salt I bought in Russia is much better than ours).

We dug in. I had to agree! Those potatoes were surprisingly magnificent! It was almost as though I'd never had a "real" baked potato before - at least I've never experienced such fluffy, tasty ones!

Yes. Ilya's right! That's the perfect bonfire treat. I'm convinced.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

DISRUPTION (WARNING: Out of Character Post)


This post is dark. I admit it, and I am sorry. I sat down to write a sort of funny one - and on the same topic, too. You'll get it another time, I hope. Meanwhile......Christine got me thinking more about Maxim.

We never adopted him. We were his foster parents. But, that is only true from the view of the DHS. Actually, in my heart I committed to him. Craig didn't. From Craig's point of view we were not even as committed as foster parents would be. Initially, his stay in our home was supposed to be so temporary - "Just a few weeks until we find a family for him." And, no; I didn't commit to him at that point. But when weeks became months, I suppose I knew enough to realize that these "families" were not going to appear.

So, I committed myself to him. I felt no deep attraction to him as I do to my other children. Quite the reverse. Had I been a cow and he another cow's calf....I would have rejected him. But God made me able to think, to love, to choose. To see a boy alone in the world, unloved - I chose to love. Who could not? I asked him if he would like us to adopt him. Craig agreed that though it was not our doing, we had a responsibility to this boy. But, Maxim did not like our family. He said he did not belong in our family. He didn't like the other kids. And, I have to agree - it wasn't a particularly good fit in terms of energy level and personality. Not a good fit at all.

But I made a commitment to him. And I suffered mightily for it. At the hands of the DHS. At his hands. When people laugh about something "taking years off their life", I know what they mean, but I am not laughing.

Maxim is funny, and sweet. He is honest about feelings; he is intense about everything. He bloomed as he became something of himself again. Russian. He was proud of it. He regained his language. He'd practically wriggle with delight at the prospect of Russian candy or ice cream. He would do little kindnesses for me. He appreciated the things I bought, the things I cooked, the things I did for him. But he lied, he stole, he connived. Anastasia was given $40 for her first communion and he took it. Ilya put his hot dog in the microwave ahead of Maxim and Maxim nearly killed him. Maxim hated Ilya. Maxim detested Anastasia. Maxim used Sergei.

So our other children suffered for it These sweet, dear people whom I love with a love that isn't only a decision, suffered for my commitment to Maxim, for my determination that no bad thing should ever come to him because he came into contact with me. I suppose that was my bottom line. No big bad thing would happen to him; I'd stake my life on it.

I ran ahead of him with my armor on, doing my best to protect him from "the workers", from people who didn't understand the pain he'd gone through....on top of just the usual international-adoptive-parent protection: making his language abilities clear, building up his sense of identity.....

But my biggest battle for Maxim was with all the pain that I knew he'd experienced since he'd first come to the US (two disrupted adoptions, neither of which seemed really to be his fault) and the pain from his birth family, shrouded in the fogs of the past, that I don't think he even remembered.

At first it was "mama" or "mother" or even "foster mother". He'd go crazed like the Incredible Hulk when he heard those words from the most unsuspecting person, making an understandable mistake in the most innocent way. I fought this demon, too - in every way I knew how, talking, explaining, whispering....yes whispering. I learned to "Maxim whisper".

Then it was "being left"....if I were so much as five minutes late picking him up from school, the Hulk appeared. My windshield was smashed. I cajoled, I explained, I whispered..... He improved amazingly.

I reached out to his pain and whispered into its ear.

Through some miracle we got a family counselor, and she, adopted as a child, herself, believed he needed a different home...where he'd get all the attention he needed and where my children wouldn't live amidst constant upset and trauma-detritus. Maxim agreed, but somehow I knew he didn't picture really leaving. Perhaps I knew what he didn't. He felt at home with us.

And through another miracle this family appeared.....a pastor and his wife. Parents of four grown children, one of whom - a beautiful, radiantly Christian girl, still lives at home and teaches music at a Christian school. Three loving adults for Maxim.

Surely now he is safe. I can just let him go, give him up..... I don't want him to think that "love" can just cease to give of itself. I cannot just cease to be there for him. Even though "being there" from his point of view is usually giving him something. Maxim is the neediest person I've ever known....yet in my heart I feel that when I buy him athletic shoes it is buying him much, much more. It is filling his leaky heart with the love that cannot ever seem to fill it. So, even when he is difficult, I continue to choose to love him and whisper those little assurances into his ear. It IS OK. He IS loved. I love him; I will never see anything bad happen to him. This new family is good. They give him attention, they keep him at his school (even though they aren't Catholic!); they try to support him in every way they can. I say, he'll always be a part of our family. Though, to my surprise, no one else feels anything but relief he is gone. I thought they'd miss him a little. I wish they missed him a little.

And he is no fool. He knows this is rejection of a sort. Yet, their house IS a bit nicer. They don't have "all those kids." One afternoon he said, "I'm better where I am." Why? I ask. "They pick me up on time." Nothing light or meaningless. They pick him up on time. I couldn't. I wasn't strong enough. I never did.

In other ways I tried to love him, but I never could pick him up on time.

Is this disruption? It has been "disruption" from the moment I laid eyes on him. In my soul, my heart, my marriage, our family....in my relationship with my other children, in Ilya's relationship with our family, with America, with his new life. We see it in the broken windshield, in my bedroom door cracked from his violent assaults on it, in the dresser full of broken oddments that I can somehow not bring myself to put to rights, in the hundreds of dollars charged on my credit cards, when he stole the numbers.....

Now, for the most part Maxim is past. We are out of the eye of that storm. There is a lot of debris left on our shore. A lot of debris left in my heart, and further adventures, I'm sure. Because I cannot completely abandon him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

THE PRICE OF PROCRASTINATION

Three gorgeous days is what I paid.


This Labor Day weekend in Michigan was like heaven..... perfect in every way. Balmy, bright, green - as lovely as any days could be. Unfortunately, because I did something I almost never do - procrastinate - they were more or less lost to me.


Last year, in concern about my job, I decided to take one more education class, since doing so could guarantee that I'd be able to renew my teaching certificate. Reasonable, right? So, I signed up for "Research-Based Strategies to Increase Student Achievement" - an on-line course.

I did a few of the sessions, then work intervened; Craig went to Korea. I started midnight teaching. Life was hard. I let the course slip off my "to do" list.

Then this summer, I applied for a job teaching Theology at our Catholic High School. I was very excited about that possibility. The prospect filled June and July with hopeful anticipation. I also applied myself to the course, so I could complete it and have my certificate renewed and start a new and happy life.

However well my interview went, however pleased they seemed to be that I'd applied, I was not as qualified as an actual High School Theology teacher from another diocese. So, the new and happy life was not to be mine. With no teaching in my future, the course just made me depressed.

However, one day last week I realized that I only had a short period of time left to complete it and better do it, like it or not. I'd no desire to throw away $400 for sure. And it was a good thing I opened up the website because there was the announcement - I had exactly three days left to use the website before it disappeared and neither it nor my three credits were any longer available to me.

So I had no choice but to apply myself. I had to deal with seeing - every time I turned the computer on that I had just
"Two Days Left"
"One Day Left"....it even turned into
"Twelve Hours Left".
At "Four Hours Left", I was half-blind and mentally incapacitated, but as satisfied with my work as I could be.

It was a good course. It made me ache that I'm not teaching.

Just one of those odd questions. God called me to be a teacher. Clear as clear I heard that call.
I taught for one year and got sidetracked into what I'm doing now.....all the time wanting to teach. Unfortunately, after you've been deeply immersed in religion for years and years your ordinary public school is not interested. And your ordinary Catholic School salary will not pay the bills.

However, at our staff meeting today I got the news that quite likely three staff persons will lose their jobs in the near future if parish contributions do not increase significantly. It is frankly hard to imagine that happening.... The economy being what it is.

So....that, dear friends is why I am up writing a blog instead of sleeping. I can't sleep for anxiety. I lost the last beautiful days of summer, but at least I will go into the cold world with a teaching certificate. For what that is worth.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

OUR FAMILY'S BIG SUMMER VACATION





OK..... Perhaps it could be called

SOME OF US HAD A FUN OVERNIGHT

The summer "travel allowance" such as it was, went primarily to Sergei's cadet camp, however for the combined kids' birthday gift, my mom gave us money for a weekend at a water park and on Thursday after school we headed to beautiful Sterling Heights (I promise you, there could be no greater exaggeration) to the "best indoor water park in Michigan". I'm not certain where I read that, but I'm thinking it must have been on their website.

Actually, the water park was fun. It was better than any I've ever been to .... though I suppose that isn't saying much, and with only a tiny bit of imagination I can picture better ones existing even in Michigan. Let's just say that Anastasia and Zhenya had a wonderful time. And, I had a great time, too. I surprised them both by - for the first time in over fifteen years - appearing in a swim suit. I waited until 9 a.m. on Friday morning, thinking (rightly) that the area would not be very populated. But once "in" I was in 100%. I went down the water slide over and over again. I'm so glad I braved it the first time (almost didn't) because it was a blast. And I enjoyed the little "lazy river" area that Zhen is pictured in. I had a super-fun time in the vortex!

And my "littles" got a lot of fun out of having me join them.

Sergei managed to hurt his back during our one-hour's visit on Thursday night so didn't even go in on Friday to my disappointment.

To my greater disappointment, Ilya didn't come at all....and he is the one who probably loves swimming better than anyone. It made me so sad!

When I got home on Thursday, he had been looking around for his swim trunks, apparently, but - as is the very weird case with Ilya - sleep overtook him. Yes; the sleep issues are still with us. Sergei was doing his best to keep him awake, but by the time I got in there, it was no go.

When Ilya goes to sleep no one can wake him. You can literally (I have done it on a school day) throw him to the floor and he will not awaken. I was so peeved at him for allowing himself to go to sleep like that. Yet, there was nothing we could do but leave him. He was still conscious enough that he was batting at us and yelling at us as we tried to physically rouse him. It is a crazy phenomenon. I know - at least I am pretty sure - he wanted to go. He is always asking to go swimming... Yet, I also know he is afraid of new things, and afraid of lots of people. Perhaps there was too much of the "unknown" in the vacation scheme.... I honestly cannot figure it out.

He knew I'd be upset, so when we came home - another self-penance! The kitchen, dining room and living room were as tidy as they could be. Poor kid....staying home cleaning house instead of going on the "vacation" that I selected especially for him.

Obviously, for me this "sleep" event hangs ominously over the anticipated beginning of school as well.......

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TOO TRUE TUESDAY - New Approach

Never too old to learn new tricks.

Zhen was doing a self-imposed penance some time ago for being disrespectful to me. I came home and he'd cleaned the kitchen and also organized the refrigerator.

Can you see his thinking?

Yes! Color-coded? Why not arrange your refrigerator by color? Must say I am a LOT more likely to remember that the cream cheese container is white and know where to look for it, than I am to decide easily whether cream cheese should be put with the milk (dairy) or with the sandwich makings.

So, I'm giving this a try. Working well so far.