Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TTT - Believing in Santa

Surely you jest.  Believe in SANTA????  Not likely!

I don't think I did, actually, ever spoil anyone's belief in Santa, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that I was seen walking around behind their backs with a cocked eyebrow and scornful expression.  My mom or dad never tried to tell us that Santa was real, only that it might be moderately amusing to pretend he was real...and that was what we did.  I believe I put out the famed cookies and milk or whatever, once or twice but with the same attitude with which, years later, I placed my props for Act 2.   We might have exclaimed, "Oh, look what Santa brought!" but with the same appreciation for idiomatic speech that we'd use when we noted it was "raining cats and dogs". 

I will have to confess that at some point I may even have waxed effusive about parents "lying" to their innocent children, and so forth. 

Here, however, is where the TTT part comes in.  I can claim with a sort of haughty indignation that I have never lied to a child about Santa.   However, the haughty indignation deserves a kick in the rear. Because I lied to my brother big time.  Not about Santa, not about the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy.  Not about anything whimsical or charming.  Not in concert with others, participating in a unifying cultural practice.  No.  I just lied.  Out and out lied.  Of course he was only three or four and I was only eight or nine, but I still have a bit of remorse attached to this tale - and probably well-deserved.

Whatever possessed me, I do not know.  But possessed I was.  Firstly, I lied about colors.  I told him that baby blue was called "pink".  And vice versa.  I kept it up, too.  I was a diligent teacher. Over days and weeks. I didn't rest satisfied until he was thoroughly ready to say little girls wore blue and little boys wore pink.  I got him so confused that when he was seven or eight he was still getting it wrong.  I thought it was funny then, too.

That must have been so amusing that I tried something a bit more challenging.  I told him that people could fly.  I couldn't fly of course - only adults could...well, I was taking lessons.  And, he was silly if he thought anyone would fly in front of him!  No!  He couldn't see something like flight - until he was much older.  And I believe I suggested that he might "practice" - he might jump off the stoop, or the fence or the........ and then, when he didn't fly, I was very, very disappointed in him.  Even worried....  Maybe he was lacking something....

So, whenever I get that superior attitude, whenever I want to sport an arrogance about "lying to children", I have to recall that perhaps I don't have anything to be all that puffed-up about.  Though, I will say I was a bit more creative in this area than most....

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Typical Russian garage in winter... Looks like fun to me.

We had a very lovely Christmas, for the most part.  Meltdown (Anastasia again) only occurred quite late in the day.

The kids opened their stockings at home, and all were thrilled with the things in them.  Then we went to my mom's for breakfast and present-opening.  Again everyone was very pleased with their gifts; they behaved graciously and were pleasant to one another.  That might have been MY best gift, but actually I got something better:

Memories - shared. Both Sergei and Ilya shared little memories from the time before I knew them and I store them up in my heart like precious jewels, let me tell you.  I gave Craig a little book of "Family Conversation Starters".  I thought it was sort of lame, but then again, "why not?".  The first question which he asked everyone when he opened it was, "Have you ever laughed so hard you couldn't stop?  When?"  The thing that came to my mind was when, one summer I was doing theatre in Telluride, Colorado.  There is a working mine there and so often, it seemed I'd hear a siren and was always so disturbed, thinking it announced an accident or at least a dangerous "incident" in the mine.  Then one day, we are eating lunch and I hear the siren, and remark to my colleagues how curious it is that these incidents so often occur at noon and even as I'm saying this I realize - it isn't an accident, stupid! It's lunch!"  For some reason my stupidity combined with all that wasted concern struck me so funny I laughed until I was practically rolling under the table. 

Anyway, Sergei shared an incident from his boarding school.  Some boy was having a meltdown, and ended up kicking and beating on the classroom door - a unique sort of door, with a spring that would close it quickly - sounds like what we used to have on our screen door.  Anyway, somehow this boy broke the door and it was stuck half open, but he was continuing his acting out.  The Director came in and could neither fix the door, not calm the boy.  He finally broke away from her and just as he was running from the room, the door suddenly repaired itself and slammed shut hitting him square in the face and (as Sergei remembers it) sending him flying about three yards back into the classroom.  I can indeed see how that would be uproarious. 

My comment, that it must have been difficult for the teacher and administrator to control themselves and not laugh, led to even more memories.  Sergei informed me that they laughed too, and that "teachers aren't the same way in Russia as they are here" - they punish kids!  (And apparently don't hesitate to laugh at them, either.) He related that if children were bad, they'd make them lay their hands out on the desk and they'd beat them with sticks!  At his children's home (where he was before he was in school), he said they would punish children by sticking them with pins.  Craig and I were horrified and requested details - apparently, this woman would take a needle and prick the miscreant's hand over and over again.  Sergei seems to think this approach far superior to the approach here.  He defended her, "Then the kid would remember for a while that he shouldn't have lied!  That would hurt for a couple of days and make him remember to behave better!"  He recalled getting pricked once or twice for something but couldn't recall his infraction, only that he certainly didn't do it again!

Ilya, in his soft and happy holiday mood was letting me sit by him and give him a head rub.  I asked him about the scar on his hand.  He got it in typical Russian winter fun - sliding down the garage roof and landing in the snow drifts below.  There were lots of children playing and he started to go, but realized there were too many in front of him, and grabbing the roof, his hand was ripped on a corner of metal.  "Did you go to the doctor?" I asked.  (This is quite a major scar.)  No; his "Bobby" (babushka) "put alcohol on it and wrapped it up." 

So happy children and old memories.  What more precious gift could I get?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TTT - My Big Date in Fresno

Since our Glorious Leader has not yet given us the topic of this week's Too True Tuesday post, I am taking matters into my own hands and giving you one of the ones just waiting in my hopper of TTT ideas.  No problem at all coming up with something.  Since it is a busy week, though, I chose a brief one.  It does, however, come closest to showing me up as the paragon of naivete that I am, or at least once was. 

Prior to getting married, I was, as previously mentioned, a professional actress of the regional variety (no NYC casting calls or anything).  In fact, when this tidbit occurred I was auditioning for a touring company and went to UC Fresno for the audition/interview.  I took the bus down from Oakland where I was temporarily living, on my own little California Adventure.  When I got into Fresno, I'd already figured out where I was going to stay and got on a local bus to get to the motel.  This is not the story, but an interesting sidelight - here I am on this bus heading through this strange city and the driver asks through the intercom "Is there anyone on this bus that speaks English and Armenian?"  Just as I was thinking that this was the most absurd question I'd ever heard asked publicly, about eight people hopped up from their seats to answer the call.  OK. 

I got to the Motel 6 or whatever budget accomodation I'd arranged, and decided to go out for a walk and find something to eat.  As I was strolling along a man approached me and asked, "How about a date?"   Well!  This was startling!  To begin with, I was startled out of reverie by someone speaking to me, and then surprised even further by this sudden and unexpected invitation.  But, my mother certainly had taught me well!  There was no way I was going to go on a date with a man I had not in any way, shape or form been introduced to!  Even if I'd wanted to!  But - here was the other side of the problem.  I'd also been taught not to hurt people's feelings, and oh, dear - this poor man!  Obviously (my mind was running a mile a minute assessing the situation and all its ramifications), this poor fellow had very poor social skills or he wouldn't have asked me on a date, without preamble, and so brusquely.  Furthermore, I reasoned, if he'd gone so far as to get up the nerve and invite me - I simply had to let him down without hurting his feelings!  Pathetic soul!  So, as far as I can remember I put my hand on his arm and looked kindly into his face, and said with all the sweetness and warmth I could infuse into my reply, "Oh, it is so nice of you to ask me.  Thank you so much! But I simply can't, because I don't know you.  I do hope you understand."   He left briskly.

Only years later did someone share with me that "Do you want a date?" is the way a john asks a prostitute if she'll go with him. 

Oh, well.  I probably made him feel ashamed of himself at any rate.  (And, I was definitely not dressed like a prostitute!  He was lacking in discernment - that much is sure.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I've had this post in the "hopper" for awhile.  Just some meanderings about blogging.  It really is a whole different sort of thing.  Sometimes I feel that perhaps there is something not quite wholesome about blogging.  Then, I connect with a blog friend IRL and feel like I'm not quite "making all this up".  Anyway,  I've written on this a few different times while mulling over a variety of different feelings.  Hope it isn't too random!

For me, blogging is just like real life. Virtually.  When I post something, it feels just as if I said something to a group of friends.  And, when they respond, that seems natural and friendly.  Of course, in any group - say a group sitting around in the church basement, or lingering outside the front doors of the kids' school....some people will respond, others will just nod or smile.  But everyone tends to give some sort of response, even if it is just to agree with someone else. (Unless, of course, no one likes the speaker very much!)  So, when I read a blog post I nearly always respond - unless a whole lot of people have already done so, using the precise words I would use.  Then it seems sort of moot. (Like it would IRL.)  If I write a post and no one says much, I wonder what I've said to offend people...but I really see little rhyme or reason to the sort of posts that elicit responses and those that don't.

If I am walking by a group of acquaintances conversing, even if I am not exactly "of the group", I'll respond if I hear something of interest to me, or of obvious importance to the speaker.  Seems only polite.

Sometimes I'll walk past a group of strangers, or overhear someone's conversation - and it seems I ought to say something; not just listen anonymously.  That is the image that comes into my mind when I think of those times I happen onto a new blog, where I don't know anyone.  And, if the people whose conversation I joined are nice people (from my point of view) what they will do is acknowledge me - with perhaps just a nod or smile.  Likewise, if I comment on a new blog, it feels so good to be acknowledged.  I recently popped in to a blog and got such a nice e-mail welcome from the writer!  It kind of warmed my heart regarding social workers (a group I have some reasons to feel doubtful about).

If I stumble into a blog and comment on a few posts (especially if they are big, smiley comments) but no one ever acknowledges me, I back out with looks of apology (well - virtual looks of apology).....just as I would do if I sat down at a table of fellow parishioners at church and they ignored me.  (It's happened; I hate to say.)

And then there are those really popular people. (Two different crazy-popular people linked there.) You can comment on their blog, and feel really silly and small. and stupid because you imagine yourself [virtually] standing behind a big crowd of fifty or so people, unlikely to be seen or heard.  But maybe these popular people are popular for a reason!  Both of these dear ladies have e-mailed me personally on occasion, making me feel like a valuable member of the world.  (Boy, it is SO easy to feel like an unpopular high schooler! At least it is for me!) 

Oddly, I think I worry about my e-friends as much, if not more, than I do my IRL friends.  I'll wake up in the morning anxious about their children, or hoping things went well for them in some way.

But, like I keep a limited circle of friends IRL, I also keep a somewhat limited circle in my e- life, too.  I was recently given a sweet award by an equally sweet and generous blogger.  Unfortunately, one of the rules of accepting the award was to pass it on to fifteen other bloggers.  Oh, dear!  I don't follow that many blogs!  It reminded me of a time or two when someone I knew was having a political "tea" or something, and wanted me to invite a large amount of others.  I was just dismayed - because I didn't suppose I knew that many other people who would go somewhere just because I recommened it!

This is an odd time of year blog-wise.  I wish we could all get together for tea, or for some little Christmas party. I'd like to pop by your house and bring your children a gift.  I'd like to ask your advice about which cookies to make (or should I not make any at all because I am the only one who eats them - and I don't need that!)

It is not as if I don't have IRL friends....just that I rarely have the chance to be as intimate with them as I am with you.  They wouldn't understand so much.  I can't share some of the things I share with you.  So, at this time of year when everyone is "getting together" and socializing with friends and family ....   I wish I could invite you all over for tea.  And the cookies...that way I wouldn't eat them all myself.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Yesterday I stopped by this little Thai restaurant for lunch with a friend.  I didn't want to be too obvious, so I couldn't get a better photo - but do you happen to see the sign on the cooler at the far left of the photo toward the top?  It asks for donations:  Help Lamai Purchase Materials To Pass the Health Department Test.  

That was disturbing.

Especially after eating a meal in which only about 3/4 of the ingredients were recognizable.  It didn't cause me pause for long, however, as the food in this place is beyond delicious.....such amazing flavors!  And I also considered that - well, they weren't closed down yet!  So far, so good!

Craig and I used to eat at another interesting restaurant in town.  That one had distinctly hippie origins and one had to avert one's eyes from the housekeeping.  It is called a "Restaurant and Tuba Museum" which is fun and fine - but I thought that perhaps dusting the tubas on occasion - I mean, since it is also a restaurant would be a good thought.  Their concept is very cool; they feature a different country each month and serve a different menu from that country each week - and we are not usually talking the more typical cuisines of the world, but interesting ones, and they always feature some of the most unusual, delicious, but unique menu items.  Another fun feature is that there are many of the region's typical sauces and condiments available, too.  We were able to eat there, with blinders on, for a year or two...  Then there came the day we were standing at the counter to pay and I noticed a bold sign posted in the refrigerator case where the condiments/sauces were kept:  Condiments Must Look Clean

 "Look" clean!?  No question of them actually being clean?  Methinks the truth of the matter was unknowingly revealed, and it was sadly, the last straw for me.  And Craig and I have  never gone back; we'd had one hint too many.

However, I'm still hoping Lamai gets enough money so they can read the Health Commission's regulations and pass the test.  That food is simply too good.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


We picked up Craig at the airport in Detroit last Thursday night.....and drove home (nearly three hours)through a terrible blizzard - snow and wind.  

To celebrate we ate out at a family restaurant near our house.  Ilya wouldn't be in a photo, but he would take them. 

First thing in the house Craig had to get re-acquainted with Rosie - she was soooo happy.

Then came the PRESENTS.  Here Zhen displays his coffee-flavored Korean gum.  Believe it or not the kids liked it - Zhen insisted I try a piece - ick.  

Nastya "made out like a bandit" as Craig is wont to say.  Daddy brought her this pretty lavender kimono and two cool (and very flattering) tops!  The quality of the clothing is SO much better than ours.


The boys all got some t-shirts.  They are all soooo soft and wash beautifully.  It was fun to relax in the living room and listen to all the interesting stories, with the storm still raging outside.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Anastasia trying to convince me of her poor vision

I am here to make a public proclamation that I AM AN IDIOT.  e-friend Rachael (who I really need to meet in person since we only live an hour apart) wrote this post about her twelve-year-old daughter needing to get glasses.

When I was twelve-years-old I was thrown into what was actually, I suspect, a life-changing trauma when told I needed glasses.  To be fair to myself - when I was twelve years old glasses were dreadful.  Dorothy Parker's quip that "Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses" was a "duh" observation, apart from the cute rhyme.  If a woman was to be portrayed as ugly, or even evil, on any TV show or in any movie, they would take an attractive actress and put glasses on her.  So.  There I was. Doomed to ugliness for life. And, furthermore, I was the most old-fashioned little person.  I was deeply "into" Victoriana, well before that was popular in any way, and no Victorian lady I'd ever run across wore glasses - or certainly not the ugly brown-plastic-framed ones I had to wear! 

My despair at having, what truly seemed to be the future of my entire life thus changed (now I would never get married) sent me spiraling into first near-anorexia and then (because I was nevertheless afraid of death) hyper-studiousness.  Frankly, the hyper-studiousness was not a bad thing!  And, fortunately, I was allowed to get contact lenses before my self-esteem had completely plummited. 

So.  With all of this in my mind, I responded to Rachael's post rather gloomily, I think.  But, isn't life funny?

Yesterday, I had scheduled an appointment for myself and for Ilya at the eye doctor.  Ilya was complaining about going as it was his birthday and Anastasia proclaimed that she wanted to go!  So, rather than fight it, I took her.  Neither had had a formal examination - only the pediatrician version.  Ilya's eyesight was adjudged more "iffy" at the pediatrician's office, hence the appointment for him, but I probably should have taken them both anyway.

However, it turned out (couldn't you foresee this?), Anastasia wanted to go to the appointment because SHE WANTED GLASSES.  In fact, I doubt this doctor had ever seen anyone more disappointed to have better than 20/20 vision!

All the way back to school Anastasia was deeply in the dumps about not getting glasses.  "What difference would having glasses make to you?" I asked.  "I'd look like a better student." she replied.  Well, I'm not half-sorry that's her goal! 

As for Rachael's daughter - she looks as stunning in glasses as she did without them.  And - she also looks like a very good student!  Expect those grades to go up!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


And, no - this is not another recipe.

Rather, it is the exciting tale of the spicey little garnish Anastasia added to our Thanksgiving dinner.

Firstly....my view:  Attachment is on a continuum....probably with bio kids in some cases, and certainly with adopted children. My first two, Sergei and Zhenya bonded in a near parallel to bio kids. Sergei is well into his teens and treats anyone's suggestion that I am not his "real" mom with the disgust it deserves. I don't think Zhen has even quite realized that he and his mom are in any different category than any of his friends and their moms. Anastasia is different. Probably because her attachment to her bio mom was flawed, her attachment to me is not quite so clean and perfect.

I'd say she was 5/6  ths attached. Here's the image:  A little papoose bound to her mama's back by strong cords.  Five of the six are knotted securely; the sixth is loose.  Usually you don't even notice, but every so often if I turn just wrong, or the wind kicks up - that sixth cord will begin to flap in the wind, and create quite a distraction.  Quite a rukus.

Well, I saw a perfect storm brewing as Thanksgiving approached.  A BABY was coming.  Anastasia is baby-obsessed.  Well, many girls her age are.  Lydia was.  But with Anastasia it is different....I sense a darker coloration to her passion - a neediness.  When she was removed from her "home" (empty shack) she was separated from her two-year-old brother.  Now, picture this - mother would disappear for days at a time, leaving the children to fend for themselves.  Anastasia called her baby brother "my baby" and I expect she was instrumental in his care much of the time.  So separation from him was a huge loss. It still breaks my heart that he was adopted prior to our adoption of Anastasia..

So, as this Thanksgiving approached and I knew that Aidan and Susan were coming with Calvin, I knew it could be touchy.  I knew that Anastasia might well be "jealous" of anyone Cal wanted to spend time with.  And though  I was delighted (SO delighted) that Calvin liked me, it was always difficult when he would "prefer" me to Anastasia - leaving her to run to me, or choosing to come to me rather than her.  She managed this better than I might have imagined,  but her stress-load was building.

That sixth strap really began to flap in the breeze on Thanksgiving afternoon.  By dinner time she was in quite a state.  She usually tries to control herself around outsiders, but couldn't manage it.  She refused to come to the table (which I considered a good thing), but kept peeking through the dining room door and so forth in a disruptive way....saying ridiculous things.

After dinner it got worse.  She did come to the table and chose to take offense to the fact that we had pie (which she hates).  I was attempting to tune her out for the most part.  I've learned that the more you interact with her in these moods, the more you fan the flames.  Pretending she is not there and not listening to her is about the best strategy I've found.  Unfortunately, I knew that Aidan and Susan wouldn't understand this, and I certainly couldn't explain it openly with Anastasia there.  So, knowing they were wondering why the heck I ddn't make her go to her room, didn't add to my sense of inner calm.  In fact, I was thoroughly humiliated (odd in front of someone who knows PRECISELY what sort of mother I am!)

Sometime ignoring Anastasia allows her time to cool off, or find something that will calm her, but in the midst of a holiday this was not destined to work.  She revved up.  As I say, I try to tune most of it out - I know [hope] she doesn't mean any of it, but I do have one vivid memory of her standing there at the table proclaiming that she was going to have a baby and not get married!

Oh - but it got worse.  Eventually, her focus began to zoom in on my daughter-in-law, Susan.  And, perhaps in addition to Calvin, this had really been at the heart of her anxiety.  Anastasia loves, needs, craves attention.  She loves Susan.  Susan said at some point, as one will, toward the beginning  of their visit that she wanted to "spend some time" with Anastasia.  And Anastasia had realized that Aidan, Susan and Calvin were to leave the next morning, and none of the special attention from Susan had materialized  So, as Anastasia began to zoom in on what was truly upsetting her, she began to proclaim that Susan hated her,  Susan was a liar and so forth.  Do I wish I could remember the details to share with you?  Not really!  Let's just say, it was ugly.  Here is my daughter in law, a lovely woman - a guest in my home, no less.... being insulted by this seemingly nasty little girl.  Yet, I knew that if  tried to intervene, Anastasia would lose it altogether and I absolutely did not want to end up in a physical battle with her on the living room floor.  I had to hope she'd get a grip and remove herself (which she is getting better and better at). 

Eventually I believe she did go upstairs....but by that time I was shell-shocked.... I found myself sitting on the living room floor playing with Calvin trying desperately to keep from throwing myself down on the carpet and having my own melt-down....but somehow I was able to see some bizarre humor in the moment when I realized that Aidan was sitting on one side of the living room texting for all he was worth with Susan doing likewise on the other.  Meanwhile, Sergei and Ilya were conversing in Russian!  The emergence of all of these private forms of communication in one room struck me as - well, if not exactly funny, perhaps absurd (grotesque?)  In any case, Aidan and Susan took this opportunity to take a video back; I used their absense to throw myself on my bed and sob. 

Later in the evening, when they'd returned, I was talking to Aidan in his room when we heard a voice from the hall  "I'm sorry...."   Teary, strained, desperate little voice.  And, immediately I realized that that was the first time that Anastasia ever apologized for melt-down behavior.  Even then, in my immediate misery, I realized that this was a breakthrough.  Aidan said, "You'd better apologize to Susan."  She did, and Susan - good, wonderful girl that she is, figured out a way to actually take Anastasia to a morning showing of a movie the next day before they left. 

On one hand I was tempted not to let her go.  On the other, I felt that if she didn't spend some positive time with Susan their relationship might always be strained.  Furthermore, putting myself in Susan's position - I think she really felt awful at having "promised" special time with Anastasia and not followed through.  Obviously people do that to kids all the time, and it doesn't justify a meltdown... but in this case I thought Susan  probably didn't want to leave things on an unpleasant note either.

Also, and here is where it gets difficult....  I do understand Anastasia's vulnerability.  How many times did her mother leave and say "I'll be back." and not come?  How many times was she promised, care, love, attention and have her expectations unmet?   To be promise the precious gift of time and attention, and to realize that your greatest fear - being neglected, forgotten - is being realized.  I can't completely blame Anastasia for not yet knowing how to cope with the enormous feelings that begin to overwhelm her. In fact, I'm not sure Anastasia herself understood what was upsetting her until her "fit" was well underway.  The baby-anxiety masked, to some extent, the more painful thing that was really gnawing at her heart.   She was horrified that she insulted Susan.  I think she scared herself.  I'm looking for opportunities to help her work on the issues.  She's a smart little girl; she's come a long way.  She may never be able to get that last cord completely tied, but we have to discover some ways to tuck it in when the weather is stormy...we need to find a way to secure it.