Sunday, February 28, 2010


I don't think our house is all that cold in the morning, but Zhen always comes down, begs for a cup of tea and cuddles up by one of the heating vents - unless......I've been taking clothes out of the dryer!
Then, he tries to climb in......I snapped the first photo this week, and recalled Zhen's first winter with us, when he was small enough to climb right in.

(What, you may wonder, is that thing in my laundry room - the pole on a stand.  That is the stand upon which I hang the backdrop that I use when teaching the Korea classes; it would decrease my respectability no end if the kids saw all my unfolded laundry over my shoulder.)

Friday, February 26, 2010


Day before yesterday we had the most gorgeous snow falling all day long. On the way home from school I asked Nastya, Zhenya and Sergei if they'd like to stop at the Nature Center and take a walk. Sergei responded, "I'm not natural." Um... We discussed the variations of that root word.

They did want to go ice skating however, at the rink, and I drove them there on my way to the grocery store.  The second photo is the view from the skating rink toward our house - at the end of these woods is a busy street then one house, and our house.  Looking in the right direction I can feel like I'm in the country.  Anyway this lovely view inspired Ilya who began to wax effusive about what he'd be doing in such snow if he were still in Russia, "....walking around in the woods, feeling the snow on our faces, and the cold..."  Then he pointed to the spot in the first photo.  "And under that tree we'd build a shelter and smoke and drink vodka."

Realistic end to romantic vision. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Nastya often sleeps with me, and this is just what it feels like.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


This is the wall at the end of the Conference Room at church.  To the right of this room is a hallway that separates the church building from the rectory.  To the left is the rectory itself, and the priest's back yard can be seen out of this window.  I've been there.  There is a patio, a picnic table and a small garden.

But somehow, with the closed blind, and the simply demands that you envision activities going on out there that should not be seen.

The mind boggles.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

BUT I GET SOME HELP FROM OTHERS, TOO.... ( More from the Meltdown Chronicles)

Another Anastasia melt-down post - because that is what we're dealing with right now.

There was another one last week.  I tried to prevent it.  Was talked out of it.  And, I still don't know if I was right.....

There must be [at least] two completely divergent views about how to deal with attachment disordered children.  Sometimes the two approaches seem to say the same thing.....yet the strategies are different....or am I just too dim to understand either one?  It is in this central ground of confusion that I live, honestly.  I need to go away to some "camp" and get focused.  I feel like I am wandering around doing my best, but absolutely clueless. Stabbing in the dark. So what brings this train of thought heading in your direction?  The following event:

Anastasia is in a classroom which seems perfect for her.  Small Christian school.  Very experienced, very structured, very in-control teacher.  Lots of appropriate paperwork (Anastasia adores paperwork.)  The only area where Anastasia is weak is in the memorization.  Odd because that is such a feature of Russian schooling.  Somehow she did not imbibe this native trait the same way she did the desire for leopard-printed fabric and heels. Anyway, she was supposed to have memorized - and learned to declaim effectively - a passage from Scripture.  I was a bit in the dark about this and I think it is because I must have missed one important letter from the teacher explaining this project.  I saw vague references to it later, but "speech meet" didn't ring any bells and the first couple of times I even figured it was some optional thing.  However, it was not.  At all.

Last weekend Anastasia was getting stressed out.  I could tell, but couldn't tell why.  On Sunday night she told me.  She thought (rightly) that the "Speech Meet" was on Monday and she wasn't prepared.  OK.  Let's consider Anastasia again:  She has recently told me that she is very upset by people "looking at" her.  She will do just about anything to prevent being the center of attention.  But, she tells me that the entire school will be attending the Speech Meet, and if they don't know their piece, they will have to stand up there, and say what they can, or stand speechless.  They may not opt out.

Oh, dear.  I saw M E L T - D O W N  in lights all over this one.  I told her I would call the teacher and talk about it.  I was very much of two minds about this, because I do believe that she could have memorized the piece, and certainly could present it, having memorized it, and doing so would be strengthening.  Right?  However, I've just begun to get these clues from her....about obsessive compulsive issues, about the "funny feeling" that she gets when people look at her, or when she wears "pretty clothes".  These things were linked in one conversation and seem tied together.  Wouldn't it be better to work it out in counseling rather than in this trauma-wrought format?  So, I called.

The teacher made me feel like the worst excuse for a mother.  The mother who will enable her child to fail.  The mother who will be every decent teacher's nightmare.  The over-protective, hyper-vigilant helicopter mother to end all.....  In fact, she tells me - she and her husband adopted a child from rough background and their consistent, no-excuses approach has made him the appreciative, God-fearing man he is today.

Well, OK.....  I say, humbly.  Whatever you think best.

Right.  She was not the one who had dinner ruined by the outburst.  Her kids weren't the ones who didn't get help with homework because mom and dad were coping with a crazy girl.  Her husband wasn't the one who was having a blood sugar attack and very questionable temper-control simultaneously to the daughter going off.  Not a nice experience. 

So. What should I have done?  Her methods sound so right.  But feel so wrong.  Craig used to work in a residential treatment center, and that was their approach too - consistent consequences.  Of course he is always noting in the newspaper police notes, the names of his former charges, but be that as it may.... 

Is the "message learned" and the safety of expected consequences fair value for the melt-down?   Boy, I need help.  I simply don't know.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Life is not going that smoothly here in my household.  Anastasia is still "wobbly" to use a term that might come off as describing in a charming way what is as far from charming behavior as any behavior ever might be.  After years of increasingly balanced and self-controlled behavior (and my becoming a bit too confident in my motherly powers) there were two big assaults on her stability, in addition to puberty!  The return of her dad from Korea and her sister's engagement set the ball rolling.  Add to that a seemingly endless set of holidays, days off school for conferences and special events....and it's been a bumpy ride.  She is terrified of losing the people who she knows love her - me and Lydia - to men....a pattern she learned at her mother's knee - when her mother wasn't off somewhere with the newest boyfriend.  If you will recall, this all came to a head in early January when she scandalized the neighbors and got CPS called on us.

Anyway, Anastasia is trying to self-soothe and not go "off" too often.  She watches movies, does homework, takes baths, cleans her room and drinks a lot of "mother's milk" (warm milk strategically sweetened and flavored to give her the "nursing experience" ex post facto).  I was quite overt about the "meaning" of the mother's milk, figuring that naming it for what it was couldn't hurt. (If you'd been my baby from the beginning I would have given you this warm milk all the time, with lots of iggles and kisses and you would drink it and I'd hold you and you'd know how much I loved you, etc.)  She definitely "got" it.

 Despite all these efforts, tensions are still extremely high, and she's "gone off" big time twice in the past week.
Worst of all, I now see that both of these painful explosions were pretty preventable and very much my fault.

Imagine what a huge snafu it was the day that I made the mother's milk so hot it burned her.  Not a good idea.  Now, I swear, I "test" it as carefully as if I were, indeed, giving it to a newborn!!! - even though I now realize what I did wrong.  Two minutes in the microwave for a mug of milk, is not the same as two minutes for a glass of milk.  Be warned.

And then there was the ski trip.  The whole Christian school that she attends was going skiing last Friday.  Why am I not more observant? They sent home several pages of permission slips (ha!) and information about what the kids should bring and wear.  Why didn't I take special notice that Anastasia was spending significant time pouring over this information?  Why didn't I see that she was underlining these sheets?  Making notations? The day before the trip she mentioned that she didn't have "waterproof gloves".  Now, at some point she did have them, and like all gloves at our house they went off somewhere on their own.  I figure one pair, per child, a year is all I'm buying.  We are short of money.  She's not the sort to get herself soaked anyway. etc. She could put on a couple of pairs of the cheap, stretchy ones that we have multiples of.... I really was not thinking!  She didn't ask again (to give me a little credit), so I didn't think about it again.

But, the night before the ski trip - melt down!!!  I could not figure out what triggered it! (Dumb!)  I put it down to anxiety over the trip itself (which is true, too) and told her eventually when things calmed down, that she didn't have to go.  But around 3 a.m. I awoke with a start!!!  The gloves!  She can't bear to go on the trip without the requisite clothing!!!!  So, I got up and got dressed and went out in the snow and drove to the all night Meijers, our local big box General Store where I was the only shopper amongst the stock people.  I found waterproof gloves and brought them home for her.

In the end she decided not to go on the trip after all.  I was relieved she made that decision, frankly, as I knew the anxiety of a ski trip, when she hadn't skied before, to a place she hadn't been before, would take its toll.  I hope my presentation of the gloves that morning did something to show her I loved her, at least.  Who knows?

But, really!!!  Two horrific meltdowns in three days!  Both so bad Craig andn I ended up having to hold her down on the floor.  (What a sweet image, right?) But BOTH MY FAULT!  My own stupid, oblivious fault.

Despite her burned tongue, she is back to drinking mother's milk.   I'll keep trying - in my own very clumsy way.  I'm straining my eyes for  nice, smooth asphalt on the road ahead, though it still looks very rough, indeed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


As I headed off to the store the other morning, I saw that in addition to the ordinary shoveling project, there seemed to be an effort to put as much snow as possible in the middle of the front yard.  Why? I called.
Well, the plan was to make a nice big pile so they could jump off the roof.  I made it clear that I was not going to be allowing them to climb out the bedroom windows, so they left it when it got just a bit taller than this so they could jump off the porch.  There was general disgruntlement:  it was not the same thing at all.

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Monday, February 15, 2010


There is an ice arena within a block of our house.  I feel so badly that for it's first many years of existence (even when Aidan and Lydia were younger) I wouldn't even have considered going there.  The park itself is sometimes "iffy".  The front part of it, with a playground, is OK; we go there on occasion.  And sometimes it doesn't look like a bad place for a picnic, but there is an appealing-looking  path that goes all around the periphery....  Looks like a wonderful place to walk.  Except that  on the far side - which is away from any public roads....  am I overly suspicious?  Perhaps it is just young folk "parking"....but I get the creeps over there....  mysterious parked cars, look like they are just ready to - at the most innocent - be involved in a drug deal.  One early morning I decided to traverse the path and in the dawn light saw a parked car on the very farthest point....  Oh, no.  Go back - go past?   I went past.  Turning and going back was just too lacking in courage and surely invited an evil doer to chase me down and grab me from behind!  I carefully avoided the eyes of the man in the seat as I walked past as fast as I could....I was all the while willing him not to leap out, grab me and etc

Anyway, for these sorts of reasons I had doubts about the skating rink until one day I decided to walk on the near side of the path and while going around the skating arena noticed a ton of people I knew.....apparently this is a regular habitat of the ice hockey families.  So, since then I've taken the kids there regularly, and they even go by themselves.  It isn't upscale at all, but is really very nice and a lot less expensive than the other arenas. 

Here is a big deal!  Even Ilya likes to go:

Saturday, February 13, 2010


After reading Moscow Mom's recent post about being conscripted in the the Russian Army, I thought it was the perfect chance to share a photo we recently received from Moscow.

In the photo see our sweet friend, Alla, who so kindly went to visit Ilya's and Anastasia's oldest brother, Viktor who joined the army recently.  Happily, he is on a base near Moscow where she could see him.

When Anastasia heard Viktor was in the army she got all emotional about it - but Ilya was disgusted at her histrionics.  That led to some conversation that revealed a bit more about their earlier family life.  Apparently, Anastasia really didn't live with these older brothers (Viktor and Sasha were children her mom had with her husband).  Ilya did live with them at their grandmother's house after mom started drinking, but Anastasia and her baby brother stayed with their mother.  Grandmother worked on a farm, and the boys too all labored there for the use of an apartment above the barn....or at least that is how we understand it.  In addition, there were two uncles (I's and A's mom's brothers) who Anastasia had actually understood to be her own older brothers.  That speaks both to the youth of Nastya's mother (that her uncles would seem the age of brothers) and also to the degree to which Anastasia was with her mother and the most recent boyfriend, rather than with her extended family.

While it seems reasonable for small children to be with their mother, how I wish grandmother had taken over!  I am sure Anastasia would have been better for it.

Oh - the other interesting thing about this photo....  We were gathered around the computer looking at it and all came to the simultaneous conclusion that Viktor looks a lot like Sergei....and nothing like Ilya!  But we figure that is why Ilya took so naturally to Sergei as a brother....

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I really detest permission slips.  What an annoyance!  Seems like someone is always going somewhere and I have a permission slip I'm trying to remember to return!  Usually it gets lost on the dishwasher or in the backpack, or someone "never got one" and we are up against the "last possible deadline" to get it in.  Just what I need - more stress.

In the public school (which must be as lawsuit-worthy as anywhere else, you'd think), they have you sign one general permission slip at the beginning of the year; after that they just inform you.

But in the Catholic school, where Zhen is, and the Christian school where Sergei and Anastasia are, every single field trip requires a sheet of information home, and a permission slip back.  The latest one was Sergei's trip to the Capital.  And, yes, after urgent e-mail reminders we did manage to send it the last possible moment. 

So, imagine my surprise when on Tuesday afternoon as I am driving through a blinding snowstorm out to pick the kids up at the end of the day, as I was  just trying to keep the car on the bizarrely slick cell phone rings.  It is Sergei:

"Mom; I'll be about twenty minutes late."

"What?  What do you mean?  Late doing what?"

"I'm not at school.  We won't be back for at least twenty minutes."

"Not at school!  Where are you?"

Turns out that they'd completed an exam early and someone decided to have the boys in his class load up a bunch of construction debris into a pick up, drive out to the dump with it and unload it.  In the end, they took Sergei home as it was closer than the school (and the school is a half-hour from our house).

So - do I have this right?  For a nice, safe educational trip on a school bus on a sunny day to a public building, mother has to be harassed about a permission slip.  For heavy-lifting of heaven-knows-what hazardous material, and a drive through a raging snowstorm on dangerous streets....for that - no permission slip is necessary! 

I don't know why that cracks me up.  There has never been a mother less fussy about stuff like field trip permission forms.  I wish they'd get rid of them altogether; I wouldn't send the kids to the school if I didn't trust their judgment about educational activities, for heavens sake!   But the fact that they seem to have only a vague idea of what permission slips are for amuses the heck out of me.

Now, as a little "extra", Sergei tells me that someone "didn't load the paint right" and that is why there are now permanent paint stains on his uniform clothing.  I am presuming no one will have an issue with it, if he continues wearing them anyway.

Monday, February 8, 2010


OK - messy hair.  But the main thing is, this was taken mid-morning and I am sitting in my office with my coat on.

I was thinking today - it is a pet peeve of mine when kids leave their coats on for Religion class.  In fact, I make them take their coats off.  "Commit to being here!"  I say.

Hm....wonder why I wander around all day with my coat on. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Can you imagine what it would be like to suddenly be taken from all you know, to be alone, in some strange place...and to realize that no one, anywhere cares about you at all?  No one wonders where you are or what you are doing.  No one has high hopes for you.  You are special to no one.  Your future matters to no one.  No one knows or cares about your birthday.  No one knows or cares what foods you like or dislike.  The people who are "taking care" of you don't actually care for you.  They barely know your name. If you were hurt no one would care.  If you died there would be no funeral.  Your talents don't matter; your bad habits don't matter.  No one cherishes you.

Last night you were in a comfortable bed; snuggling a little dog....but that bed, that dog, that house, that city....ripped away.  Like that.  What would it feel like?  Could I bear it, were it me?

These are the thoughts that go through my head at night.  I can't sleep.  I toss and turn.  I cry; I weep; I sob.  I do not know how to help, what to do.  No one should have to feel that way.  I pray to God to comfort the ones that are alone.  The one that is alone.

He must be so scared, so hurt.  He's a big boy, but he must want to cry like a baby.


I always meant to write a "Maxim update"  and I almost did it last week - until Anastasia took control.  But I would have had good and hopeful things to say.  Last summer, as I wrote, Maxim went to live with a new family.  I was so glad that our family counselor from CMH found these people; I hoped they would be just what he needed.  And, wonder of wonders - it seemed to be working out that way.  The post I would have written two weeks ago would have been a happy one.

Maxim was actually telling me how much better he was with them than he was with me.  He was telling me how he was going to get to go to Florida for spring break.  He was looking forward to track - already working out.  I really thought to myself how much better this family really was for him.  He seemed to be "bucking up" under their more disciplined approach - his grades were going up.  His history teacher stopped me in the grocery store to tell me how proud he was of Maxim this year.

But if you have read this blog for long, you know Maxim.  Maxim was/is a jewel in the rough. Never taught much self-discipline, still suffering from some of the twisted thinking his early traumas had wrought.  I worried a little - the new "father figure" didn't seem to pick up much on the idea that improvement was about all you could hope for in some areas - you couldn't hope for success quite yet.  He didn't seem to buy Maxim's challenges with English, for example.  But, overall things seems to be going well.

True, the new "father-figure" had not been pleased with Maxim's grades, and told me he was going to remove him from the Catholic HS if they didn't improve.  I almost thought this was wishful thinking; they could little afford even the reduced tuition.  We could certainly ill-afford it either, but the alternative is a rough inner-city school - large, ugly, a place where Maxim would be guaranteed to get lost.  [My daughter Lydia attended this school for a semester - during that time, her English teacher did not appear in school for over two weeks and there was no substitute provided, or even any recognition that there was no teacher in class and the students were unsupervised for that entire time....  If they lose teachers - imagine how well they do with students!]  But, I stuck my oar in.  I explained how much extra help I had given Maxim when he was with us.  I related how some of my acquaintances who teach at this school had noted Maxim's improvement.  Together we went in to see the Asst. Principal who raved at the obvious effort Maxim was putting in, and the progress he was making - also explaining that this school is vastly more challenging than the average HS.

However.....Maxim still failed English.  The arrangement had been that if he failed a course, he would go to the public school.  Maxim, feeling afraid and threatened obviously, instead of "recognizing the authority" of the parent figure, yelled that if he couldn't go to the Catholic School he wasn't staying there!  Am I the only one who can see that as a cry of fear?  Of pain?  Of terror at losing his friends, the teachers he loved, the chance to run track this year?  Perhaps.  The Father Figure took Maxim at his word and called the "workers" and told them to come and get him.  The worst thing about this is that Maxim originally was under the jurisdiction of one of the Detroit area he was taken away - far out of reach of anyone who cares for him.

Taken, just like that....while I was at the other side of the state driving my husband to a stupid, pointless job interview - this poor boy was picked up by strangers and taken to a place he'd never been before.  The girls he liked, the friends he loved, the track season he anticipated, the coaches who encouraged him, the teachers who liked him.  All gone.  And he is the one who has nothing in the world to hold on to.  And I am broken-hearted.

Craig does not want me to get involved.  He knows Maxim was not good for our family....and somehow trusts that "the authorities" will take care of him. Or, tells me they will.  But, how could they?  They don't love him.

I wrote on his facebook page.  But apparently he has no access to a computer.  The moms of his friends who liked him, ask me, where is he?  His friends themselves  are worried, afraid.  What would it have felt like, in HS, to have someone you care about just disappear?  Maxim never told a lot of them that he'd moved; it was too embarrassing.  Embarrassing. 

How those old events of HS impact our lives.  We go to reunions and laugh and cry about those people and times who shaped us.   Can you imagine having only loss and abandonment to remember? 

So, you see how I am heart-broken?  I can't save him.  He trusted me, but I can't do a thing.
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Essie's challenge for this TTT is to confess to our worst music listening habits.  I went looking into the dark recesses of my mind.....and I cannot find any unfortunate music-listening habits.  Just a tiny predilection to Russian techno-pop...but there is little to hide here since somehow when I changed over from my van to my new KIA my grand collection of TWO Russian pop music CDs disappeared.  I have not replaced them, so I suppose this is not much of a confession, is it?

But don't worry. I have another confession.  A worse one. People who don't know me all that well...who know me from work which is the same thing as church...or who know some of my other interests...British Victorian novels, embroidery, etc. would think - "Ah....she will confess that she is addicted to monks singing, or Vivaldi....that's Annie!"  But, no.  I rather wish it were Annie, but it is not.

Annie's not-so-secret vice is - talk radio.  And, it may even run so far as an addiction.  For example, type an "n" on this laptop and you will instantly be connected to National Public Radio.  Check the setting of my radio at work - Michigan Public Radio. The radio by my bed: Michigan Radio, in the kitchen - the same.  Yes; I am an All Things Considered addict; a Morning Edition obsessed, On the Media, Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, This American Life - listening weirdo.   You are thinking, "No; this is how she gets her news.  This is very, very educated."   How I wish. 

Well, you are right that this is how I get my news.  Unfortunately life got too busy for the morning paper, which was OK since the morning paper turned into a six-page advert.  But, if you were with me, as my family is - you might wonder why I needed to get the same news five or six times a day.  I'll get up at six and listen to Morning Edition, and turn on the radio on at work and listen happily to the very same segments.  And, when it comes to the weekend - I've probably been known to listen to one episode of Car Talk five or six times over a two-day period.  

I really do learn a lot this way.  I really do adore public radio.  The programs on This American Life are insightful, moving, amazing radio by anyone's light.  (Truly, if you have never listened to this program, you must give it a try.)  But, it is all much more than this.

Somehow, listening to talk radio takes in-hand the chaotic portion of my mind and busies it so that the part of my mind that I need for simple tasks can function.  For example, there are some sorts of work that I am pretty-much incapable of doing without talk radio on - cooking, for example, housework....any sort of cleaning or tidying, ironing, etc.  If I try to do it in silence....well, I just can't.  I think I must feel a lot like a hyper-active child feels.  I cannot focus, I cannot decide what to do; I do one thing twice, get distracted and start doing things I didn't intend to do, leave important bits out (like putting soap in the washer)  I stand and stare.  Even as a child I learned that I could not do stupid busy-work homework without the TV on. 

The confession part of this is still coming, though....none of the above seems too awful.  The problem is that occasionally I cannot FIND any decent talk radio.  One of my stations goes to classical music, the other won't come in, the third is an AM station and shuts down at 6 p.m.  What do do!!??!!  I do have to admit that talk radio that gets my dander up will not do - so the typical "talk radio" (Rush and so forth) is not in the running, ever.  But I need calming, talking voices. This was my position, for example, last night as I was attempting to make dinner.  Everyone was hungry; late night at Religious Education...I was exhausted, the poor dinner fixings sit on the counter while I struggle to find TALK RADIO!  Can't start cooking without TALK RADIO!  There is NO TALK RADIO....!!!  We can't have dinner!  There is no talk radio!!!  I'm about to tell Craig that he must get off the computer - because that is the only way....I'll have to go to streaming NPR.  But!  Finally, oh, thank Heaven!  Talking voices!  It is the Michigan State University station - not the public radio station, but the student-run station - and here are two college boys talking about sports.  Yahoo!  I don't even quite know what sports they were talking about but talking they were....and dinner preparation could proceed.

I've listened to money shows, gardening shows, home repair shows, medical help shows.  When we lived in Heppner, Oregon there was some show where the announcer would read want ads and notices for things like lost cows, seed corn for sale, etc.  I'll listen to it all.  But, if you want to know the real truth - the thing I've most enjoyed, which I cannot get now at all for some reason is - Doctor Laura.  I'm just going to hang my head and leave it there.  

Monday, February 1, 2010


This was an extraordinary occurrance!  All brought about by the magic of Lydia!!  And some progress, I think.

The parish is doing a family picture directory and the sessions overlapped with Lydia's visit.  With great trepidation, and crossed fingers, I "planned" (not so much that as "hoped") to take the whole family there to get portraits done.  To my absolute amazement, Ilya did not put up a fuss; he came along and was


I think this picture really does mark a bit of progress in Ilya's connection to the family.  Craig's return home has been wonderful for him.  I see a relationship developing between the two of them that is amazing.  Ilya is far less wary than he was....  I walked into the kitchen the other day when Ilya was talking to Craig and realized that Ilya was standing there.  He was not moving through, he was not on the balls of his feet, ready to bolt - he was actually standing in one place, relaxed, talking.  Kidding around.  Somehow Craig is luring Ilya into the circle.

Ilya has seemed to me much like a feral just know there is a sweet pet in there somewhere, but the fear and lack of trust controls everything.... Ilya has been out at the edge of the family circle, pacing, peering in....shying away at any sudden movement in his direction.

But things are improving as I prove to you here - Exhibit A.   More on Ilya tomorrow....