Saturday, October 30, 2010


The Russian Army Base outside of Moscow. 
The head of Lenin is not on the building, as it initially appears, but on a rectangular base - do you see the large photos on the sides of the buildings?  Medvedev?  Putin?  I can't tell.  This is where Viktor is - Nastya's and Ilya's eldest brother.
Viktor, Ilya's and Nastya's elder brother
Strangely, this is the brother I have never met in person.  I am not sure how it happened, but both times when I was in Ivanovo, to sign for, and to adopt Ilya, we met Sasha but not the eldest brother Viktor.  Viktor wrote me such a lovely letter one time, however.   He has a soft heart, I think.  

I am so sincerely grateful to dear Alla for visiting him, and taking and sending photos - of course she so kindly makes sure his grandmother also gets photos and news from him.  The family is too poor to own a camera.

Viktor with Alla, our angel

Friday, October 29, 2010


I came downstairs yesterday morning early, and found this little "fort" around the refrigerator.

See the sign?


Despite myself, I got a bit alarmed.

Turned out Ilya had spotted (happily) merely a mouse, and this was his effort to catch it as a pet.

He didn't.  But he did end up cleaning under and behind the fridge, so that was to the good.

As for the mouse....  I'm undecided how to proceed.  I don't want to traumatize Ilya by destroying his pet.....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Rejection is a self-protective response, a survival response. 

Typical attitude captured by Lydia's camera at Cedar Point
I was interested, relieved, happy to read this just now in Heather Forbes' most recent newsletter.  This last year with Anastasia has been interesting.  For a person with strong self-esteem, that is.  If I were very sensitive I would have spent the year sobbing in my bedroom.  

About a week after she turned 12, Anastasia suddenly got a brainstorm. TWELVE was ALMOST THIRTEEN!  THIRTEEN is teenager!!!!!  I was there when it happened, weirdly.  I saw each idea as it crossed her face.  It was amazing to see both the realization and the sudden transformation it made in her behavior.

A little over a year ago, Anastasia slept with me every night, and not just in the bed with me - in an embrace with me - like this kitten and its mother.  When I saw this photo originally, I thought of us.  

Without hesitation, after her "realization" the first thing Anastasia did was to move back into her own room.  And this must have taken some gumption!  She didn't initially start sleeping with me out of love - but out of fear of being alone.  So, clearly, her determination to prepare for "teenhood" was hugely motivating. But what did it stem from?  I got the distinct impression that it wasn't from any "Hannah Montana" episodes, or anything recent....rather, my impression was that it was an idea that she'd had for a long time....something from her time in Russia.  Could it have been something her mother said?  Something she saw?  Perhaps I will never know, but the result of it was that she has spent the last year rejecting me.

Despite many conversations much like the one detailed in that article, we have had an entire year of cool detachment, at best.  Nary a hug, nary an "I love you" (and those things used to be ubiquitous....oh, how I treasure now all those little "I love you, Mommy, soooo much!" notes.  I took them for granted then, probably because I knew they weren't 100% "healthy" - but they sure beat this!!  

So, what does it look like?  Well, I'll tell you for one thing, she hasn't let her guard down much!  The expression (around me) is always haughty and superior, even disdainful.  No meal, gift, compliment or  so much as a plate of food being laid before her, elicits anything but a sneer.  For a while, I "cracked down" on mean-spirited remarks, and even tried to correct "attitude" - to no avail.  I must say I thought perhaps it was a stage that, if ignored, would pass more quickly than if I made such a point of noticing and attempting to correct. (Correction was having no impact whatsoever, except to exacerbate things.)  But, for twelve whole months, I've put up with sneers, disdain and disgust that would have shriveled a lesser person. (I really should say "less oblivious" person).  God seemed to create me not to take offense, and it is serving me well now. 

But - here is the really odd part of it.  Over the past few months, Anastasia has seemed to "improve" a lot.  She has become overall happier, less fractious. No tantrums; no melt-downs.  It is impressive how she can avoid confrontation, even when a "regular" child might not be able to.  But, despite all of those huge strides forward, the attitude of scorn towards me has not varied.  

I now confess one more (of the many) stupidities I've committed.  Still don't know the results, long term.  But her teacher (same one that took the class to NYC, decided that this fall the class must go on a nature camp outing for three days).  The emphasis on must from the school was pretty intense (and seemed to be directed straight at me), and Anastasia clearly wanted to go - even when I watched the underlying behavior, it appeared she was "ready".  She did all the activities leading up to it, with zeal, as well as all the memorization tasks, etc. that in theory "earns" the trip.  

So, the trip was this Monday - today.  Here is the truly stupid thing I did.  We had our Russian school gathering on Friday night, and her friend Alina invited her to spend the night.  I said OK.  Only later did I think - bad idea!  Yet, despite that - mostly because of logistics - when they asked to keep her a further night, I allowed it.  I only picked her up on Sunday afternoon.  

When I got home Sunday night after religion classes, I could tell she we had a Code Orange; and the level of scoffing and derision was greater even than usual.  

Initially she refused to sit down with us to watch Masterpiece Theatre, and in fact, made a few efforts to "cause trouble".  We turned the lights off; she turned them on.  She loudly complained about the TV being on and, actually stood in front of it.  Craig and I were in accord, fortunately; we both ignored her and it seemed to work.  Finally, she sat down by me on the couch and after a couple of basic complaints said loudly, "I hate you!".  I responded, "I can tell you feel that way."  Then something sort-of broke, and in no more than fifteen seconds, she was leaning back against me, as close and cuddly as the cat and kitten.  We watched the whole program in that position and I must say I enjoyed it.

So, does she envision being a teenager as a kind of separation from mommy?  Probably.  I hadn't quite thought of it that way before.....fearing primarily the "boy" issue.  And in all of our conversations over the year, I didn't mention that aspect of things.

But, it appears that before age could take her from me, she needed to reject me first.  Yet, somehow the fear of actually going away from me for three days, after being away for the weekend, brought her need for comfort and closeness to a head.

No telling what kind of girl will come home tonight.  But I am prepared with a slightly more directed conversation.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I vowed we'd go to the pumpkin patch, and we did.  No one (well, all the boys) refuse to let me take their photos, so I have to attempt to snap them secretly.  So, please forgive the lack of artistry.  As, you can see from Nastya's choice of apparel, th weather was gorgeous.  So, why was Zhen so cold he had to go back to the car for Craig's jacket?

He wasn't just hiding from photos; he didn't seem to be enjoying himself.
In fact, he was getting sick.  Really sick.  So,that certainly put a damper on our day.  He didn't want cider or doughnuts (warm, fresh doughnuts).  He didn't enjoy he wagon ride through the apple orchard. 
Poor Zhen.
I did manage to get one pie pumpkin.  Let's see if I can carry through with a second goal and make a pie from it!  (I'm not sure you should hold your breath; it won't be the first time I had this idea.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Did you notice anything about that photo below, of Anastasia in her cross-country outfit?  Notice that perky, athletic smile?  That was a photo that Anastasia took of herself with the little camera on the computer.  I thought to myself, " I've never seen that expression on her face, but it is so perfect for a cross-country photo." 

Then I looked a little further at her facebook photo gallery, and realized that she's been using the computer to do a little modeling photo shoot.  And, from my point of view - she shows promise!

The feel of this photo is totally different.Here is a smattering of her different looks.  (Frankly, I find it uproarious that she doesn't seem to worry about the laundry room background, going so far as to pose on the dryer.)  Need an outdoor environment?  Just open the back door and turn the camera!  Voila!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Nastya in her x-country sweatshirt
Anastasia - what can I say?  She is doing pretty darned well (and for October! her melt-down month); I'm really fearful of admitting things are going well, but so far, so good.  Since shortly after school began she has been running on the cross-country team.  This is one of the two major sports at Summit.  Summit has become a "basketball school" since they brought in a major "basketball program" including a post-graduate program (that's a whole other post).  But, in addition, cross-country rules.  The PE teacher was on the US Olympic Marathon team.  She is one amazing girl.  She radiates cheer and enthusiasm and has the power to motivate.  She is tough, too.  Anastasia didn't start on the team right away, so when she began the other kids had already been running for several weeks.  I really had to admire her persistence - and the coach's ability to keep her going - and without any false encouragement.

But Anastasia has kept going, and it is staggering to see her progress.  Yesterday she ran the entire thing without stopping!  Hey!  I'm impressed.

In fact, it goes against my grain to tout physical exercise at all.  I'm more of a Victorian throw-back, wishing to, at most, stroll sedately along the to speak.  But, of course, Anastasia manages to run and never look clumsy, sweaty or in any way physically repellent.

The big change has been in her stability.  She maintains a beautiful calm when faced with things that would have thrown her for a loop previously.  Her siblings can taunt her, her parents [sorry] can melt-down themselves, but Anastasia has not had a tantrum since she started running.  It occured to me the other day, that if a physician had put her on a new medication I would be praising it to the skies!  I'd call it a miracle drug!

One of the most obvious and also upsetting things that has happened with Anastasia over the past year has been that she has tried to "de-bond" with me - at least that is how it feels.  And it began with her realization when she turned twelve, that twelve was "almost thirteen" - she was almost a teenager.   And from the moment that realization dawned on her she has been doing her best to distance herself from me.  I don't like it a bit, as you can imagine.  But via cross-country she has even had a few moments when in delight over some accomplishment, she has dropped her glass shell and warmed up to me a tiny bit.  All in all....I'm amazed.

Sadly, the conclusion of cross-country is the beginning of the dreaded "Birthday Season" so I thought it behooved me to quickly write this upbeat post before all hell breaks loose.

Monday, October 11, 2010


My dignified friend Alla with serious Viktor (Ilya's & Nastya's brother)
My e-friend Keri is in Russia right now.  Her most recent post caught and expressed so amazingly the way I feel in Russia.  Somehow it is as though when I am there I am living in the sacrament of the present moment.  I admit it is probably an offshoot of simply traveling.... or related to the fact that all my travel there has been adoption-related and thus bound to have fired up and tuned my emotions and faculties.  I am not sure, but it is feeling and experience that is so rich, I can't help wanting more of it. 

When I am there, I find myself thinking.  Evaluating.  Wondering.  And many of my thoughts have paralleled Keri's.  She writes, "Who am I to judge what is suffering? I know my own. But why did I think there was no joy inherent in these things? Just because this country wears a different face than I am used to. Just because there is hunger and ribs showing and dark puddles of water laced with coal dust on every corner....what makes me the judge of its meaning, its beauty?"

So often we think that "happiness" HAS to mean the happiness that WE are accustomed to, expect or strive for - lots of good food, a generous wardrobe, a big, well-heated, modern (or at least modernized) house, the proper appliances, "up-to-date" school systems, attractive neighborhoods, etc.  But, in so many ways, I saw anew in Russia because I saw that some of the things that we presume to need to make up our "happiness" are simply scorned in Russia, and some of the things that bring happiness there are avoided in the US.

Life in Russia (for most people) is simpler.  That can be seen as a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it, and what you see.

A facebook friend is doing some sort of challenge where she goes for a week (or is it month?) wearing only six main items of clothing.  I think there are a lot of Russians who do this all the time!  People look nice, perhaps even nicer than here (you don't see people on the street who merely threw on some exercise wear, for example), but the people I know, at least, don't have huge closets full of more clothing than one person needs. 

Even high school kids in the US chafe and moan if they don't have their own car.  And, truly, I can imagine that using public transportation - initially at least - seems far less easy and pleasant than having a car.  But, for the first time in Russia I could see how all of this private ownership of vehicles overall does so much damage to the greater society.  It diminishes neighborhood, wipes out the small markets, and creates so much separation between people!  And no question, it fattens everyone up. 

And then, there is that "Russian thing"  - the difference in attitude that stands out so sharply to Americans.  At best people seem brusque and business-like.  When you are tummy-up and vulnerable, the way most of us feel when we go to adopt, it seems a lot more like actual "rudeness" or "meanness".  It is startling and dismaying.  And, it is ubiquitous - not just found among the "militzia" or the bureaucrats,  but the shops, on the street, on public transportation, everywhere.  But one day a light went on - and I suddenly saw the "hyper-authoritativeness" not as gratuitous nastiness, but as a reflection of these people's pride in their work.  The lady at the grocery store check-out, the laundress, the woman sweeping the sidewalk - in Russia they are all capable of standing up tall and yelling at you in a stream of Russian at the drop of a hat.    But, suddenly I thought - they are not just mean-spirited!  They are communicating the value they see in their work - they are standing on the dignity inherent in their role!  Those ladies came up with a formula for their management of dirty laundry and the return of the clean laundry.  Who am I, who have not done it, to act as though I know better?  Who am I to presume I know their work?  Who am I to walk where the sweeper needs to sweep?  Who am I to think everything "ought" to be done the way I am used to it being done?

Recently I walked into our big supermarket here in south Lansing and glanced down the line of checkers.  To the last one, they looked downtrodden, miserable and completely lacking in self-esteem.  But, then when one of them got a customer, I saw her splash a false smile onto her face and blare a "cheery" greeting.  But, she clearly takes no pride in her work; she doesn't see herself or what she does as having value or dignity.  How sad is that?  And how unlike the girl doing the same job in Ivanovo (to begin with, she's thoughtfully provided with a stool) but in addition, she is in charge!  If we want the groceries we treat her with respect!   I liked it; she snapped at me when I didn't give her the right coins, but when I treated her with respect, she helped me and was very gracious....we connected - and we connected in a true way, not in a volley of false and meaningless greetings.

Our false smiles and insincere greetings are only customary.  They are what we are used to.  Russians seems to be used to something quite different, and to my mind something more rough but wholesome. Famously, one family court judge in our region is said to have told an adoptive parent, "Wipe that stupid American grin off your face!"    I can't help but be on the judge's side.  Why couldn't that parent have sensed the seriousness of the occasion and the sober attitude of everyone around them, and behaved accordingly? 

In any random photo of a group of Russians and Americans you can easily spot who is who.  The Russians simply look at the camera, their faces reflecting the gravity and decorum with which they hope to be remembered in future years  - the Americans slap a happy grin on their faces.  But are they happy, necessarily?  Nope.  They just think they are supposed to be. 

Keri writes about a kind Christian lady selling flowers, and how blessed they felt after their encounter with her.  It is true, that in Russia when someone has been kind to you - well, it  sometimes flows over you like some beautiful, enveloping warmth.  One hardly likes to admit that kindness shines more brightly in a place where it isn't so habitual, but perhaps that is what it is.  Simply the contrast.  

Whatever it is, in Russia my eyes are open!

Friday, October 8, 2010


Christine wrote an interesting post about Halloween.  It made me remember one of my first years here in my position as Director of Religious Education.  An elementary catechist (the Catholic word for Sunday School teacher) sent home some little coloring sheet with some Halloween themes.  Nothing scary, mind you.....simply cute little ghosts.  One of the more energetic moms really got after me for promoting witchcraft and the worship of evil spirits.  I was stunned, frankly.  Quite honestly, that was the first time I'd ever heard that point of view voiced.

Doing a little research, I found out that some scholars believe that many of our Halloween traditions had Christian beginnings.  For example, the dressing up in costumes echoed the early passion plays, the aim of which was to teach the common man about the battle between Good and Evil and to thus, save souls.  Likewise, in early England people would go door to door and beg "Soul Cakes" for All Soul's day on November 1 - and of course, Halloween is really just the vigil of that holy day "All Hallows E'vn."  - The eve of the Feast of All Holy (or hallowed) souls. Soul Cakes?  Doughnuts - giving the image of eternity in their circular shape. 

It doesn't really matter to me if our Halloween traditions stem from devil worship or efforts at Christian witness - in either case it was a long.......    time......  ago...... 

This is now.  I look at my personal experience and that of those around me. I don't know anyone with Halloween plans that involve children trying to cast evil spells or family members standing in circles conjuring up hate-filled thoughts.   Nope; it is all about the purest and most wholesome kinds of fun, as far as I can see. 

As a child I loved Halloween, I considered it then (and still do) pure fun. When I was a little girl I dressed as a pioneer girl (year after year - OK, I was strange).  I loved the unaccustomed experience of being out on the streets in the dark.  And, knocking at strangers' doors!  My fifth grade teacher tried to explain to us the idea of the "Trick or Treat" saying.  I think she (or I) got the wrong end of the stick.  Somehow I got the impression that a trick-or-treater might be asked to do a trick of some sort.  And my "trick", I decided, was to recite the Gettysburg Address.  Yes, friends.  I actually, went door to door dressed as a pioneer girl, making people listen to historic speeches.  They must have bust a gut the minute the door was shut.  But, I had a blast - and no inkling at all of my absurdity.

All around us, in the street were other happy families.  Everyone had a warm word and greeting for everyone else.  And this is the way it is for me and my children now.  Halloween is as warm, loving and Christian-in-Spirit a holiday as I can imagine. 

Somehow the fun of making thematic treats for school or meetings or church, and handing out goodies at the door feels sincerely generous and kind (perhaps that is because you don't really have to do it - you could just turn out your porch light and go downstairs and watch a movie and no one would hate you).  The excess of Christmas, on the contrary, and the intensity of the many expectations to bring/give/donate/provide....makes me feel ambushed and abused.  The message of Christmas seems to be: SPEND! OVERSPEND!

At Christmas you either spend too much on donations and gifts for every person who touches your life in any way, or feel mean-spirited.  And, however much you read about "Little House" Christmases....even our adopted children are programmed in no time by the media, by school and their friends to expect more material gifts than can be good or truly bring happiness.  I find myself hating Christmas more with every passing year - and loving Halloween more.

The "holy" origins of Christmas did not prevent it from taking on this consumerist flavor.  The so-called "evil" origins of Halloween don't prevent it from being innocent fun, either. 

I'd like to add more Halloween traditions, if anything.  Right now we have developed the custom of having  dinner (pizza which they provide; salad which I provide) with some friends, and then going out with the kids.  Their neighborhood is as full of jolly trick-or-treating people as anyone can imagine, and while Marianne's daughter is now in high school, I think Marianne likes to go out with us because she so enjoys the festive feeling  - she sees people on Halloween that she rarely sees any other time of year.  I used to have a friend (she moved away) who would have a little after-school party every year and serve cider and hot, home-made doughnuts.  (I can't imagine anything tastier, so I think almost in an effort of self-preservation I have not yet learned how to make them!)  I want to make a pumpkin pie from scratch.  I want to go to the cider mill (we haven't done that in years).  I want to go to a corn maze. 

Maybe my goal should be to add ONE of these this year.  I think I'll try. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Kevin, Jordan, and Aidan (L to R) in the sanctuary
Aidan was here last weekend....of all weekends of the year, the one where I was least likely to have two seconds to give him.  But, it worked out fine; as he'd come for the wedding of one of his best friends, with the various associated festivities, he really didn't have time for us, either. So, my being busy probably made that easier for him.

The groom is Kevin, on the left.  Kevin's brother Jordan is next, then Aidan.  That is not a good photo of Aidan, but it was the best one of our church, and the church figures in a way, because this is where Kevin and Aidan met and where they spent a lot of time together over the past fifteen years.

The wedding was almost surreal for me.  It was though I watched it via a cinematic technique with past and present images wavering, merging and superseding one another.  Many were the liturgies when Aidan and Kevin and Jordan were altar servers together, standing in that very place - and with the very priest who celebrated the wedding.  I wondered if Fr. Joe was having the same odd sensation that I was having.  How can these boys be so old?

Kevin and Aidan met when they were in 5th grade.  I'd just started homeschooling Aidan and wanted him to make friends with some other homeschooling kids from our parish.  I've been a good matchmaker for my boys in terms of friends; it was a friendship that took off and these guys had so much fun together over the years.  Aidan was such a "good" boy, and I think Kevin's playfulness (naughtiness?) probably was good for him....but they did pull some stunts!

Definitely too cool for school
Aidan "busy"" homeschooling
Aidan did his schooling in my building, and once or twice a week they were given math tutoring up on the second floor.  Only years later, did they reveal that when Mary (the tutor) went out to do something else, leaving them to work, they'd climb out the window and take their bikes downtown to the candy store.  Later Kevin and Aidan both got jobs at that candy store.  Then there was the bike-painting incident.  Someone gave Aidan a bike, and Kevin convinced him that he ought to paint the seat.  They bought spray paint and painted it, but didn't like the outcome, so Kevin suggested that paint could be burned off!   Well, as you can imagine, when they tried that, the entire seat went up in flames.  All I knew of this, until quite recently, was the mystery that surrounded the melted portion of siding on the back of the convent garage.......

The other thing they'd do upstairs is turn on the radio.   They developed a routine of winning, then selling the CD's they'd won from the local rock station.  Kevin was so good he had to come up with multiple aliases; it got to the point that they'd walk into the station and the guy at the desk would say, "Hey, Kevin!  Who are you today and what did you win?" 

They managed to find girls at Catholic Familyland.  Look at that hair!
Aidan went to public HS.  East Lansing HS is contiguous with parish grounds; Aidan came to my office for lunch almost every day.  Kevin continued homeschooling, but the boys remained fast friends and regulars in the server crew and at youth group.  They went to every chastity conference, and every retreat offered, I think, and managed to stir up a lot of fun in every venue.  I don't suppose all our motherly efforts kept our boys entirely out of temptation, but surely it was better than a lot of things they could have been doing. 

Youth Group - Kevin and Aidan 2nd and 3rd from left in the front
At Calvin's Baptism.  Kevin is Cal's godfather.
They were great boys....and now, great men.