Tuesday, November 30, 2010


A very cool thing happened yesterday.  Zhen is playing on the parish school's basketball team with all of his old friends.  Last night their practice was at the Breslin Center at MSU where the Spartans practice, with Coach Izzo there to let them in and give them a pointer or two.  Coach Izzo's son is in their class.  I don't think he is on the team this year; don't know why, but the Izzos are the nicest people imaginable, so it isn't a surprise he'd support the team, even if Steven isn't on it.  The boys' coach waited until this auspicious practice to give them their uniforms.  Now, the school has a Spartan connection; the first pastor was the team's "Spiritual Advisor" and that relationship continues today, since the MSU coaches (for all the sports, curiously) are Catholic.  So, the boys' uniforms are Spartan green and white and when I came back to collect Zhen, they were wearing their uniforms and they looked just like mini-Spartans out there.  Except, theythe school's teams are "Tartans" - which would be almost too nauseatingly cute to contemplate, except that the founding pastor of the parish (who was there for 30 years or more) was Scottish down to his kilt, so it made sense and was cute as well. 

Can you imagine a better photo op than Zhen, in his uniform in the Spartan gym (which is gorgeous), alongside Coach Izzo?  No....me, neither.  Except my camera was NOT IN MY PURSE - due to the obsessive photography practices of my little dochka.  NOT a happy mommy (or blogger).

The other non-cool event yesterday was funny in retrospect.  My mom bought me a beautiful purple velvet jacket this weekend, that goes perfectly with a skirt I'd previously had nothing to wear with.  So I put on this ensemble and went into teach.  When she bought it, my mom asked "What will you wear under this?" and I responded that I'd wear a shell....but, then yesterday morning, I realized that a cammy would really be better, but I couldn't find my black cammy.  So I made the decision that since the cammy wouldn't really show anyway - what the heck, I'd just wear my black slip and call it good.  Sooooooo....

I walk into the classroom and off pops one of the three buttons.  The middle one.  Well, that wasn't good,  but not too awful.  Then, halfway through class, off pops another button.  Two of three gone.  So, I had to teach the rest of the class with my arms clasped to my mid-section. I made actual decisions about what I'd do and say next based on the need NOT TO GESTURE.  Fortunately, I often have a fairly prim posture, so it wasn't totally out of character - but I was sure glad when class ended!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


See the can of pumpkin?  Still unopened.  Yes; I did what I challenged myself to do.  I made my pies on Thursday from a real, live pumpkin, purchased by me at the previously described pumpkin patch, and lifted by me from its bed of unraked leaves, by the door, carried into the kitchen and washed.  I even cut out the little section where the squirrel had been helping himself. 

Many people, and all internet advice vociferously claimed that this would be EASY and SO GOOD!

To begin with, just getting the pumpkin into pieces without injuring myself was a feat.  But cleaning it and so forth was certainly easy.  I chose to microwave it, which seemed unchallenging enough(was I ever wrong), but as a result I didn't have to deal with any "watery" quality sometimes described.  HOWEVER, cooking it took forever!  I was microwaving that stuff for at least an hour - first all at once, then in smaller pieces.  After that I cuisinarted it FOREVER, even doubting at one point that it would ever be anything like "puree".  But, that hurdle, too was crossed.

For comparison purposes (and so it would be good), I used the recipe on the Libby's can.  And the pies were greatExactly like usual!  Meaning.....that, as far as I can see, all of that extra labor was for nothing.  Just saying....  I wanted it to be different, though I had my doubts.  I mean, I love pumpkin pie.  and really couldn't imagine it being any better...  And it wasn't. 

I did, however, get a nice bowl of tasty seeds out of the deal.  And, I actually like these a lot.  I put on salt, and a little bit of chile powder.  I ate a lot of them, but the kids like them, too.  About 30 or 40 minutes after eating them, though, I do have this odd feeling - my subconscious asks, "Why were you eating wood shavings?" (or sometimes "bits of plastic?") and then my slightly-more-conscious mind answers, shocked, "I wasn't!"  Then, the fully-conscious mind remembers the pumpkin seeds and I wonder if perhaps there is a limit to how much fiber one should consume.

Thursday, November 25, 2010



That little maxim has often occured to me when I've gotten a bit too close to the inner workings of a school.

Some schools have a lot of polish and gloss.... snazzy brochures, newsletters, students winning prizes, held up for acclaim in the newspaper....  But if you see it from the inside things get ugly.  You see that too much energy goes into the "look" - that the bright, capable students are sorted out and held up for view, while those who struggle are belittled, punished, bad-mouthed (mde the talk of the teachers' lounge), while nothing whatsoever is done to help them grow or learn.  That was our parish school some twenty years ago when we first moved here, and that's why Aidan and Lydia went first to the Montessori school, and then were homeschooled.  Well - after the first year.  This was the final straw that decided me:   For his seventh birthday Aidan asked for a pillow.  So he could read in bed.  That was in June.  By November he was refusing to read at all - in a variety of ways reading had been made that unpleasant for him.*

The opposite can also be true, and I will say that is what I discovered in Anastasia's class last year at our present school.  Mrs. A had taught for years, but has this amazing undimmed enthusiasm.  She is on fire - not just at the parent meeting, but also whenever you happen to walk by the classroom.  You sense that not a moment is wasted.  Anastasia's gift for math came to the fore and was celebrated.  She became organized.  Best of all - her weak area, reading, received focus and she came up two complete grade levels.   Her gift for arts and crafts was discovered and lauded.  And, this care and attention to discovering the gifts and weak points was given to every student.   It didn't matter a whit to me that the building looks like some industrial building, the grounds are not cared for and the parking lot not paved.  My girl was learning, and was very happy.

But, the bright light (tastiest ingredient?) of this school - Mrs. A - has gone, and I'm not as pleased with what is left....  Though there are some good points,  I see how this sausage is made and it is not as palatable as it might be.

Tasty ingredients remaining include some very good teachers.  Zhen's teacher is wonderful.  Pretty "retro" but he is doing well because he is one of twelve; he has focus and can't not do what he is supposed to do.  There is a nice balance of activities - physical, and arts and crafts as well as seatwork.  Plus, the kids know they are loved and cherished.

The HS math teacher seems good to me.  I like her a lot.  She is my "friend" there (and the savior of the school, if you've been following this soap opera).  However, Sergei does not do well in her class, which is a problem since she is the only math teacher now.  He says she favors the girls.  In perhaps a not-so-professional move I asked my students this past week if they ever felt teachers had "favorites".  (In my defense, we were discussing Joseph [with the coat],and I wanted them to identify momentarily with the rest of the brothers.)  I didn't expect the kids to start naming names for some reason (really!), but even the girls were laughing at how they'd turn around to talk to a boy and the boy would get in trouble.  Still.... That doesn't mean math isn't taught.  I begged them all to tell me if they ever felt I have favorites.  [I do - but I work very hard not to show it.]

The center of the lower building is the dining room.  Where "Grandma" reigns.  They actually have a real-life grandma, who shops, cooks and serves real food to the kids for lunch every day.  She knows them and cares for them and tries to give each their "favorite" things, in turn.  There is no "Teacher's Lounge" and I like that, too - because we all hang-out in the kitchen, and that's where we can chat (but not necessarily out of earshot of the students).  It is like a "family room".

But some of the ingredients in this sausage worry me.  Some of the teachers are quite interesting as people, and may (like me) be working for nothing - but can they teach?  Because there are so many exchange students - is the level of intruction in the HS, all it should be?  They say that basketball coach majored in English - but what kind of English teacher will he be? 

There is no curriulum, really.  When I said I could teach Art, they added it.  For most subjects there are no books.  The only equipment, apart from the blackboard, is what you provide yourself.   Well, there is chalk and erasers - but no stapler, tape, etc.  There is white paper (which we are asked not to use much of) and a copier.

But classes are small.  No one is anonymous.  There is a Christian atmosphere in the way people treat one another.  The drama program is amazing.  They have a really good praise band.  All of the exchange students provide a wonderful multi-cultural atmosphere.  There are a lot of adopted children, for some reason....

The HS is a basketball-centric place, as befits a school which is actually an enormous gym with classrooms around it.  This year they have a new program - what they call a "post-grad" basketball program.  There is a [very talented and successful] team, and a school.  That school is separate, aimed at getting the guys to pass a GED so they can get onto a college team.  I do think they keep pretty good watch on them.... But that many adult men - large adult men, whose parents you will never get to know, walking around the school.....well, it is just a tiny bit unsettling.   I think there are a bunch of the inner-city guys you are envisioning, but there are also a number of players that come through an NBA program called "Basketball without Boundaries".  One is from Camaroon; another from London.  (OK, maybe not the "best" part of London....)  Still - more multi-culturalism.

When I went back to pick up Anastasia yesterday, in the Thanksgiving chaos, there was free time and she was shooting hoops, with clearly flirtatious intent, with one of the post-grad players.  It was a crowded gym and all, but still it bothered me. Could we make this a girls' school? 

Problem is.  There is no perfect school - not when you look close up.  Some are better, some are worse.  Some suit one child, not another.   Craig is all for sticking with this one - on the princple, I guess that there is no perfect school and to get the best from anything you need to commit to it.   At least I am situated to keep an eye on everything.  That's something.

*The parish school  is not at all like this now....but we just can't afford it, to be honest.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The losses were coming fast and furious.  Beloved coach.  Beloved teacher.  And then, the best friend. 

Anastasia's best friend at school was the next one to go.  And this was particularly difficult.  One reason I like the school is that the classes are very small.  I think there are about twelve in her class this year, and she and O were the oldest.  There are mostly boys, and mostly fifth graders (and young fifth graders, at that).  It was great because Anastasia and O were such a wonderful pair.  Their energy worked well together.  They are both tall, both smart, both well-behaved.  BUT....O's mother, a single mom, could not take the stress of being told, out of the blue, via e-mail, that the school would close in two weeks' time.

So, Friday was O's last day.  Anastasia spent the weekend proclaiming, rather desperately, that she wouldn't go back.  I wished she'd begged, or cried rather than declaring.... But, to be fair, the social dimension without O, would be pretty stressful.  The only other sixth grade girl is, to put it lighly, socially challenged, with no boundaries and way too much energy.  Anastasia knew that with O gone, she and B would be thrown together all the time.   So, frankly I was racking my brain for a solution.  Particularly when the news comes out that the new teacher, hired to replace Mrs. A, suddenly found out that she would need surgery requiring a long convalescence and she would be replaced come December.  Enough, already! 

But, what was the answer?  Public schools are out.  Anastasia was begging to go to O's school, but it is unfortunately in an outlying village, and moreover would require tuition.  [I am working off the tuition at this school by teaching....]   The parish school would require my getting on my knees to the pastor and begging for a scholarship.  And he is not simply my pastor, he is my boss.  Furthermore, I don't think it is the best setting for A - too much stimulation. 

So, the only answer that came to me was the one the pastor had originally suggested when he planned to close the elementary - let her move up to the 7/8 class, and down to the secondary building.  Again - not optimal.  I teach two of the classes - can she handle that?  There is more stimulation there, too.    Craig was for keeping things as they were, but when I put myself in Anastasia's place.....  I would have felt pretty desperate about the social milieu, and the "new teacher" hanging in the wings was just too much.

So, this week she is giving it a try.  I don't honestly know how it will work.  So far, so good.  The concern was about her reading level, but frankly, I just gave the kids a test yesterday and I can see that she clearly won't be at the bottom of the group in reading skills.  I did like the smaller, sweeter atmosphere of the elementary building....but, with it all unraveling under her feet, this seemed like a margnally better bet.  We'll see.  I've made it clear that we will evaluate at the end of today, at the end of this month, and the following month too.  She can always go back.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I love this girl.

 Anastasia realized that possibly the laundry room was becoming a bit dreary as her photo background.  Looking at my camera, I see she discovered a way to do some "location shoots".

Here is the bathroom!  and.......

the bedroom closet!!!

and..... the bathroom at church!!

The possibilities are endless.....

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I was just reading BT's blog and the image of Our Lady of Sorrows came to my mind.   In this post, BT describes hearing the words that I suppose every adoptive mother must hear "You're not my real mom."

Hard, hard words, especially the first time you hear them, because just possibly(!) you love this child with as profound and deep a love as you could (or do) love your biological children.  [And, for me, the love is all the same...no difference, and frankly that did surprise me a bit.  It is so much the same that I literally forget my adopted children are adopted and my mind strains absurdly, on occasion, for memories of their birth.]

Even when you are no longer surprised; even when you know the words are not from a child innocently striving for understanding, and not meaning to hurt you, when those words are childishly yelled in a petty tirade over some privilege denied or chore demanded.....even then, they hurt.  They hurt more than the bio child yelling "I hate you." or "I wish I'd never been born." 

I suppose they hurt because there is some truth in them.  The physical, concrete, corporeal truth of it is - your beloved one was born to another mother.  It just occurred to me that perhaps this is part of the spiritual center of adoption.  Adoption is not about the physical, the visible, the bodily, corporeal truth - it is about the immaterial, the sacred, the supernatural truth. 

And children are concrete thinkers, after all.  In their souls they know you are their mother.  On some deep level they know they can tell you anything, and your relationship will not change.  They can deny you are their mother, and yet they can trust in your eternal love.  They can gravitate around you as the earth circles the sun, denying all the while that you warm and light their hearts.  Because they can't see the truth yet.  They are too young.

But it is up to us to continue to be there, as Mary is there in this picture.  Not reactive, not shying in any way from the reality of the pain.  Just willing to suffer it silently, in love.  That is how adoption stretches the heart, that is, in part,  the spiritual discipline of it.  I never dreamed of having my soul stretched as it has been stretched through adoption.  At first, stretched to love gleefully, in a love that is so joyous it is almost painful, but eventually stretched by the requirement to love while enduring true and searing emotional pain.   And lest we think it will pass quickly....

A woman in our parish, an adoptive mom who is a state executive in foster care policy told me recently that the previous week her adopted daughter gave birth herself.  My friend raced her daughter to the hospital, stayed with her through the labor and delivery, held her hand, cried with her - then heard her say.....she was naming her child after the bio-mom who, literally, left her in a basket on her parents' doorstep. 

Perhaps it was the fact that this woman boldly shared this story that made me feel such a connection with her.  Because we cannot hide from or deny this heartache!  To do this thing right, we have to walk right up to it, embrace it; strain to understand it, and while understanding, suffer it - all in love, in the the spirit of love that is truthful and unflinching.   And in the paradoxical way of sacred things, in giving up our claim on our child, our bond with them is strengthened even more.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Zhen's passage from a couple of weeks ago.
 Things change by the day at school. 

Anastasia's teacher was given the boot, as mentioned, as was her husband.  Now, to tell you the truth these dismissals are huge.  The school has two buildings, the "upper" (because it is on the hill) or elementary building, and the secondary building.  A's teacher, by virtue of her years of experience and also, I must say, her confidence and personality, pretty much ruled the upper building.  Her husband was given the title of "Director" of the school.  The pastor is administrator. 

So, the departure of these two sustaining pillars has shaken the foundations.  All the more so because they came with two other teachers from the Christian school across town, and all four of these teachers have left - as well as several key families who came with them. 

I've lost two of my students to this mass exodus. [OK - neglected to write the blog post about the two 7/8 classes I'm teaching there this year.]  Friday my girls found out that one of their 9th grade friends was leaving, and I had to spend the two hours with three or four of them sobbing.  The boys, who are not sobbers, as you might imagine, were a study.  To add to the craziness, my students had been told by this girl directly before class, then sworn to secrecy, so that neither the boys nor I even knew why the girls were so upset.  It was quite an uphill battle running those classes, as you might imagine.  I didn't even try to keep on topic.

That day also, we got the e-mails from A's teacher and her husband - one from each of them.  Now, honestly, I have always highly respected these people.  In particular, I've respected A's teacher because I think that as a teacher, she is phenomenal.  However, I couldn't help but flinch at the pathos she wove into her letter.  It was the sort of missive that needed to be kept for a few days and then edited mercilessly before being sent.  But, this wasn't done.  References to a child in Afghanistan, and another in the mission field, and to her ailing mother were included, as well as "appropriate" scripture quotations.   Her husband's was similar, only with references to a recently deceased friend.  I am sure all these things are true anxieties for them, and I am sure that as they consider their losses and griefs, that they all come raining down in a torrent of misery.  However, I would have retained more respect for them if they had edited out those issues that did not relate to school.  And, frankly, the flying scripture quotes trouble me, too. 

This was particularly the case when we received the letter from the pastor later in the day, flinging a few scriptures back in the opposite direction.  It all seems sort-of unsavory - the rancor - and I hate having Christ not only brought into it, but forced to carry each side's flag in turn.   

People sometimes say that Catholics are not "scriptural", but this is not true.  I just think we approach Scripture in a different way.  We are more hands-off and reverent.  We're taught to think of Scripture as being there for our private study, for worship, and for prayer - but not to be quoted for our own purposes.  Somehow, you  almost never see it done.   And it is not because Catholics don't "know" Scripture, just that we are taught to take it in context, as a whole.... a Chapter, or a parable, or a book.... not just a verse taken out on its own.  

If you want to know the truth, I'd aspired to a more "Protestant" style.  I thought it would be rather impressive to be the sort of person who could throw out a Bible quote at an opportune moment.  But, how do you find that opportune moment?  When, so often, you need to know very well, how, when, why that particular verse was written for it to make complete sense....and when your listener, to get the full meaning, would need to know all that, too?   That truth has never been more evident than in the recent battle of the e-mails.  "Even the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose."  I don't know where that came from, but it came to mind.  Not that anyone here is doing any evil - only that they are using Scripture to try to make themselves look good - and in "the right" - as they use it to make their adversary look "wrong".  It just makes me wince, somehow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


It was a comfort that Rachael wrote in the comments on my last post  that she was nervous meeting me. I was, too.... though I honesty DON'T remember writing how meeting blog friends IRL might be a let-down.  In any case, surely my worry would be that it would be a let-down for THEM!

The anticipation of the meeting, I must say, did bring to the suface my  inner teenager.  "What if she doesn't like me???"  And all the accompanying self-doubting banter. 

At least, everytime I had my usual "I hope Anastasia behaves" inner dialogue, I could relax and think, "Well, I don't have to worry on THAT score!"  One thing about blog-friends (at least with my style of blogging) your blog-readers know the worst!  Though, that means that if Anastasia had behaved in the most exemplary way, I would have worried that Rachael might have wondered if I were  "fictionalizing" a bit.  But, my darling hit just the right note.  She behaved reasonably well, seasoned with just a bit of her own brand of edginess.

And I can assure everyone - meeting Rachael was definitely NOT a disappointment! (She is just like she seems in e-life - charming, open, sweet.)  It was just a little surreal.  It is initially an odd sensation to be in person with someone for the first time, about whom you know so much.  And, while you even know how they look, it isn't the same as having seen them.  I didn't expect Rachael to be so tall!   And I didn't expect Katya to be so petite.  But, the most curious sensation of all was the total unrecognition in the girl's eyes.  When I'd watched Katya on the silks at the gym, when I'd been at Kristens concert - how could they not recognize me!  Very funny really.

Monday, November 15, 2010

MEETINGS - Bloggy and Detski

Saturday Anastasia and I went to the Russian Festival in Kalamazoo.  This was a lightweight year for me - I only took one child, and just "visited", spending time wandering, eating and shopping rather than a more intense and dedicated pursual of culture.  In fact, I didn't see one program.  However, I did finally meet, in person, my Michigan blog-friend, Rachael.  And here is the photo to prove it!
We took care to stand in front of the thematic painting of a Matrioska - neither of us realizing that we effectively blotted her out.  Hm.

Our three girls managed to stand in front of the onion-dome church to better effect.  It was fun to meet Rachael in person!  The odd thing was meeting her girls and having them look at me blankly, when I felt as though I knew them well! 

There was another interesting meeting, too.  We ran into one of Anastsia's "classmates" from her Detski Dom.  Vasya came on the same hosting trip that Anastasia did.  His family lives on the other side of Michigan, coming to the festival from the opposite direction, so we are probably 2-2.5 hours apart.  At any rate, Anastasia and Vasya were glad to see each other.  After we got them together for this photo, they went their ways, but Anastasia was begging me "Tell him I want to hang out with him."  Good heavens!  I could hardly see myself doing that!  I went up to his mother, and told her, and she suggested Anastasia hang out with her.  That did the trick.  Soon enough, they were sitting up on the stairs reviewing their Detski Dom years and those since. 

We were no sooner back home than Anastasia was looking Vasya up on facebook.  Now, I hear they are "going out" and I am put in the position of being the "stupid old fogey" smirking at the "young people's" idiom, because I cannot, for the life of me, see how the words "going out" can describe the relationship of people who are never even together.  But, I think it means they like each other.  For today. 

Friday, November 12, 2010


I have the most amazing blog-friends, I;ve decided.  Your advice is good - and your prayers powerful.  Because - to my absolute amazement (and that of everyone involved) - there was a miracle.  The math teacher, Susan (a wonderful Christian woman, and adoptive mom with young children in the elementary), took it upon herself to contact people she knew, and got them to donate the necessary money to keep the elementary school open.  Pretty amazing. 

One day we get the e-mail about the closing; the next day we get the e-mail about the miracle.  Last night there was a parent meeting.

Can't say the meeting was all that edifying, though it certainly could have been worse.  As Craig pointed out during the midst of one of our melt-downs (was it one of Anastasia's or one of his? For some reason, probably because he doesn't have the power to say, "well then, send her to x or y expensive alternative", he took this really badly.)  "Just imagine!  This is going on all over town!"  And, yes, one of the kids I taught last year, a scrappy hispanic boy (a ninth grader) apparently came home in tears.  And, the math teacher who saved the day, came to her realization that she was going to "do something" herself, as she paced the floors at four in the morning.  So, for obvious reasons, people felt at first that they'd been "messed with" a bit.... until Susan stood up and revealed that she'd found the funding and that it was real, not a mirage.  

However, while stress brought out the best in Susan, it didn't have that impact on everyone.  As I think I mentioned, Anastasia's teacher told us that she would set up on her own somewhere.  I didn't write about it, but it did occur to me, frankly, that her plan was a bit too full-blown under the circumstances.  One minute we are in a meeting hearing about this; as we leave she is revealing her plans.  So, it turns out that even before this announcement, her scheme was being laid.  It turns out that bitterness had been developing on her part against the administration (which hadn't been coming through with some back pay as promised), and somehow disrespect was shown, she planted some seeds of discord among parents. (One really bad thing that impacted me was her telling the kids that they "didn't have to come to school" while she was  gone - I think I mentioned she was moving yesterday and today.) That created any number of unpleasant interchanges in our home, let me tell you, on top of everything else! Furthermre, she was already "calling around" and recruiting students for her enterprise.  So, the upshot is that despite the fact that the school is staying open, Anastasia's teacher was let go. 

I sat striken on hearing that news, to tell you the truth.  As mentioned before, I do not think I have ever run across a better teacher.  She is so on fire with it, and has used her twenty-plus years of experiece, not getting bored or burned out, but in honing her skills.  And, most importantly, her very organized, structured, demanding style has turned out to be perfect for Anastasia.  She - and the cross-country coach (a friend of A's teacher) turned my daughter around, changed her from a distressed, acting-out child two years behind her grade level, to a dedicated, organized, happy student at the top of her class in several subjects. 

So.  No.  I'm not out of the woods.  Zhen loves his teacher and is doing well with her; I don't have to worry about him.  But, I do have to worry about Nastya.  I worry about who he'll get in there as a replacement.   When you have a child who really wants to be challenged, and is benefitting from it - do you want her to be in a class where that isn't happening?  Now I have to worry:  If I can somehow manage to keep her with her former teacher (who is setting up somewhere), will it be seen as disloyalty to the pastor?  Will it be seen as reason to either dismiss or not trust, me?   Nothing is known, about any of it.  Difficult times.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Things change faster than I can write about them.   I did write about Anastasia's wonderful experience with cross-country, and last year about her tremendous teacher at her little Christian school.   Anastasia began last year (fifth grade) at a second grade reading level, and this remarkable teacher brought her up two grade levels.  In addition, she fell in love with Math and competed - and won an award - at the Math Olympics.   This teacher is brilliant.   And, it is in a way that isn't even possible for most teachers - she has a class of twelve, and the power of choice.  (i.e. since she didn't feel that Zhenya would be up to the level of most of the 5th and 6th graders in this class, she asked that he be placed in the 3/4 class). 

Because - yes; I was so pleased with this school that I moved Zhenya there as well.  Sergei is in the high school.  It is a pre-12 school.   How great to have all the kids in one place!  Drop them off, pick them up - at the same time!  Write one check for lunches and photos.  One set of opening activities, one set of letters from school.  And, such a happy, homey feel.

Part of the reason I moved Zhenya, to be absolutely frank, is that I couldn't pay the tuition at St. Thomas (the school associated with the Catholic parish where I work).  I do get a break as an employee, but it isn't sufficient to make it affordable for us, and the scholarship we got last year wasn't available this year.  The less officious Christian school, though, granted me a double blessing - I was able to pay off the tuition by teaching!  So, I've been teaching 7th and 8th grade Bible and English this year.  First two periods of the day - because I work all weekend at my "real" job that fitted in fine.  And, in another post I'll share how much I love it.

However.....it was too good,  I guess. 

Yesterday it was announced that financial reality has hit, and the elementary is being closed as of Thanksgiving.  Perhaps financial reality it the school, but the reality of this hasn't quite hit me.  I am beside myself, almost in shock. 

First of all - we are talking about ANASTASIA here.  A girl who does not need loss and change.  She most certainly does not need loss and change at the most otherwise disturbing part of the year.  And what to do with Anastasia and Zhenya?  We live in Lansing.  If you lived in this area, that is all that would need to be said.  In a conversation about schools, I mention "Lansing" and the  listener will look immediately stricken and sympathetic.  So, public schools are out.  At the conclusion of yesterday's meeting, Anastasia's teacher pulled me and another teacher aside and said she'd suspected something like this and is planning to put together some alternative....some sort of one-room school in some church basement I suppose.  So,that's one possibility for both of them.....  Though, we'd have to pay - no way to work that one off.  Even if I can somehow afford it, unless it is between our house and Summit (the school where Sergei will continue to go and I will continue to teach) I don't see how we can do it logistically.

There was another suggestion made by the pastor (who doesn't want to lost his free teacher);  Anastasia and a few of the more mature 6th graders can move up to join the 7/8 class.  On one hand I think she'd fit in OK socially.  However, she wouldn't get the very dedicated instruction that she has been getting and needs.  She has the potential to be a really good student, so I don't want to risk it.  A self-contained classroom is perfect for her.  And I doubt she could very well handle having her mother as her teacher.  Our relationship is stressful enough for her.  And, the alternative he had in mind for Zhenya (and the few other multi-age children of teachers) is a sort of modified homeschooling one-room thing with a teacher for half a day.  I don't think so.  Zhen is a person who is hard to motivate when it comes to work.  And, he's a boy who needs really good, focused instruction....because, I hate to say - he is turning twelve, and doing fourth grade work.  I'd considered the necessity to put him with the 3/4 class this year a boon. 

The only other alternative is getting on my knees and begging our pastor to let them into the parish school without proper remuneration.  But, apart from how humiliating this is, and how potentially awkward (it is at my workplace, for heaven's sake!)   I don't think it is the best fit for either of them (particularly Anastasia) either socially OR educationally. 

So, I am at a loss.  Really don't know what to do or think, but see those minutes counting down to the first tantrum-producing holiday of the year - complete with other, added, great-cost-to-you, traumas! 

AND I now have to get up at 3:20 every morning to teach my Koreans, due to DST.  And, with all this, that strain and self-discipline is almost more than my own self-regulatory abilities can handle.

Prayers and advice, please.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


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Note the wooden bowl.  Anastasia made that.  I saw all of them lined up in her classroom, and could see that hers was notably the "best" - absolutely meticulous workmanship.

I wasn't sure what to do with it, but when I placed it here by the icon, I realized what a Russian "dacha" look it has to it.

Speaking of Anastasia, to my amazement her new self-control lasted her throughout her birthday, which she enjoyed.....with very little of the typical emotional problems.

To wit, here is a photo which I took while she was reading her birthday wishes from facebook friends.

Now, we just have to see how she copes with other people's birthdays!  She saw the gift I was sending Lydia, without any negative reaction.  Now - for Zhen's birthday, which is coming up on the 13th.....  Anyway, so far, so good!

Monday, November 1, 2010


We were invited to a Halloween Party!  One of the kids in Anastasia's class, and another in Zhenya's class came with cards for all their friends inviting them to a party at their church.  Now, I can generally pass up parties at other people's churches.  But, this one - well, it intrigued me.  It was not at another Catholic Church, or at any typical church-of-my-experience - Lutheran, or Methodist, or some such.  Nope.  It was at a big church called "Life Changers Christian Center"......what people might call a "black" church.  People throw that term around in speech (well, I never have....but I've heard it done).  I was never quite sure what it meant, but had a vague sort of idea that it might be like the motorcycle clubs.....  If aren't sure you're invited - you're NOT.  But - here, we were sure!  We had the invitation!  Furthermore, one of the dearest boys I know, a student from the school, is the son of the two [OK - here starts the culture shock] pastors (husband and wife).  

So, the kids got themselves together in costumes and we went.  To digress: Anastasia decided she wanted to go as a model, i.e. "As myself only hotter."  I'm accustomed enough to her at this point, that I didn't argue, only made an interior vow to oversee this process as carefully as possible.  She had me rolling on the bed in laughter, as we were discussing the strategy....we had the party on Saturday, but also trick-or-treating on Sunday and Michigan at the end of October is not generally balmy, so Nastya said, "I need to find something hot.  And, I need to find something warm." 

Anyway, I took her to St. Vincent de Paul, and for $8 - amazing - we found the most gorgeous formal gown for her to wear, and for an additional $3, a pair of suitably high (for a Russian girl) shoes, pointy toes and all.  The most amazing thing to me is that she not only finds them comfortable, she can run in them.  It has to be genetic.  A feathered, glitzy mask from the drugstore completed the outfit.  Zhen (all boy) just wanted blood capsules to rub all over his shirt and vampire teeth.  Sergei, teenager that he is, demurred from wearing a costume at all. 

The party was really fun.  Unlike most Catholic social events, there was no money-collecting component whatsoever - that was culture shock, indeed!  But, it was at first strange, then less so as the evening wore on to be in the minority.  Very much in the minority.  But, everyone was so welcoming, and so kind.  It really was lovely and I totally forgot that feature of the night's entertainment within a few minutes.  Still, the cultural differences were there.  For example, the decor - I am accustomed to wood and terrazzo.  Where there is carpet, it is a humble brown or green.  At this church the carpet throughout was royal purple!  And the wallpaper was gold!  In some ways it reminded me of the "just a little different" sensation that I experienced with the visual styles in Russia. 

Zhen and I "did" the kids' party, then wandered into the "teen" event.  Here is where you will see two differing social styles among my children.  Anastasia, found her classmate Faith, and she participated!  She really participated, as you will see below.

Yes.  Anastasia, in the middle....attempting to shoot an apple off someone's head.
Sergei, in an obscure location.
Meanwhile, Sergei, disappointed that none of his classmates could be found, found himself a seat in the back and stayed there....  But, I hate to say, I can't help but secretly snicker at how this panned out for him.

As you can tell, toward the end, I went up in the balcony and was more or less spying from there.  Despite the atmosphere, which, as you see, was not like that ever seen at an event at our church (well, only an all-purpose room and no dimmers on the lights, would prevent that!), concluded with an impassioned plea to all present to accept Jesus and turn their lives around.  The protective mama in me was a bit startled at the suggestions of what they might be presently doing that needed turning around, frankly.  We're a but more reserved in our church.  But the really excellent ferverino was concluded by asking the kids to close their eyes and raise their hands if they wanted to turn their life over to Jesus, raise their hands if they wanted prayer!, raise their hands if they wanted one of the counselors to pray over them.  Well, Sergei experienced an English-language melt-down of the sort I'm sure he often experiences in school.  He didn't get the details, but he sure did hear "Raise your hand!"  And he did. 

It was time to leave at that point - and I thought we'd never get out of there....I hadn't seen his typically low-energy hand-raise, but the counselors hadn't missed it!  I didn't know until we were in the car, that he is now [however mistakenly] firmly in the grasp of the youth program at Life Changers.