Sunday, January 23, 2011

LITTLE HORROR STORY FROM THE PAST

I am a member of a yahoo group for parents who are seeking their adopted children's birth-parents.  I remain part of the group, though mostly, we've "been there; done that".  We are connected with Nastya's and Ilya's grandmother and brothers, and Sergei's older sister (his parents are deceased).  I recently tried to find Zhenya's grandmother and sadly found out that she passed away the year we adopted him....all those letters we sent. Where did they go?

Today there was a question in the group that reminded me of a little horror story from my pre-blogging days.
This is a whole other post, but suffice to say, that shortly after we adopted Anastasia we discovered that she had three older brothers.  Ilya we met and subsequently adopted.  The two older brothers Sasha and Viktor did not want to be adopted, but we keep in touch with them.  As I have related here, my wonderful friend Alla in Moscow, keeps in touch with them, and even early-on made sure they had phones, and bought phone cards for them with money I sent (and perhaps even with her own; she's that kind of generous person.)

So, Anastasia was begging to talk to her "Russian brothers".  I am a little leery of international phone calls of any kind, so went to my friend Sveta's house so she could help us place the call.  One minute we were dialing, and the next the room was spinning and I was unable to breath.

Sveta and I had sat down on either side of Anastasia on the couch.  Sveta was there to help, if needed; I wanted to listen in, as much as possible.  That's how I heard Viktor answer the phone, say hello, and tell Anastasia that he was at babushka's house, and their mother was there, and he'd put her on.

And suddenly, Anastasia is talking to her mother.

Time froze.

I hardly knew what to think or do.  So, I listened breathlessly. The mother seemed pleased to hear from her.  Anastasia, with no time to turn on her emotions, remained sensible.  She assured her mother that she liked her family, she had a nice school, she had good brothers, a nice room, a dog and a cat, pretty dresses, new dolls, etc.  I was sitting there in shock all the while, I must say.  After this fairly brief conversation, mother handed the phone over the grandma, then grandpa, then an uncle.  Then things began to take a turn to the absurd; someone ran down the street to grab another uncle, and across the hall to find "Tyotya Olya", then upstairs for the neighbors.  They all had a word with Anastasia.  For some reason at some point  while she was talking to everyone in the city, I got up and took this photograph. (And to think - I didn't even blog in those days!)

Anastasia hung up, and told me about all the people she'd spoken to, and relayed some information about where her grandmother was working, and about her grandfather's health. Meanwhile, Svetlana, whose sister had just a few months previously passed away unexpectedly in Russia, was overcome by her own emotions, and began to cry.  Anastasia and I went out to the garden, to let Sveta calm herself and make some tea.  That's when I took the photo at the top of the blog.  I was still in a state of shock.  But surprise!  Anastasia took it all very much in stride.  My tantrummy, over-emotional daughter, could talk to the mother who she hadn't seen since the day she was removed from her care by force - and she was mostly worried about her grandfather's health, and amazed that the neighbor's toddler who she used to play with, could now talk fluently.....


As the afternoon went on, and Anastasia chatted with Sveta about the call, and enjoyed tea and cookies, I began to really believe that there were to be no horrific ramifications from this extraordinary experience....and there weren't!

My next fear, to be honest, was that my husband would go ballistic. Craig had not been in favor of keeping in touch with the brothers.  He wanted NO OPENNESS at all!!  There was no way I'd ever ask Anastasia to lie, or even to tell her to keep something from her father, but I was sure not going to mention it myself!  I knew he'd be very angry.  I was on tenterhooks and SO hoping that somehow he wouldn't find out about this event.  I almost began to think he wouldn't!   Anastasia was showing an amazing amount of equanimity - and was now more interested in how Sveta makes her amazing bread (she'd begun to teach Anastasia how it was done) than in any other aspect of our visit.  So, just when I thought I was "home free", imagine my horror, when at dinner, Anastasia chimes up (moreover at a quiet moment when no one else was talking)  "I talked to my mother in Russia today!"

Craig looked at her fondly, "Oh, yes?"

"Yes; and I talked to my grandmother and my brother Victor and my brother Sasha.  And my grandfather and my uncle Grisha.  And Grisha is married and has a little girl who looks just like me."  And, just as my heart is threatening to completely cut off my breathing passages,  she goes on, "When I grow up, I'm going to have five children and move to Russia and mommy can come to Russia with me and take care of my babies!" 


Craig just smiled at her and said something like, "Well, that sounds nice."  Clearly neither he nor the boys took anything she said as relating to reality.  I sat there with the knowledge of having dodged not just a bullet, but a grenade.

Generally Craig and I have a very honest relationship; but it was so important to me to keep in touch with the "Russian brothers", as we call them, who at that time included the not-yet-adoptable Ilya.  Especially since Anastasia seemed to take this all so much in stride, I figured - why make trouble?  I did finally tell him, a few years later.  I think we were in the process of adopting Ilya then, and Alla had assured us that Anastasia's extended family were nice, albeit terribly poor, people....only their mother was a troubled person.

As I did relate here, Anastasia's mother passed away a couple of years ago, and to be honest, I am so, so glad this surreal episode occurred.  I think it was good for Anastasia on some level, and I know that it must have comforted her mother to know her little girl was happy.  I'm glad that she knew that before she died. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

THE POPCORN BAG???

"Medical Marijuana" has been legalized, and shop after shop has sprung up like mushrooms to meet the demand.....actually, I have to believe that there has to be less demand than could be supplied by the amazing array of new pot-selling storefronts. I am serious - there are a few blocks in various parts of town where there might be three or four of these enterprises easily visible in one glance down a street.

I am happy to believe that marijuana might assist some people with some symptoms of some conditions.  For heaven's sake!  I am the first to admit that my PMS headaches respond by far the best to a slug of straight vodka or gin.  I start feeling better within just a few minutes.  So, I'm not going to complain that marijuana was legalized.  What I  hate is the dis-connect between the "medical" and the "marijuana".  Come on - does this look like a medical establishment?!?  Has a pharmacy ever called itself "The Popcorn Bag"?  And, if they did, would it add to their reputation for trustworthiness and safety?  And what is that "AVAILABLE" stuff?  Actually, I wonder if "DOCTOR" AVAILABLE might not be more like it. 

Why are these establishments not located near the hospitals and medical centers like pharmacies are?  Why are they located, rather, in the seediest sections of town?  I almost used a photo of one facility right next door to the homeless shelter.  Something is wrong.   If I or a family member needed marijuana to help us with a medical condition, does it seem right that we should have to go seek it out in a place that does not appear to be clean and professional?  Why would we have to leave our doctor and head to a crummy part of town to find our treatment? 

"The Popcorn Bag", apart from the name and use of quotation marks on its sign, is actually one of the "nicest" ones I've seen.  Believe it or not.


Friday, January 21, 2011

SOUL FOOD

I almost titled this post "Not Too Old to Change My Mind". 

I have always rather "pooh-poohed" the idea of  Black History Month....not Martin Luther King Day so much, because, like Presidents Day, it seemed like a nice, slightly meaningful way to get needed holidays in the dead of winter. (How convenient that MLK had a January birthday!)  But like Presidents Day, I didn't see need to look too much past the pleasant concept of a long weekend.

But, I had an instantaneous conversion.


Ryan
 When we came back to school after the holidays one of my AA students, Ryan, raised his hand and asked, "What are we going to do for Black History Month?"  And, Gabby, another sweet AA girl in my class, lit up and with anticipation awaited my answer.  In the back my two adorable basketball players, Trevor and Deleon, likewise, looked at me brightly.  And, at that moment everything changed.  BHM was no longer some politicized contrivance.  By their faces, their posture, their excitement - these students conveyed to me that for them BHM is something that truly makes them feel valuable and special.  Above my head, the lightbulb went on.

I suppose I always had some idea that it was intended to do that, but I did not ever suppose that it actually did it.  In fact, perhaps I was scornful for that very reason - I thought BHM was something that only "looked good" and really meant little.    But in that moment, these students' anticipation assured me that BHM nnd its celebration means a lot.


Gabby
 Trevor suggested a "Soul Food Meal" and I jumped on that.  Immediately after class I ran to the kitchen to see if the cook could change things around so we could do "soul food" for lunch some day.  Not possible; menus were already distributed.  So, I ran up to the main office and suggested a school potluck dinner.  No interest.  They suggested I do something in my class.  In the vigor that accompanied my conversion, I was not very happy about the lack of enthusiasm, but clearly that was the best I was going to get, so I did suggest to my students that we'd have a soul food meal in class, and we did - this past Wednesday. 


Deleon - As I post these I smile.  I love these kids.
 Ryan brought Banana Pudding, Trevor brought Mac and Cheese, Lina brought Coke; I brought a pecan pie and had the bright idea to grab a bag of pork rinds, too.  It was all wonderful.  It was a pain to do; I had to spend an extra hour or two and my own money, for the pie, the pork rinds, and the paper products, and time after class cleaning up.  But it was SO worthwhile, because while all my students appreciated the community-building and the loosening of the academics, my AA students were bright little candles lighting up the room.

That food clearly fed their souls as well as their bodies.  It was so, so worth it.

Of course, I didn't stop with food.  In English we are also moving [slowly] through the "I Have a Dream" speech.  And I learned something else.  I have listened, without rapt attention. to this speech before....and have been distracted, I realize, by MLK's delivery.  That style of preaching is so different to me, and strange, that it takes focus from his words.  For my class, I didn't bother to get a recording, and I'm glad; we are just studying the words of the speech - and it is beyond brilliant.  It is some of the most beautiful writing imaginable.  Dense, rich, powerful.  The kids, 12-14 year olds, are not really up to the challenge of appreciating it fully.  But it is a great text to use to study literary techniques.  I'm just having them focus on finding the imagery and looking for his use of repetition.  Meanwhile, I'm falling in love with this extraordinary man, and his powerful message.  To my surprise.

Soul food, indeed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

SCHOOL CONVOLUTIONS

As we left off in our tale, I believe Anastasia had lost her teacher, her best friend, and her cross-country coach. 

To my surprise (comparatively), even with the Christmas holidays upon us, she held herself more-or-less together.  I am glad that cold, hard meanness has, at least, superseded  tantrums.  Cold, hard meanness I can ignore, and even celebrate (to some extent) as improvement.  But, there wasn't even as much of that as one might have expected.  Still, as January 10 and the return to school loomed, I could see a lot of stress that wasn't coming out in pretty ways. 

Mrs. Allen, Anastasia's teacher, has started her own "school" - really more of a one-room-school sort of enterprise.  A few of the students in A's class left to go there.  I asked her, finally, if she would want to go there, and her response was, "No!  I hate Mrs. Allen."  It hit me; I realized that she didn't hate Mrs. Allen; she thought Mrs. Allen had abandoned her. 

So, I asked Mrs. Allen to call Anastasia, and things boiled down to the point where on Friday, January 7, Anastasia and I went to see this new school.  It is on the third floor of a beautiful, old church, in a part of Lansing known as "Old Town".  This area is a bit "edgy", let's say.  Not particularly safe in terms of the neighborhood, but even some of the elements of the area that are on the upsurge, are not exactly wholesome.  I only say this because, Anastasia had never been in this part of town, and as she looked around, I could tell she was disturbed.  The church which used to be simply "North Presbyterian", has been transformed into the "Epicenter of Worship" - a rather startling name, to my fairly-conservative ear, and when we went in, it was clear it is an AA church (though we couldn't have been greeted more warmly!).  I don't know what Anastasia thought about any of this specifically, but I could see her becoming more and more tense and strained.  The strangeness was profound to her.  Even the building, which I loved, with its creaky wooden stairs and stained glass windows, made Anastasia uncomfortable, as I'm not sure she's even spent time in such an old building before - or, if so, very little. 

And, when we got inside, things in the classroom were in complete disarray.  Mrs. Allen had only gotten into the building a couple of days before and was in the midst of moving in.  So, the teacher who Anastasia gravitated to because of the safety and order she brings to everything, was standing in the center of absolute chaos. One could tell by looking at Anastasia that she was horrified.

Despite that, to my amazement, after thinking it over, she told me she wanted to go there.  So, Monday we got everyone into the car a half-hour earlier, so we could drop A. off at her "new school".   It turned out that, though Mrs. Allen had gotten the room into order (in fact, everything is really lovely) that the atmosphere was all too much for Anastasia.  Though her previous schools have been integrated, and she has no problem significant time with AA friends, being the only white child, and much the oldest, at this school just increased her sense that it was all too different, too uncomfortable.  So, after one day, she begged to go back to Summit.  Even dealing with all the stressful social life there,  was apparently preferable to that strange environment. 

So back to Summit she came and had a week and a half of "the usual".  In the classes I teach that appears as "being left out", but outside of my class, there is meaner stuff (i.e. throwing spit balls at her).  Then, this past week, one day one of the girls was absent.  As such things sometimes happen, that threw off the regular social arrangement enough that - lo and behold! Anastasia was included.  And, even when the missing student showed up the following day, she was still included. 

But this inclusion is not an unadulteratedly happy thing.  Because the "leader" of the four girls is in an unspoken battle with the teachers for control.  For example, day one: Anastasia admits that the girls spent the entire period for PE in the restroom.  I was puzzled, but figure that the PE teacher can take care of it.  The next day I notice on FB references to the girls leaving school to go to the Speedway at lunchtime.  (Forbidden, as you can imagine.)  Then on Friday, I allowed my class to have free time the last twenty minutes to help with a "project" (free students were encouraged to be scraping the wax off the gym floor.)  When I packed up my materials, and went out into the gym, I saw that the girls were not scraping the floor at all.  They'd disappeared.  From a teacher's point of view, I see we're in need of a good "crack-down".  All of the changes recently have made this young lady feel the need to fill a perceived leadership void.

But, it is more serious from Anastasia's point of view.  That night she was at her worst in the "cold, hard, mean" department.  She refused to eat; she was contrary in every possible way.  Then, I pulled out all of my BCLC stops and was just open and listening.  She burst into tears and it all came out.  For the first time I realized how hard Anastasia works to be a "good" girl at school.  I was almost taking it for granted.  She needs the approbation of her teachers; it fills her up.  But, she wants friends.  Those two needs were in terrible conflict. 

Apart from conversations about choices (there are two other girls who do not allow themselves to be drawn into this sort of behavior, one of whom still manages to be pretty popular) and from the school side of it cracking down on the misbehavior in such a way as to make it less possible.....I just have to pray this is a natural middle-school maturing experience.  It is just that I know that for Anastasia, with her background, the whole situation is cranked up a few notches.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

VICTIM STATUS

Actually, I suppose all your guesses about the topic of this post will be wrong, since I don't know if I've ever written about current events before.  But this week, after the shootings in Tucson, in addition to sharing everyone's grief and horror, my mind has pondered a particular aspect of the way the media has covered it all.

I believe that 19 or 20 people were shot, six of them fatally.  Of those killed, one was a Federal judge.  Another a little girl.  And the others were.......random, undistinguished people, apparently.  Now, I generally listen to coverage on fairly intelligent and dignified stations - PBS, BBC, so their coverage is primarily what I refer to, though I also accidentally ended up on MSNBC one night, and heard how they handled it.

I was left pondering..... How do you suppose the media figure out how to cover a story like this?  The thing that has continued to surprise me is how, uniformly, the emphasis has been on Representative Giffords.  Why?  I would really have thought that a Federal judge would be considered at least as important as a member of congress.  Also, he was tragically killed; she was wounded.  Now, there were many other people wounded, and we've not heard anything about most of them, and then only in passing.

It seems like from the media's point of view there were only three people really worth mentioning.  Number one in importance, clearly - Rep. Giffords.  Second, the little girl.  Finally the judge.  I wonder how they decided on this approach.  Is the death of a child more critical than the death of a child's parent?  Or a spouse?  OK; the death of a little girl does seem to emphasize the tragic and meaningless nature of the event. 

But, Rep. Giffords and the judge?  And the other [more or less anonymous] victims?  How does their level of coverage play out the way it does?  What characteristics of a victim would change their comparative "importance" as media subjects?  I lay in  bed one night when I couldn't sleep and considered this.  What if  Rep. Giffords had been a middle-aged man?  Even, a Republican?  Would that matter?  What if the judge had been a fairly young and attractive woman?   Does it matter that Rep. Giffords seems to have been the target?  Was the particularly horrific nature of Rep. Giffords' wounds in any way a factor of the coverage?


What if it had, for some reason, been two judges who were shot?  Appointed folks, not those in the political spotlight? What if one of the wounded had been particularly attractive?  Say, a model?  Would she be in the spotlight?  What if one were wealthy?  Head of a large corporation?  Especially if the other victims weren't attractive or young or rich?  At what age would there suddenly be less interest in the youngest victim?  13? 15? 18? 21?

Gender; Attractiveness, Politics, Age, Status, Wealth

What is it that matters most?  Why? 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NEW BLOG

This is my actual camera, from the view I see
After failing rather badly at keeping up with Project 52, and posting a photo a week, this year I decided I'd try a "365" project - i.e. a photo a day.  I somehow wonder if this won't actually be easier. 

So far, after four days (!) I like it.  It causes me to be more aware of things, and even to take more joy in them. 

Excuse the header for now. I think I'll keep the title, but I don't know why, when I first started that blog, which went nowhere, that I thought I ought to have my picture on it - with a smattering of stars.  What an idiot!

The address is here, for what it is worth.

It won't replace this blog, of course - just an extra-credit project.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

CALLING IT GOOD

OH!  I remembered the other thing I've been meaning to share, and haven't yet - my little "art project" - Anastasia's room.

When she decided that she was no longer going to be my little cuddle kitten and sleep with me, I decided to "do-up" her room....and do what I'd wanted to do for a while, some wall-painting.  In the end I mostly did stenciling, as a particular church in Moscow (the new church in Victory Square) became my inspiration - at least the way, the artists used a variety of stenciling around the doors.  Also, I sort-of wanted to use the tradition of the Russian window embellishment outside-in. 

Biggest mistake I made was consulting her about the color.  Of course she wanted pink.  But, it does'nt offend me too badly; I'm just sorry that Anastasia herself (only now the room is mostly complete) claims to "hate pink".  Great.


Initially, the plan was to have another bed on the lower level, with curtains.

View from door


I suppose I was aiming for a bit of Carl Larsson spareness, too.  But the child will insist on having belongings!  Here are some close ups.  I did have so much fun doing this.
Strangely, the picture above the bed is of St. Bridget; yet the colors and sensiblity works perfectly.


From the Russian church I got the idea of these scattered motifs

Sometimes I like the bed best of all

Above the closet

Nastya is very proud of her heritage and loves to display these things

So glad to have a special "icon corner"
I delayed posting about this project because I wanted it "perfect" first.  But Nastya concluded that she likes the open space beneath the bed rather than the wonderful embroidered curtains I had in mind... And our ship must come in before I can put in the parquet floor I dream of.....  So, I'm calling it good - and my favorite project of 2010.