Thursday, June 30, 2011


from Megan Seagren's Journal:
 Occasionally, I read a blog post that really gets my comment juices flowing....and when I get to the third or fourth paragraph of my "comment" I realize that it might be more appropriate to write my own post, rather than take over someone else's space! 

Some moms have begun a new blog called Therapeutic Moments.  It seems a more "upscale"effort than my blog, certainly - never lowering the level to the "uninteresting" or "mundane" the way I did yesterday.  It provides personal examples, but isn't personal - if that makes any sense.

This a great essay! It certainly made me think about a lot of different issues related to food, health and parenting.

My husband was a PE teacher for years.  One nice thing about age and experience is that it provides one with a longer view....and over the years he began to see that some of his most fit students, talented HS athletes, ten years later might be spotted in the grocery store, loaded down with cases of beer resting on significant pot bellies. He realized that (as in the case of  this writer) being an active, athletic teen does not translate to being a fit and active adult.  PE classes typically used to (and most still do) emphasize only competitive activities (such as gymnastics) or team sports and games.  And face it, even those who might like a lively volleyball game during gym class, are not very likely to seek out a volleyball team when they are out of school.  That level of enthusiasm is generally reserved for those with "skills".  So Craig began to emphasize "lifetime sports"....things that will keep even a non-"athlete" or an uncompetitive person active.   So many kids either burn out on competitive sports, don't find opportunities to play after HS....and then they become couch potatoes, watching sports. 

I used to pooh-pooh those who needed to join gyms to be active.  But, lately I've realized how much of my job has begun to be at the computer - I don't even need to get up to check a reference book anymore, or run a note over to the office. Nope, just type in "" or e-mail an attachment.  And, in the way we've seen throughout history "to whom more is given, more is expected" - no one seems to have more free time for physical activity because they can accomplish things so quickly via technology - no!  there is just more to do.  And, I am undoubtedly not alone in switching from spending free time with a healthy physical "break" - like taking a walk, to a less physically active one (like blogging, if you must know).

This writer also made me cringe, because I sound JUST like her mother; she could be quoting me....I was tempted to look around for microphones.  So I'm thinking "maybe that line doesn't work!" But, the thing is - teaching a child to "make good choices" doesn't necessarily work either. My mom did everything right, but somehow when it came to making my own food "choices" I don't do as well for myself. Despite the best training and example, despite food never being used as a reward, or becoming an "issue" at all in my growing-up home.... I managed to become a person who rewards herself with food treats. Fortunately, I don't like too much junky stuff (i.e. McDonalds) and unlike this writer, I don't live in a "food city" (to say the least)! But I'd always choose just about ANYTHING over fruit and vegetables - unless they are temptingly prepared (Panera's salads, for example!)  Ice cream and doughnuts, rare treats in my childhood, seem to be frequent must-haves in my grown-up existence.  Just last night I mentioned to my mom (90,looking much younger, fit and petite, weighing probably 100 lbs.) that I was going to stop and get some ice cream on the way home.  She commented that she almost never eats ice cream.  It shows.  On both of us.

When you come right down to it, I wonder if we don't all have areas of our lives where we are intentional and thoughtful, and other areas where we are just reactive.  I am very intentional about my spiritual life, and that of my children....  It is important to me to have a pleasing environment...and try hard to keep my house comparatively tidy. I am far more vigilant about choosing wholesome reading matter for my children, than wholesome food, for example.  Now, this is not to say that I don't make an effort to give them wholesome food - I do - but giving them Kraft Mac and Cheese for lunch would not bother me nearly as much as reading aloud  to them something that was poorly written.  I've been known to stop a few pages into a book, and despite my children's woeful outcries, have exclaimed "This is so poorly written I can't read it!  Read it yourself if you must, but you'll have to dig it out of the wastebasket!"    I put thought and care into things like grammar, cleanliness, kindness, manners; I put little into clothes, scheduling, cars, the yard. 

But back to parenting - that's the problem.  Children simply do not reflect in any perfect way what parents try so hard to instill.  My parents worked their tails off both by training, environment and perfect example to instill good financial and nutritional habits in me.  It was like water off a duck's back, honestly.  I wasn't in any way reactive against my parents' training - I certainly didn't reject it - like the author tends to reject her mother's emphasis on the life of the mind, or the way her mother rejected the debutant role that her mom cherished.....  Their training simply didn't resonate in those areas the way it resonated in terms of keeping a neat house, having integrity or working hard.   When it comes to schoolwork or my job, I am a perfectionist - reflecting values I learned as child.  When it comes to nutrition, I just follow my impulses most of the time, with my guilty conscience taking up the rear.

One of the fascinating things about having grown-up children is seeing the ways in which they were "molded" by me, and the ways in which they either rejected or don't think about what I tried to instill.  It is gratifying that Aidan took our Catholic faith so strongly to heart.  At this point, at least, for Lydia it seems - not quite so much.  Both are readers (chalk one up for mom).  Both value honesty and integrity. Both value humor.  Neither seem to cherish history and tradition to the degree I hoped they would. Aidan shares my obsession with meaningful work.  Lydia doesn't seem to care about that.  Both seem to value physical fitness a lot more than I do - maybe they got that from what their dad taught (not so much what he does, to be honest). 

So, we can and must do the best we can do as parents, but I guess I'm convinced that it certainly isn't an exact science!  We just have to hope we don't blow up the lab.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I struggle with the need to over-achieve.  I intended this blog, originally, to just be a sort of fact, I think I wrote a post every day (perhaps that was simply another form of over-achieverment, though!).  I don't think I used to feel compelled to be brilliant and insightful, though.  Now I do.  I am not satisfied with myself unless I am either sharing some insight, or relating an episode so dramatic that it will be engaging in and of itself.  Perhaps I've been "fortunate" in having so many of those!  Actually, I've had too many lately. Ironically, too often the things that would be most interesting to write about are the very ones that take up every waking moment!  Oh!  The stories I could tell! (If I had both the energy and the time.)

Meanwhile, this is a non-brilliant post. What I Did On My Summer Vacation

A week ago today, we (Sergei, Zhenya and I) went to Virginia to visit Aidan and Lydia.  Lydia lives with her friend Marianne in Virginia Beach, and we headed there first.  It turned out to be something like  fifteen hour drive, so we stopped at a motel somewhere in Maryland.
As you can see, we only stay in the "best" places.   I thought the dirty mattresses added to the ambiance in the vestibule.  But, we just slept there, and then we were off!  By early afternoon, we were at Lydia's house, and after showing us around, she took us to lunch at the restaurant where she works, Gordon Biersh. 
Dear Lydia gave us a night in a hotel on the beach!  What an amazing, lovely time!  I haven't been near the ocean in years, and the boys never had been....

We had the typical fun - but because it was so new and different, it was more than fun....  Zhenya could hardly tear himself away from the water, and after a late dinner, Lydia went home, and Zhen and I spent another hour, at least, walking in the waves.  I let Sergei go off and do likewise on his own.  He loved it. 

In the morning, we headed to the beach once again... The weather was perfect, warm but not too warm, sunny but not blazing.  It was heavenly, and after a few hours enjoyment, Lydia led us to a wonderful place for brunch.  There were two dishes I have to try at home - granola pancakes (I think you'd make regular pancakes, and just sprinkle a handful of granola on) and parmesan tomatoes.  They grilled tomato slices with a spoonful of parmsan on top.  Those are amazing!
But, too soon it was time to head to DC to see Aidan.  There is a tunnel on the way out of Virginia Beach and we spent over an hour waiting to go through it; fortunately that was the worst of it.  As we were heading toward the city, the rush hour traffic wasn't too terrible.  But I will say that one of my chief impressions of the DC area is of congestion.  Not just traffic congestion, but parking congestion, housing congestion.  Aidan and Susan took us to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner - and I do not exaggerate when I say that we spent at least fifteen minutes circling round and round, round and round just trying to find a parking spot in the mall!  I'm not sure I could stand to live like that.
It was wonderful, of course, to see Aidan and his family.  Susan is the most wonderful daughter-in-law!  She's gentle, sweet and such a patient, attentive mother - a heck of a lot better mom than I am!

On Saturday, Lydia and her gentleman-friend, Vance, arrived, and the whole passel of us took the metro to DC and visited the Smithsonian.   Hate to say my main thought was how cool it was - just like "Night at the Museum"!   We also saw the White House, from quite a distance....noteworthy was that we saw it amidst a group of Russian visitors.

The main purpose of our visit was Patrick's baptism on Sunday.  Aidan's church is spectacular - a lovely, vibrant parish in the most gorgeous church building. I picked up lots of good ideas, just from wandering around.  Though it has been two years since I was responsible for baptisms at STA, I still remember the rite by heart.  The celebration was simple but lovely.....and Peej is now a Christian!

We left on Monday morning, and headed home.  Looooong trip home, but  drove the whole way so as not to miss meeting with Anastasia's therapist on Tuesday.  My only disappointment was missing meeting up with blog friends Ginny and Julianne. Next time!

It was a splendid trip.  Coming home was less salubrious.

Friday, June 17, 2011


 Zhen loves the trampoline. He got the idea of jumping with his big dog. I like that better than when he jumps with other kids - yesterday he had a big goose egg on his forehead from colliding with a neighbor boy.

I have a non-stop anxiety in the summer that I ought to be "doing something" and not allowing the kids to spend so much time on screens.  The bigs have an x-box which gets lots of play by Sergei and Ilya, and their friends.  Sergei spends a lot of time doing this and that on the computer....everything from looking at the menu of his favorite Sushi restuarant, to watching tutorials about dry-walling.  Zhen is a Ruhnscape fanatic.....and Sergei and his neighborhood friend enjoy that, too.  And, then, there is TV - Zhen loves cartoons and Mythbusters. 
So, actually, I love to hear the exclamation - "Mom!  I'm going to go jump!"  Furthermore, I think it helps regulate all of them.

And, unlike soccer, their other favorite outdoor activity, there is no danger to the neighbor's window.  We have a bit of an issue because there is a very crabby lady who lives across the street.  We live on a quiet street and there is no problem with the kids playing soccer in the street - except that one lady has a FIT if the ball rolls even a foot onto her grass - and I have to tell you - there is nothing at all "special" about her lawn, and no bushes or flowers to be damaged.  At most the ball might go a yard or two onto her grass - it is not like it goes near her porch or windows....I have to believe she is just an irritable soul.  So, if she is in evidence, they'll play on the driveway - and that IS dangerous - to windows. We've replaced the neighbor's basement window twice and his garage door window twice.  Fortunately, he doesn't actually live there; the house is empty most of the time.

Then, there's bikes.  I'd hate to think how many bikes we've had stolen.   I think all we have left is one very sub-standard specimen.  Sergei's "good" bike was stolen when he rode it to the drugstore.  He was only a moment, so didn't lock it......  Then, Ilya lay his in the front lawn and went to the garage, looking up to see a gang of kids steal his bike....  He ran in to get Craig to chase them down in the car, but between Ilya's rudimentary English at the time, and Craig's having been napping, no chase was forthcoming. Two more were stolen right out of our garage - when it was carelessly left open one night.  So, at this point there is no exercise to be had bike-riding. 

I was so much more protective of my older kids; I wouldn't even let them jump on a trampoline at a friend's house.  I had Aidan keep his bike at the church because I thought East Lansing so much safer.  Aidan and Lydia were not allowed to play, unsupervised, anywhere but the back yard.  There was no way I'd let them go to the park without me, let alone walk to the party store!!  I didn't allow TV watching, unless it was religous videos from the parish collection, or something on public TV.  The Russians do all these things. 

The common wisdom about parents "loosening up" is certainly true in my case.  But I think there were two other things going on, as well.  When you know your child has done way more perilous and on-his-own things in a far-distant and seemingly much more dangerous place, it seems oddly silly to be over-protective.  Sergei and Ilya entertained themselves by jumping off roofs and out of second story windows into snowdrifts, for example - so, I should say a trampoline is too dangerous?  Anastasia was living on her own, and foraging for food in a city nearly as big as ours - so, how can I say she can't take a run, or go to the playground in the park (a block away) on her own?  Then, too, having been given more freedom, they are more self-confident and savvy, really.  And they are all very strong and fit.  They not only climb trees, they leap out of them.  Zhen doesn't just jump on the trampoline, he is attempting to perfect a flying dismount.  Yes. Onto dirt.  OK - occasionally I am still shocked and horrified.   And glad we are just a block from the hospital.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I thought I'd remember where I read it.....but I don't....  The blog with the discussion about what approach you'd take, talking to a parent about to adopt.  The question was posed by a mom with a severely radish child.  The first responder was all for "absolute honesty" (i.e. tell them how "bad" it can be.)

So, they want to provide "the whole, unvarnished truth"?  From their point of view?  But, I would argue that their point of view might not be "truth".  Exactly.  Their truth, maybe, but not everyone's.

I am glad and relieved that I didn't get that "talking to".  If we hadn't first met Sergei in a hosting program, and all Craig had heard was the negatives, I'd be a sad woman today with an empty house.  Men are not so ready to adopt, generally.....I wouldn't even be surprised if there wasn't some sort of biological thing working that makes men not-so-ready to father another man's progeny.  And often, I have the feeling, men agree to please their wives.  Any little bit of information against the enterprise is going to be added to the dad's "con" list.

Had my husband had a clue about how difficult things could be he would have put his foot down. Yet, I cannot - CANNOT - imagine life without my children, every one of them. I don't think he can, either. When we first thought of adopting, Craig had had quite a career in child welfare - fifteen-some years working in youth homes, etc.  He knew "too much" to want to adopt from foster care.  In our state, especially at that time "family reunification" was all the rage, and by the time children were approved for adoption they'd been pretty well formed by the neglect and abuse in their unfit homes.  Years of it. 

What we didn't realize is that many internationally adopted children have endured similar traumatic pasts....and we certainly didn't understand (well, few did then) the critical importance of being nurtured in those first three years.  But, not all adoptees had hard beginnings.

Sergei and Zhenya, and Ilya got the love they needed as babies.  They are balanced, loving, kind, thoughtful people without the "issues" that some people seem to presume "come with" all adopted children.  The stories that trauma mamas tell have little to do with them.  But somehow that word "adopted" is like a magnet that seems to attract everyone's fears.

Having worked with families throughout my career as teacher and religious educator, I have seen many troubled, challenging and disabled children, with hosts of letters attributed to them.....I've seen parents weeping with despair over their beloved child's behavior, or lack of ability....  yet, if a stranger shared with one of these these moms that she was pregnant,  whoever would expect these moms to "tell it like it is"?  Probably because if there are problems with a biological child, the "fault" is laid at the foot of the parents.  Adoptive parents can come off as heroic and patient and loving and so forth.  Well, when I'm down, those accolades don't hurt....but in my heart I feel so sorry for the bioparents who not only endure the same embarrassment, humiliation, pain and sense of helplessness, but also have to feel responsibility - either through genes or poor parenting, for their child being a drug user, violent, or a bully, a hopeless student, or a cheat, or whatever..... 

So, when someone tells me they are going to adopt - I am as thrilled for them as I am for the mom who tells me she is pregnant.  I like to expect the best, then deal with anything else.  And, too - a list of "behaviors" or "symptoms" are pretty unappealing - when they are associated with a person you love, well - it is something else, again.

On the other hand.... I can't help but think that there are people out there who really shouldn't adopt. Perhaps they don't have the self-control or the self-knowledge; maybe they don't have the flexibility, maybe they feel the need to be loved, or have an "ulterior motive" (however good) of saving a soul. I read somewhere that one of the little red flags for disruption is the primary goal of wanting to bring the child to Jesus. Perhaps, with that worthy motive foremost, these people can't understand that some children who experienced early trauma CANNOT easily trust - they can't even trust the person they see, let alone the God they don't see. And they've never known LOVE, so they don't know HIM, and that takes time, and the most self-sacificing kind of love on the part of the parents.

And, then there are those folks who expect the child to be grateful (ha-ha-ha!)   Adopted children are generally no more grateful than bio children....and no more grateful than most of us are to our Heavenly Father.  I have to admit that supplication takes a far greater proportion of my prayer time than thanks and praise..... yet, we expect our children to "Stop asking for things!" We want them to be satisfied, and to be thankful, too.  Has God ever snapped at me, "Stop asking for things!"   I guess not (or maybe I was too busy whining to hear Him). 

Marriages end in divorce.  Jobs we pray for can turn into traps we long to escape. Houses can feel like money-pits instead of cozy homes.  Children do not always live up to our dreams for them.  Adoption can be difficult.  And, while we might be tempted to give some loving advice, or share what we've learned through our own experience (if asked), usually I think we should share others' joyful anticipation and keep our own counsel....  We do not know what God has in store for them.


Friday, June 10, 2011


From - I love these.
 Scary times.  Sorry, this is a long post, which is why I've avoided it. 

Miss Nastia has had a rough couple of months, to say the least. 

I can see how it happened - in fact, I could see it as it happened - it's been a kind of slow-motion train wreck.   I think I might have saved the situation early on, but wasn't clear-sighted enough.  I was also unaware of a key trigger or two - ones so obvious that this post is a kind of perp walk.  I blew it. 

Even though - even though I posted a few times previously about how disturbing it was for Anastasia when, in December, her beloved and perfect-for-her teacher, Mrs. Allen, was let go - despite knowing on one level how bad this was for her.....   I really did not know how bad this was for her.   This teacher was someone she had come to trust completely.   

Here was where I think I made my mistake.  I took Anastasia to visit Mrs. Allen's new school.....But, transportation issues, and other logistics seemed to argue against this solution, and when Anastasia hated this new environment, to the point of seemingly refusing to attend ("I'll run away", etc.) I gave in.  I suppose on some level, I don't know how we would have managed all of the hurdles, practical and emotional -  I simply know that it would have been better.  Instead she "moved up" and joined the 7/8 class at Summit.

Unfortunately, the secondary end of our school became more and more chaotic as the year went on.  Unpaid teachers left.  Children were left in "study halls", unsupervised - not even on a regular basis, but randomly.  Teachers would come, and go.  This is why I took on more, way more than I should have, teaching almost all the classes that the 7/8 kids had - except for math and science.  PE teacher left, Spanish teacher left, science teacher left.  During the last month, if I wasn't there, or they weren't in math, they were pretty much on their own.  Now, these are really good kids.  But, that sort of structureless social scene was the worst possible situation for Anastasia as all trauma mamas will clearly recognize.  Add to this, that since I was giving so much time to Summit, I had to work late into the night and all day and night on the weekends, to do my real job.  I thought "well, Anastasia sees me during the day...."  I didn't quite understand that she felt abandoned by me at home and at school.

I was too stupid to realize that what I so erroneously thought of as "being with" her  - was a trigger in and of itself.  Only in a recent therapy session did I see that for Anastasia, seeing me give the other children lots of love and attention in the classroom was like sandpaper grating on her soul.  Add to this that at school she wanted nothing more than to have friends and be accepted, but the more she wanted it the crazier she was acting.....and, well.....there you have it.

Then, a week or so before school was out, a high school boy called her a "Russian wh*re",  and for the first time ever, Anastasia "lost it" in school.  One great thing about Anastasia is that she has always been a wonderful student.  School has always been the safe and structured place where she could achieve.  No more, obviously.  I was not there, when this occurred (it was during unstructured time, wouldn't you know).  But, Craig called me at work to come and get her. 

Here, I'll make a very long story short, and say that this incident was followed by a week or more of her /staying at home/getting it together/begging to go back to school/losing it again/sitting at my office while I taught at Summit/going to school/losing it again......and so forth, until the day she lost it so badly that she clearly should not have come back.  Yet, I took pity on her and let her come back to say "goodbye" to her girl friends one final sixth hour. Didn't I say this was a perp walk?  How stupid could any one person be?

She was immediately overwhelmed, but spent that hour trying to regulate herself by doing some art, while everyone else did English.  She didn't totally lose control until school was over and the anger was directed at me.  She refused to get in my car and said she was going to "walk somewhere".  Well, knowing that walking can often soothe her,  and my chasing her down or attempting to force her into the car would do the absolute opposite, I figured the best thing was to let her walk.  It is maybe three miles to my office, and Anastasia knows the way.  She also had her phone.  She stomped out of school and set forth; I followed in my car and when I caught up with her, I saw she was walking, safely, against the traffic.  What argued against my letting her go was that the first mile or so, she'd have to walk along the commercial route of a highway without sidewalks.  However, there is a decent shoulder and small businesses line the road, the speed limit is 55, and there really isn't a day when we don't see someone walking along there.  It was clearly not optimal, but it did seem better than the alternative - having a physical altercation with her.

Now, to this day I believe that a) she would have been perfectly safe and b) she would have walked to my office and c) by the time she got there, she would have been regulated again.  However - I didn't count on loving-kindness.

One of the moms from school saw her walking and stopped, and tried to get her into her van - and as luck would have it this was the mom with the boy who'd started off the whole spiral with his "Russian wh*re"comment, and his sister, one of Anastasia's classmates .  Anastasia wouldn't get in.  They tried to force her.  As this was happening, in a strange coincidence, along comes my friend Edita, who adopted a girl from Anastasia's orphanage.  Edita sees someone trying to get Anastasia into their car, and Anastasia resisting.  Of course she stopped and tried to help - but now we had embarrassment added to Anastasia's bucket, and the inability to say anything that would explain her desperate need, at that moment, to be left alone!   Obviously, these ladies did just what any reasonable, caring, loving person would do.  Unfortunately, it resulted in massive amounts of flammable liquids being poured on Anastasia's little fire.  

The thing is, I can really feel Anastasia's desperation.  She was barely hanging on by a thread and the only cures she could grasp at - solitude and rhythmic exercise - were being ripped away with a big blast of all the things that inflamed her to begin with - the name-calling boy, the girls who don't include her, add a dash of orphanage-memory and public humiliation.  My heavens!  The poor kid.  She tried to run away from them, and Edita (again, doing the reasonable thing) called the police.  Now we had the biggest trauma blast of all - Anastasia's memory of the police coming to remove her from her mother.  Whether she remembers any of it correctly or not - her memories have consistently been of her being forcefully taken into a police car while her mother was threatened with being shot if she didn't allow it.

It helped me, at least, that the police were not Lansing police.  They were kind, helpful, understanding, but because she was throwing out her "I want to kill myself." line, they had no choice but to take her to the hospital.  All in all, that might have been a good thing.  I can't imagine them handing her off to me in that state working well.  However, she did text, begging me to come and get her. 

So, off I went in an out-of-body state, to the hospital.  By the time I got there, she was - well, there is hardly a word for it.  Honestly, if I were merely an onlooker, there is no way that I would not have had that child taken off to the psych hospital.

Not since her visit here as a six year old, have I seen anything like it.....and then she was small and speaking in Russian.  When she stood up straight, hand on hip, adopting the voice and superior, scornful tone of a soap-opera villainess - it was even amusing.  "Where did she learn this?" we laughed.  Was it from TV?  Surely not her mother?  We didn't know, but she seemed quite the little actress.  Little did we envision a tall, thirteen-year old doing the same thing, in English - it is as horrible a thing as you can imagine.  Every vulgar word, every obscenity, every vile accusation poured from her lips - and the posture, the was beyond horrible to see her snarl and hurl vulgarities at the policeman, the doctor, the nurses. (To say nothing about the things she said to me!)

God was with us, though, in a couple of ways. Can you believe that the attending physician had  sister adopted from Guatemala? One who had rough times before sorting herself out?   And, I also had scheduled a session with Billy at House Calls Counseling for the next day.   Otherwise, honestly - I think she might have been directed to an inpatient setting.  As it was, they gave her a shot of something [that I wish I had on tap at home] and let us leave.  As they were giving her the shot, they sent me from the room to fill out paperwork.  I heard her screaming and crying,  "I want my mama!  Let my mama come in here!  Mother!!!!!!"  It was odd to get such satisfaction from that. 

So, they let me bring my limp little daughter home, and put her to bed.  And the next day we drove to Chicago.   To be continued......

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Since this format was so underwhelming for my readers last time,  I fgured "why not do it again?"  Well, actually, I think I'll do this more often because there are a lot of little things that are never mentioned simply because they can't be "developed" sufficiently.
One of the best bloggers in the world is up for an award - and she really loves awards.  If you don't read Essie at The Accidental Mommy, you really should.  And, you should definitely vote for her.  Christine at Welcome to My Brain already has enough self-esteem.  However, Christine's blog is also awesome, so maybe you'd prefer to vote for her.  Funny, though, I "checked out" a few of the other 23 nominees, and was less than overwhelmed, at those I've looked at so far - as in "woudn't bother to go back".  But, I don't like Hemmingway, either, or Faulkner - and that doesn't mean they aren't splendid authors - just goes to show there's a blog style for everyone.
I don't, actually spend all that much time every day blogging or reading blogs.  I really don't. Or, it seems like I don't  But, the time I do spend adds up, I'm sure.  I am just wondering why I no longer have time for some really valuable things I used to love - reading for one.  Embroidery.  Sewing.  Walking.  Why?  I can't quite fgure it out.  My older kids kept me busy, too - and much of the time I was homeschooling one of them, and I spent hours and hours driving to Irish Dance lessons and competitions.  I just don't quite get it, but the above are things I really want to "add back" somehow. 
A sweet adoption story:  One of the little boys on Zhenya's basketball team is adopted.  His mom is Hispanic, while his dad is blonde.  Their son, "Scotty" has pale skin and blonde hair, and really looks a lot like his dad.   As part of a school project Scotty drew a self-portrait.  He drew himself in his basketball uniform, and colored his skin a soft brown.  His teacher over-heard a classmate asking about this, and Scotty exclaimed, "Well I used brown because I'm half-Mexican!"
I have an issue with spiders, to say the least.  How "upset" I get at seeing a spider depends on a few variables:  size, how much it impinges on my space, the way it moves and type.  I really don't even like to discuss this, because I get physically sick just thinking about them.  So, imagine my horror, when the other day as I am securely seat-belted into my car,  across the ledge in front of me comes a spider - yes; right up close to me, in the car, while I'm trapped. By the grace of God,  I was not driving, but had just pulled into a parking lot and was talking on the phone.  OK.  Give me credit.  I....did....not....panic.  I kept talking in a businesslike fashion while grasping somewhat desperately at first the seatbelt, and then the door handle.  But, as I opened the door, that *&($% thing JUMPED onto my leg!  OK, at that point "businesslike" went out the window and I screamed.  While leaping from the car, of course, and hopping about like mad.  Actually, I had Maxim with me and was conducting some important business on his behalf (helping him rent an apartment) so he was none too happy to have me lose my grip, so to speak.  And, the scream wasn't the end of it, of course.  There were a number of histerical pleas for Maxim to "get it!!!" And, Maxim, love his heart!  Despite his dismay, as usual in a crisis he could be counted on.  He found the subject of my terror and dispatched it, and then [imagining, I think, what might have happened had I actually been driving] offered, in a gentleman-like fashion to drive himself. 
I really love cookies.  Actually, I love them so much better than anyone else in my family, it means that I really can't make them often because I eat almost all of them.  They will actually walk past  a plate of cookies and not take one.  I cannot do this.
A few days ago, a bunch of the secondary kids at Summit went on an outing to a Tent Revival in a little town out in the country.  One thing I learned from this is what a great mimic Sergei is.  He gave us a really fine rendition of a Southern Baptist Preacher, and I was all the more impressed because he's not ever experienced anything at all like this - it just isn't the Catholic way.  He was listening, though, and we got a good discussion out of it. 
As you can tell, I didn't mind Sergei finding the dramatic nature of the preaching fascinating, and slightly startling.  But, he did take the subject [hell] seriously and wanted to compare and contrast the Catholic way of discussing such topics.  Anastasia, on the other hand (in a separate conversation) scoffed mightily and loudly proclaimed her dismissal of God and anything religious.  Actually, she did it with more fervor than she does it after Mass.  I am not quite sure what that means.  I hope, and I rather think, that if she can come someday to feel lovable, she will open her heart to the God who loves her.  I pray she will.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I think that I may have simplified, in my own mind at least, a key to parenting children with early trauma.  (or RAD, if you prefer)  So often the challenge is to find a clear and fairly brief way to explain to the "uninitiated" the reason why I am not seeming to "parent" my radish child - at least not in the way that seems "common sense" to the onlooker.

Perhaps I am simple-minded, but somehow getting a grip on some easy image helps me to remember, in the heat of battle (so to speak) how to respond.  If I still need a little kernel of truth to keep me correctly oriented, how can I expect the onlooker to understand?

When I first received my "awakening" it was in the midst of a crisis with Maxim.  I'd picked the poor kid up late again, and instead of hopping into the car gratefully, as I'd expected, he started using profanity and calling me names and even kicking the dashboard, etc.  I wound myself up to ADDRESS the situation with a firm, authoritative "How dare you speak to me like that, young man?!"  when God slapped me across the side of the head and presented me with an image.  Instead of the angry teen, I suddenly saw a terrified little dog.  And is a terrified dog attractive?  No.  In fact, a terrified dog looks like an angry, dangerous dog - snarling, hair standing up, claws bared, salivating, teeth showing, ready to attack. I've learned that you see beyond that with an animal; you understand the fear, the instinct for self-preservation in that body language.  In that moment God allowed me to see the fear behind the aggressive behaviors in my foster son.  And, the moment I began to console, to speak quietly, and yes - to apologize......suddenly things calmed, the growling stopped, the hair laid down, and I could pet that scared and shaking little animal.  What remains in my mind as most remarkable, is how once I started calming him, Maxim actually allowed himself to be petted..... I stroked his hair, and told him how stupid I'd been, and helped him see that he had every reason, based on his past experiences, to react that way when someone didn't pick him up.  How stupid I had been!  This miracle - both in terms of God's intervention, and the impact my changed attitude had - has informed my parenting ever since.

But, can you believe that even so, I still find myself falling back on the parenting approaches that "come naturally?"  So calling up the image and the idea of  the child as a frightened animal can keep me on track.

Recently another very simple idea presented itself to me - one that again, helps me clarify in my mind why the counter-intuitive response is best, but better yet helps me to easily explain it to others.

I realized that ordinary punishments - and by that I think I can really include everything from a short whap on the behind to a time-out, to the typical removal of a privilege - all rest on the foundation of trust and love between the child and the adult.  On a very basic level, the parent and the child crave unity once again.  [For my Catholic readers - it even strikes me that the punishment or consequence stands very much in the same place as a penance in the Sacrament of Confession.]  If the child accepts the punishment, he realizes that it "blots out the offense" so to speak.  It makes everyone whole.  Hopefully, from the parents' point of view, it is also a learning experience.  From the child's point of view it hurts, but is "right".  Oh, children chafe under punishments - how I remember doing so myself!  Yet, eventually, I'd recognize my fault, accept my penance (so to speak) and all could be "made up".  Even that phrase "making up" seems to refer to a fault and an action meant to undo it. 

But that entire process is dependent on the prior relationship.  It is depndent on trust and love.  Trust that the parents love the child and know best, and love which demands that a sense of unity be restored.

The child who comes from early neglect and trauma never learned that most foundational concept - that adults (and by association all authority figures) have their best interests at heart.  Stop and think - how could they believe that?  They go hungry, they are left cold, they experience care that is random and violence equally random.  How can that lead to trust?  Neither is there love, because the child's love is in response to the parent's love.  And, perhaps trust is a precursor to love, in any case.

Thus, the radish child doesn't see punishment as for their own good.  (I'd contend that most children, even very young ones, because of those very early infant lessons, on some level understand that everything the parent does is a form of care for them.)  Neither does the radish child have a sense of unity with the parent that cries out to be restored, when damaged or broken.  Punishment cannot be accepted by this child as either any kind of "good" or as a way of restoring relationship. 

Punishment is perceived as a threat.  There were no early infant-lessons to teach trust, rather the child learned that he must watch out for himself.  The adult may even be perceived by some children as the enemy, as surely as fire, or deep water, or a barking dog might seem threatening to a normal child, the adult is likewise threatening to the child who received only or mostly hurt from adults in those first weeks, months and years. 

This idea dawned on me first when I saw how Ilya responded to punishment.  In his early days, when he was small, Craig in exasperation resorted to a whap on his behind and an attempt to take him by the arm and direct him toward the door (or chore, or whatever).  But, Ilya, rather than respond in a chastened way, as expected - as our bio children would have responded - instead, reacted like a person being attacked by a masked intruder.  I could see the adrenaline and the fear-for-life come over him.  Craig, still in "regular parenting" mode, where the parent must retain authority - made some further attempt to physically restrain Ilya - nothing violent or threatening mind you - just physically directive, two hands on his shoulders to push him toward the door, something like that.  But Ilya was already in fight-for-your-life mode.  I could see clearly that there was nothing we could have done to "win" via using force.  All in an instant it was clear as anything had ever been to me that no amount of force, no weapon, no level of anger or "autoritativeness" would have prevailed because Ilya was fighting for his life and he would have died before he would have given in.  That was the day when I realized why children die at the hands of their parents.  Oh, I am sure that there are parents who are abusive and working out their demons on their child.  But that day I saw how easy it would be for well-intentioned parents, especially those inculcated in the idea of  the importance of "parental authority", to end up killing their child.  Particularly their adopted child.  Because the child who never attached to an adult, neither trusts them nor loves them.  And when that is absent the parents simply do not have "authority" any more than a masked intruder has authority.  Both are perceived as threats.

Well, you're thinking - that was not a short explanation, Mrs. Kitching!  No; once I understood it from the inside, I came up with a short form something like this:  Thanks, for your advice.  That would have worked with my bio child,  But XXX didn't learn to trust adults as an infant, so she perceives ordinary discipline as a threat. And I attempt to smile (or at least keep a stiff upper lip) in a situation that once would have reduced me to tears of humiliation and embarrassment.  And I may even add, In some ways she is not unlike a little wild animal, and I need to be the "child-whisperer". 
Well, at least they buy the "wild animal" part.