Monday, December 26, 2011


I decided to throw all (well, a few) of my pictures in here with a brief explanation.  This one is in honor of Essie.  HOW I miss her blog.  If you don't know why this photo, you have to read this post.  I say a prayer for Essie and her girls whenever I slam a cart (which doesn't seem at all the appropriate thing to do.....but, I can't think of anything better.)

Zhen turned twelve in November, and we went out for lunch. I guess I was too busy to actually post about it at the time (though it isn't that scintillating an event for those not involved, I know).  Also, (in my defense) he did not want a haircut when school time rolled around, or in October, or in November.....Frankly, I didn't want to take any pictures of him; he was looking like a mess, but I did break down and take a few on his birthday.  To my delight, he finally realized that his thick and coarse hair is not, no matter how long it gets, going to shine and glimmer as he shakes it into place.  I expect he wanted to look like Justin Bieber or some such.... It just isn't working out for him.

I took this photo of Anastasia and Zhenya returning cans and bottles at the store, only because it pleased me so much to see them working together.  Nothing like money as a motivator.

Also, I needed to distract myself from the absolute stench in this room.  The smell of stale beer - just too awful.

All summer I had a regular little treat - next to the door I'd planted a few tomato plants, given to us (grown from seed) by one of the Russian school moms.  This was my favorite plant - grape tomatoes, and the tastiest morsels imaginable.  It became an understood thing that this plant was "mama's".  Amost every day throughout July and on, there were a few for my delectation.  And, on they went....I actually took this photo sometime in November, the day it was going to freeze, thinking these were my final tomatoes. but even after all the foliage was dead, I got a couple more tomatoes just a few weeks ago. 

Three of my favorite Russian girls - they all came to Dana's funeral. Vika lives in Detroit; she and Sasha (center) were at Zhenya's orphanage.  Masha, on the right, is the sister of Misha, who was for years Sergei's best friend.  (And her mom gave me the tomatoes!)  It was touching to see how much these girls loved Dana, and recognized all she did for them. 

There was a little display at the funeral, with some of the notes and letters Dana had received from the children and parents she worked with.  I noticed this one, which Anastasia wrote several years ago.

I don't write much about work here, but I organized an "Activity Morning" for moms and preschoolers/homeschoolers the week before Christmas.  These are always a lot of work up-front, thinking of the activities, and providing all the supplies and planning ahead for every eventuality...but once that's done (!) the actual event is so much fun.   Here some boys work on the Christmas card activity. 

These girls are making Christmas ornaments - pictures of the Holy Family, mounted on card, and framed with colored macaroni.  The effect is actually kind of nice.   I frankly don't have the patience to do this, but it is a nice fine motor exercise for the children.
I have often had the children decorate Christmas cookies for themselves and their moms, but this time it occurred to me to have them make punch, too.  So, the helper poured the clear fizzy drink, and the children got to use tongs to add ice, and their choice of lime, lemon and orange, then a squirt of red fruit drink from a squeeze bottle.   Shown with these boys is my wonderful intern, Marie.  She is amazing.  And, she is beautiful, though this photo does not do her justice.
Here is my Iraqi friend, Ban.  She helps with so many things, including assisting with the activity morning.  (She led the children in making a little "kit" they could set up at home with a cardstock manger, straw, and a tiny, plastic baby.)  Ban is a catechist, and she tutors my kids in math.
So there we are.  I have a bit of a life after my stint as "trauma mama".  I know this isn't a very interesting post, but it rounds out the picture a little bit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I spent a few days last week in good company.  Another trauma-mama had all my attention; I was reading the book I mentioned in a previous post, Raising Abel, by Carolyn Nash.

Raising Abel covers the seventeen years between Carolyn's adoption of the three-year-old Abel, and his turning twenty-one......years of sweetness, violence, personal growth, and heartache.  Carolyn. Nash, single and 37 when she adopted Abel from foster care, clearly had the nurturing heart of a mother.  From the beginning, she was cut from good trauma-mama cloth, woven with patience, forgiveness, empathy and lots and lots of love - not affection, but true, committed, sacrificial love.  From the beginning Abel tested her mettle, with tantrums born of PTSD, and behavioral issues stemming from early trauma and lack of nurture.  The revelations of almost every kind of abuse make one marvel at the resilience of children and wonder that the residual effects weren't even worse.

The terrifying part of the book for me personally, was seeing how a little boy who was doing well, and even, seeming to master the difficult behaviors of his early childhood, was completely derailed by the inner shift wrought by puberty.  A boy who clearly loved his adoptive mother, and who had obviously bonded with her, turned into a strong young man who could terrorize and even harm her in fits of PTSD, the triggers for which were now less easy to discern.  I lost sleep over descriptions of Abel as a teen, enraged and out of control, chasing his mother through the night-time fields on their remote country property, and Abel, a body-builder, smashing all the windows of their truck, and the walls and the furniture, and everything he could see in their home.  And tears flooded my eyes, as he sobbed in sorrow and shame over what he had done, and his terrified mother struggled to make life-altering decisions in response.

Surprising in a book of this sort, the  reader is carried along on waves of suspense. For far too long, Carolyn loves and cares for this vulnerable little guy, while they both are tormented by visits and possible permanent return to his abusive mother. All the while Abel, only three, begins, bit by bit, to reveal the monstrous and unbelievable actions of adults who were supposed to love and protect him.  Anyone with experience of the fractured, and so often error-ridden social service system won't be able to breathe quite normally for much of the  book...and then, there are the disturbing and cloudy areas in Carolyn's own childhood, which prompted by Abel's revelations, and aided by a wonderful therapist, begin to reveal troubling mysteries from Carolyn's own past.  Yes, for many reasons it is a page-turner, but probably the aspect of the book that causes the mother of a traumatized child to turn the pages with a mix of anticipation and apprehension  is the question  - will he - will they - be healed?

One of the most interesting aspects of this book for me was watching this story play out, as Carolyn adopts and raises Abel in the years just before many of the recent discoveries in brain research and neuroscience that have led people like Dan Hughes, Bruce Perry, Heather Forbes, Karyn Purvis and others to develop specific strategies for parenting children with early trauma.  The first (and every subsequent) time Carolyn gives Abel a "time-out" it is all I could do not to cry out, "No! Time IN!!!"  While I rejoiced in the therapeutic relationship with the gifted Amanda that led to so much growth on Carolyn's part, I chafed at the lack of information she received about how Abel was progressing with his counselor, and found myself aching for diadic therapy or Theraplay.

And, perhaps that is another of the suspenseful aspects of this story- will Carolyn's instincts - which are generally so right - win out over what was then (and is too often now) the conventional wisdom?  Will her love be enough?  As Abel's behavior becomes more severe she allows herself to (or perhaps it is better to say, she is forced to) turn to programs that focus on behavior rather than trauma resolution - and, sure enough - Abel goes through a behaviorally-based  residential treatment program, which  has the expected [by me] result - a short-term change followed by a resurfacing of the behaviors generated by the deep hurts and shame that a program like that will never touch (and will, in fact, make worse by adding the shame of failure).  And Abel's mother, in desperation,  also turns to hospitals and pharmaceutical interventions, only to find what an inexact science it is, sometimes making things worse rather than better.

Raising Abel is a beautifully written book, and not a difficult read.  It focuses on the story, and does not pretend to educate or preach.  While a parallel is drawn between Abel and the physically disabled sister of his best friend, that image is not necessary to get the point across - a child like Abel, no matter what his behavior looks like - deserves understanding and compassion.  Any parent, any educator, will be drawn to make ones own conclusions but most assuredly, will grow in understanding and compassion in the process.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Last week the foundation of my world shifted beneath me.  I learned that Dana Marra the extraordinary, precious woman who gave me my children – had died   Few people have ever had a greater impact on my life.  She gave me my precious Russians. 

Dana had an amazing life – God selected her to work miracles here on earth.  Day by day she worked hand in hand with Him.  Whenever I thought of her and what she meant to me, the words that flew into my mind most readily were "handmaid of the Lord".  It hardly seemed right to use this phrase, uttered by Mary (Luke 1:38), about anyone else.  And yet, even on further thought, that seems to me to be the role Dana played - in my life, and in so many others.

I remember vividly the first time I talked to Dana.  I'd heard that some parents of a friend of Lydia's had adopted two Russian children.  With all my love for Russia, and with my previous thoughts about adoption, I'd never heard such a thing was possible.  The only international adoption I'd heard about was China.  And, we'd looked into that and realized that never in this lifetime was it anything we could afford.  And now - we were surely too old.  But, when I met Lydia's friend's parents - they were clearly older than Craig and I, and they were clearly not all that well off; yet there they stood with their two little Russian children.  So, on a whim, I contacted the first agency I had any knowledge of (vaguely, through someone at church) and I requested a packet of information about Russian adoption.  Before the packet arrived - within only a day or two - I picked up the phone, and on the other end was Dana.  Dana had a little Russian boy for me - when could I take delivery? 

Coincidentally, right at the time I wrote to her, (are there coincidences?) Dana had a group of children in Michigan on a hosting program.  The family who was hosting Sergei had decided not to adopt, and Dana was looking for a family for him.  My heart stopped, I think, and I was filled with horror.  I have never back-pedaled so fast!!!  I was overwhelmed with panic What had I done?  I'd just been messing about with the idea!  It was not even a pipe-dream!  I'd just been day-dreaming when I asked for that packet - not serious!!!   

This was one of the few times Dana had to use her persuasive powers with me!  Persuade she that, and in a few subsequent conversations over the next few days.  Little did I know that she was using those powers with a few other families, as well.  Now it makes me shudder with horror to imagine how close we came to losing our Sergei.  But, advocate for children that she was, Dana was going to leave no stone unturned in order to find that boy a home.  Dana also saw a deeper truth in all of it - she often said, "God gives you the children you are supposed to have."  Sergei was ours from the beginning of time.  But it was Dana's mission to deliver him.

Long story short, she cajoled me.....and praise God she did!   

But, the expense - how could we afford adoption?  We could afford adoption because Dana took almost nothing for her work with older children.  This is where her heart was and if she saw a chance to get a child a good home, she was not going to allow money to stand in the way.  All we paid was a few thousand dollars over the actual cost of travel and what we paid the people in Russia - and, Dana didn't work with the very expensive and very unhelpful Russian staff that many other adoptive parents complained about - the staff Dana had put together in Russia was amazing!  To begin with, they were people we could trust and come to love, but they were foremost, caring people who did not see adoption as a path to undue riches.  So, while other families, adopting from the same orphanages, paid over $40,000 to bring their children home, we paid just a bit over the cost of the tax refund.

And Dana was careful and knowledgeable.  She took her responsibilities with each family very seriously. And she was good at what she did, scrupulous about detail.  While families I knew, who went through other agencies, waited months and months, even years longer than we did, often finding it was due to errors and shoddy paperwork, we never had a glitch - not once in four adoptions, was there anything our agency did that caused a problem or a delay.   Dana was absolutely trustworthy, and so respectful and wise in her dealings with the people in Russia.

With Sergei, at his hosting family, was another little boy, Valeri.  He was a couple of years older, and there was no way we were going for two!  But, he weighed on my mind, and more so, Dana’s.  She cajoled me to “ask around”.  I did better than that (well, let’s say I was “prompted”).  Standing in the sacristy before Mass, I suddenly had the idea to have father make a plea for a family for this boy.  I have to tell you, in a large Catholic Church such an individual and personal thing is rarely, if ever done – but the Spirit that prompted me, also prompted our pastor – and the family at Mass that morning who called me, interested in adopting Valeri.  So, in that way, for the first time, I joined in this grand work Dana was doing.  It was the first of many times.  Dear, dear Dana was generous in her willingness to allow me, and others, to share in this wondrously loving work she did.  And, somehow in that sharing, I developed a bond of love with her that was different and deeper than with any ordinary friend.  

I cannot believe that I can never again tell her what she is to me!   Not that I never told her!  I tried to express it again and again - but in person, certainly, words failed.   I am pretty sure I expressed it in writing.  I think she knew on one level, but can't imagine how she could ever really understand how much she meant to me......

Dana Marra was my miracle.  But for Dana I would not have my family.  No Sergei, Zhenya, Nastya, Ilya - no Maxim.   Who would I love?  What would I do with my days?  What would I have done with myself?  How could have lived without this mission to love, that comes so clearly from God....but handed to me by Dana. 

God rest her soul, and dear Lord, thank you, THANK YOU for her!
Dana with Nastya and three other Russian girls whose lives she changed.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Yesterday Ilya celebrated his seventeenth birthday....though both he and we feel like he is fifteen.  In any case, we splurged and got him a TV for his room so he can play xbox.  I am not a "TV-in-the-room" kind of person, but Ilya never asks for anythingNever.  In all his years with us, this is the only thing he has ever said he really wanted.  He never complains, never begs, never even requests certain foods over others (with the one exception that he detests pizza - it makes him gag and he can't eat it).  He wouldn't even specify a special birthday dinner.  So, obviously, he had to get his TV. 

We had a plain old stir-fry for dinner, but I purchased (time not being sufficient to make) a very nice cake. 

Just as Ilya was putting plates on the table for the cake, and making a little joke (which he so rarely, does - evident of his happy mood) of putting the entire cake on his plate.....I hear glass breaking in the kitchen, a glass falling into the sink.  Innocently stupid me; I hadn't even noticed that the presentation of this cake was pulling a trigger.  Sergei said, "That doesn't sound good."   And it wasn't good. It wasn't an accident.  It was the beginning of a couple of hours of really, really bad energy.

The first thing that I noticed, after obliviously attributing the shattered glass sound to an accident, was Anastasia going into the living room and  pouring a Diet Coke on the carpet.  Then she began to grab the various things in the room, pillows, books, etc.,  and throw them all over.  Of course I left the table and went in there and did all I could do to defuse the bomb.

I'm not particularly astute or bright.   I could tell this was birthday-related, and figured it was also probably a delayed reaction to reading all her paperwork from Russia.  This is something she decided in therapy that she had to do, and her therapist agreed that Anastasia had the right to know everything there was to know.  [By the grace of God her paperwork was not as bad as it might have been....lots of repetition, refrains almost - "mother known to be of bad reputation"  "public drunkenness" "immoral lifestyle"  "left without foodstuffs, or furniture"  "not taken to the doctor to get inoculations or check ups" "not sent to kindergarten or given any education"  "left to beg".   After reading it she commented to me about her mother not "visiting or showing any interest in" her baby brother, but apart from that there wasn't much that Anastasia didn't already know and actually remember.  However, I should have known there was a time bomb there.

She didn't know what to say, I guess.  So, she had to show me what she felt.  She grabbed the papers out of her notebook and tore them up and threw them around the living room.  I made a few miss-steps because I recall at one point her threatening me if I said "anything bad about my mother!"  But, later she expressed her anger that Ilya was cared for, Ilya was fed, but she wasn't, and got angry at me for suggesting that her mother did the best she could..... [no winning in this game] 

At one point, she ran through the house grabbing photos of herself and  tearing them up.  Then she ran to the desk where a big envelope of all the kids photos are kept, and she did tear up one of Lydia; somehow I got them and hid them while she was doing that.   She grabbed my arms and held me (I really didn't try to get away....just to look into her eyes and listen).  Eventually (after at least an hour of hard work on my part coping with her anger and violence) she burst into tears and expressed her anger and grief. 

Of course, feeling that Ilya was more fortunate than she was to begin with, taken to live with grandma and fed, seeing him presented with a birthday cake was way.too.much.   It was interesting that for the first time her threats of retribution went past the poor souls who adopted her, to include going to Russia to find her family and make all their lives a "living hell".  (About this time, I was envisioning buying her the ticket, frankly.)

One great difficulty that hangs over our child-management  is that husband is a behaviorist and we never agree on how to handle Anastasia in these fits.  Because his methods haven't worked, and mine often seem to (albeit delayed), he pretty much leaves me to it.  But, if he had his way, would deal with the behavior (regardless of origin) and would put her in "time out" [like we have a padded room to hold her???].  This is what he says, anyway.  He would give her punishments for this kind of behavior. I can't imagine what punishments we could give her, honestly.  All she does for any sort of escape is watch TV.  She is in bad shape at the moment, with no social life.  She shows little interest in eating.  But my husband has some idea that she "enjoys" this stuff (I think she is in hell during it, myself).  In any case, he wants her to PAY. 

To be fair,  in most of my reading - even Karyn Purvis, there is some expectation that after the meltdown is over, the child will be expected to do some sort of reparation.  While this seems reasonable, I have not had any luck with it.  The next day can come; she can be more or less regulated again, but the moment I begin to touch on what occurred,  I can see that she is filled with shame for what she did, and the shame threatens to throw her back where she was and launch a repeat.....  She seems more able to re-visit the ugly place than do any sort of "re-do" or "reparation".

Am I doing something wrong, or is she too far gone?  Or is my husband right?  As regards this, I'm at a loss.

What I usually do is try and help her get through the fit via acceptance and curiosity, then the boil breaks, so to speak; she crumples in tears and grief and neediness and reveals the heart of the pain she is feeling.  She is vulnerable; I try and give her comfort and a feeling of safety.  That is the end. 

Seems to me on some level, like she's suffered herself going through all that anger to the place of honesty and vulnerability. The process was its own punishment.  I just can't really see why other "punishment" is necessary.....though reparation seems like a "nice" idea.  I just can't see it happening, as it would require going back to that feeling of seeing herself as a nasty, bad, destructive person, from a place of more relative peace. 

Also I forgive easily, and my forgiveness involves forgetting.  Real forgetting.  Maybe I don't want to "go back there" any more than she does....because I always feel as though she has moved forward, fought a demon, and is in a new place. 

By the way, if you want to feel sorry for me.....when it was all over and, shaking and worn, I shuffled into the kitchen to get a piece of cake.....due to miscalculation, it..... was.... all.... gone.  


I've been reading a very powerful "trauma mama" book - Raising Abel by Carolyn Nash.  It is a gut-wrenching story of a horrifically abused three year old, but at the same time, an inspirational story of the healing love of his therapeutic-foster-mama.  (Hopefully his adoptive mama, but I haven't gotten that far yet.)   One would hardly expect this sort of book to also be full of suspense, but it is, which is one reason I couldn't put it down last night.  As his foster mama wins his love and begins his path of healing, there is still the looming and awful possibility of reunification with his abusive mother....and while working with Abel, his foter mom begins to get glimmers of nightmarish things hidden in her own past, which may give meaning to the way her life has come together. 

Just to say, it is a great read  - and I was even quoting it to my husband this morning, as justificaion for the way I handled things last night.  Ms. Nash's trials were surprising salve to the wounds I was feeling after having undergone one heck of an Ilya's-birthday-induced melt-down after dinner last night.   Every aspect of her interactions with Abel are just so true to the kinds of things those of us who parent children of trauma experience.  I think I'll want to do a "real" review when I finish it, but I just noticed that today only, Raising Abel is FREE for download on Kindle! 

Go for it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Anastasia's godfather is one of my favorite priests, Fr.Karl Pung.  In our beautful Diocesan magazing FAITH, he was asked to give his "last" homily.  I have to say, that it overwhelmed me.  It could be a message straight to the heart of his bruised little goddaughter.  I like it so much I'm sharing it here.

Allow the image of the resurrected Christ to guide your healing and sanctification.

In this earthly existence, our being hurt and wounded at some point is a given. No one can escape the various emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual wounds that are inflicted upon us as we walk through our lives. Each of these wounds change who we are. Every wound disrupts the right ordering
of our mind, body and soul; it disrupts our relationships with God, neighbor, self and creation.  In short, each wound leaves its own mark.

The real question that confronts us is how to deal with these wounds. One temptation is to try and handle these wounds on our own. We may try to acknowledge then deny our hurts, wish them away, or to try and numb them with one vice or another. None of these will bring us true healing. These are various ways to cope, some better than others, but they do not heal the soul, mind or body.

For Christians, being healed is first about acceptance and is then about transformation.  Healing is not about returning to what we once were, or forgetting that something happened.  Healing for a Christian is about allowing Christ to transform every aspect of our being into something that no longer causes us pain; something that is loved, gives God glory, and still allows every action or memory to remain a part of who we are. The image that comes to us from Scripture is Jesus’ carrying his own wounds in his resurrected body.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he still has the marks of his crucifixion, but they are transformed. When people look upon his wounds and touch them, these wounds do not cause Jesus pain, but give God glory. That is what we want for ourselves. To be transformed in such a way that all of our hurts no longer hurt, but give God glory. This transformation occurs first by accepting our wounds and pains, and then by inviting
Jesus into them and allowing him to love them and to transform them. Each of our wounds will be with us for eternity, but there will be a day when they too will give glory to God instead of causing us pain.

Let us pray to know the love that Jesus knew that allowed him to trust himself and his wounds into the hands of the Father. Together, let us give God glory and be transformed.