Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Family Portrait

I am a scrapbooker. It’s an addiction. But, no matter how much I do it (and have done it for over ten years) I am never caught up. The other day I was working on layouts from a family cruise that we went on back in 2001.

My dad took us. He took us all—his mother, his aunt, all his children, all his grandchildren—on an 11 night cruise to the deep Caribbean. One of his brothers also came with his wife and children. At the time, my husband and I only had one child, his daughter TK. She was about 8. It was a wonderful vacation filled with visits to beaches, and ruins, and jungles, with giant blue butterflies and slippery stingrays.

One of the things I love best about cruises is formal dinners every night. I love dressing up. Look at us, lol, we look like the Addams family.


There is another photograph, a family portrait taken of the whole group of us together. It was that particular picture I was scrapping when a thick sadness overwhelmed me. I wanted to print all the names vertically on vellum paper to stick next to the photo. As I was staring at the faces, typing the names, it struck me how broken and gone my family is.

The greats and grands in the photo have since died. I adored my grandmother, and I still miss her. But, old ladies dying in their nineties is not the sad part. Divorce is the sad part. There are people missing that I loved. They were my family and they are no more. And because the wife is gone, so are her children. I showed the picture to my sons and neither of them could name half the people in it.

If that picture had been taken ten years earlier, there would have been a different step-mother for me and a bunch of other step-siblings. Going back even further, there would have been still another step-mother, another aunt, and different cousins... Divorce has divided me from my family since I was a year old and my parents divorced. My paternal grandparents are divorced. Every one in my parents’ generation (both sides) is divorced, some more than once. My generation on my side and on my husband’s has not gone untouched by the disease. I wonder what the family picture looks like ten years from now. Will my children still have all their aunts, uncles, and cousins? I doubt it, and my heart breaks just thinking about it.

We scrappers joke around that if you piss us off we will crop you out of our layouts. Ha, in this family, we divorce you out of our layouts.

I hate divorce. I hate how it breaks apart families, unit by unit, until there is nothing left but scraps in a photo album.

Tomorrow I will have a lovely dinner with my family of seven, and one set of grandparents. Our kids have three sets total, and that is not going to change for them. They will never have to learn to love a new grandparent or to forget a discarded one. Only the natural circle of life will separate them from their grands. For that, I am thankful.

I admit though, I am jealous of you who have generations of intact families. You are out there right? You do exist?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kitchen Musings

1. We spend about $1000 a month on groceries (and cleaning supplies that I hardly have time to use and don’t know why I am always replacing.) Every week one of us makes a run to the wholesale club and to Walmart. And then there are still multiple trips to the market down the road for the daily essentials like fresh vegetables and whatever thingie I forgot that I must have for tonight’s dinner.


Oh wait, that’s the problem. Every night I stare blankly at the monthly menu planner clinging to refrigerator door. Tonight’s imaginary dinner sounds delicious, as does last night’s and tomorrow’s. I wander back and forth between the refrigerator/freezer and the pantry, opening one and then the other, making mental notes of the possibilities and... I am stymied. How come there is never anything to make for dinner in there?

2. Many many moons ago an old witch gave me a heavy, short, fat, square, green glass bottle filled with some sort of potion that was supposed to magically make my step-daughter TK’s mother’s boyfriend get hit by a bus become a nice guy. I dumped out the liquid spell on the back lawn (sorry TK) and then used that beautiful bottle to house my dishwashing soap all these years. About a month ago Kimani climbed up on the counter and smashed it on my granite countertop. Then for good measure she tossed what was left of it onto the floor where it shattered some more. That green bottle broke into a million sparkling pieces that took me forever to clean up. Not one of them landed on Kimani.

And now I can’t do dishes anymore. Ok, well, I can’t peacefully do dishes... because I have nothing to store my soap in. I keep having to drag out an oversized bottle of Dawn (Remember the trips to the wholesale club?) from underneath my sink. I squirt some into whatever small dish is handy and I use that to wash the daily pileup. Every time I have to dip my sponge into the dish, I wonder what other people do with their dishsoap. I think about those plastic pump bottles that always have dried up soap on them, like a used taper candle. I don’t want one of those.

3. Last Christmas my bestie got me a pressure cooker set. It saved my life. Ok, that is a slight exaggeration but it saved my sanity which is tightly tied to my life so yeah. I have since learned that almost everyone I know is afraid of pressure cookers. Have no fear, this is not your mother’s pressure cooker, it’s your great-grandmother’s. (During and after WWII pressure cooker manufactures, of which there were quite a number, started using cheap and available light-weight aluminum; and the blow ups followed. Those days are over. Pressure cookers are well-made once again.)


It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it, but pressure cooking is definitely the way to go for about half of what I cook. (Which according to #1 isn’t much these days.) At first it was all about the time-saving. Every evening, hundreds of (ok five) hungry children start whining and I realize it is already 5:08 p.m. and I have not even started staring blankly at the menu planner yet. What to do, what to do? It is so hard to think with Autumn tearfully clinging to my leg begging for food. On autopilot I get out the pressure cooker and my favorite cookbook and a half hour later they all love me again. Now it is my go-to pan because food made in a pressure cooker tastes better. It’s true. You should get one.

4. Pan drippings, what the heck do you do with them? At least once a week I end up with a pan (usually my pressure cooker) that has an inch or so of left over meat juice. It is too slimy to dump down the drain and too watery to dump in the garbage. I could sop it up with handfuls of paper towels and dump it in the trash, or leave it overnight and hope it congeals enough to scrape it into the trash, or scrounge up an empty carton or can to pour it in before placing it carefully in the garbage bin... or I could toss it on the back lawn (in the same place as the magic potion) but then the coyotes might smell it and come eat our cat. (That happened once. It is a horrible story, a funny and horrible story which I will eventually be forced to tell you because some cat lover out there now thinks I am evil for using the word funny to describe a story in which the family cat gets offed by a coyote. When you laugh during the funny part you will forgive me.)

Whenever I am faced with the grease dilemma, I remember that I really want to buy a grease separator. I have this fantasy that if I can get the actual fat out of the pan, the rest can be safely poured down the drain with a swish of scalding hot water. The grease will thicken up nicely and can live out the rest of its life in a paper towel in the local landfill. Is this possible? Do any of you have a grease separator? If not, what do you do with your pan leftovers?

Friday, November 22, 2013

School Bus Blues

When Masha started General Education Kindergarten last year, she was transported to and from school on the regular ole bus with her big brothers. It wasn’t long before the problems started. She wouldn’t keep her seat belt on and it got worse from there.


(Do any of the other kids on the regular bus wear their seat belts? Uh, no.)

But she started moving around too much, leaning over the seats, bothering other students... and spitting. Apparently someone on the bus modeled that for her and she picked it up lickety-split. I fielded phone call after phone call about how bad she was, and I tried idea after idea trying to get her to behave. I even begged, bribed, and forced her brothers to take turns sitting with her to try to keep her behaving in a positive way. That only made things worse, and in retrospect it probably wasn’t my best idea ever.

The bus ride is so boring for her. Other kids sit together and chat, or they whip out their handheld electronic games and play. Kids socialize on the bus, at least that is how I remember the long daily rides when I was a kid. Masha sits alone and she has no games to play. The special books I sent for her to only have on the bus turned into projectiles. Eventually she started kicking the windows, causing the driver to have to pull over to deal with her. The school refused to provide an aide, so I suggested a 5-point harness seat belt.

Instead they kept pushing for her to ride on the special bus, and I had no ideas left, no fight left... so I agreed to try it. I figured they would work with her, teach her the proper way to ride the bus and that before too long she would be back on the regular bus.

Oooh, lesson learned. If it goes on the IEP, it is LAW and it is a nightmare to get back off the IEP. The little bus came with an aide and a harness that I had to strap on her everyday over her clothes/coat. Once on the bus, they literally clipped her to the seat by the shoulders and lower back using the metal loops on the harness. The aide also coddled her. She waited outside the bus and took Masha’s backpack for her and then helped her up the steps and into her seat, allowing her zero independence. Since this bus is used for multiple children with special needs across multiple schools in our district, Masha’s bus ride became much longer, and she was forced to leave class 15 minutes early everyday to get loaded onto the bus so that it could depart prior to the regular bus loading frenzy. A couple weeks lasted months.

One day, while waiting with Autumn and Masha for both their buses, a very bad thing happened. I forgot the harness. When Masha’s bus came (before Autumn’s this time) they refused to take her on the bus without it. I was stunned. The kid can’t ride on the stinkin’ bus one freakin’ day without being strapped in like a convict? I asked them to wait for me to drive up our (sorta long) driveway to get it, and they said they did not have time for that. At that moment, I forgot that I am a nice lady and became Psycho Bitch. Seriously, the rope snapped, kwim? Masha was standing on the bottom step of the bus while the aide was trying to talk me into taking her back home, and I said “No. No fucking way!” (Yeah, I took a lot of heat for that one. Sorry parents of those kids on the bus that may or may not have heard me.) I turned around and stuffed Autumn (who I was holding the whole time) back in the van, jumped in and drove up my driveway with Masha still standing on the bus step.

Yup, they waited for me to return with that harness. But I decided right then that Masha was done riding that bus. I insisted that they begin teaching her what is expected of her. I demanded that she be back on the regular bus within a week or so of practicing without that contraption on her.

And it all worked out just fine. Then over the summer, she attended camp for 6 weeks. She rode the full-sized camp bus every day with no problems, and I was one proud mama.


This Fall, she started off on the regular bus again and everything was going just fine; until I got the phone call today. Masha is taking her coat off and opening her backpack and throwing her stuff on the bus floor. And although she is staying in her seat belt, she is getting up on her knees and looking over the seats. She is causing her driver so much stress that he “missed a turn down a street one day last week.” I felt like pointing out that this dude backs over the mailboxes at the end of our road once a week, what’s his excuse for that? But instead it went kinda like this:

Me: I fail to see the problem with Masha removing her coat. In fact, if Masha can now unbutton her coat, that is an OT goal completed and I am impressed.
Principal: It’s cold out now.
Me: Yeah, Masha will figure that out.
Principal: blah blah blah blah
Me: No, no special bus. How about an aide?
Principal: blah blah blah blah, probably not.

I am tired people. I am sad. I am feeling defeated. (But mama, SHE KEEPS HER SEATBELT ON!!!!!) Yeah, there’s that. That’s big. So I suggested we try more detailed social stories, and I have a few more ideas up my sleeve but really the problem is not going to be solved anytime soon.

Because the real problem is that she is bored and lonely on the bus. No kid sits still and alone, day after day, with nothing to do but stare out the window for forty minutes. Am I right?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Unschooling Kimani

So remember back over the summer when I freaked out about the unexpected additions to Kimani’s school Behavior Plan and said I was thinking of homeschooling her? Well, I did it. I mean I am doing it. Sort of.

First off I have to say that I am super proud of myself for attempting this. I could have been a SAHM with no kids at home during the day which theoretically means I could be working out at the gym five days a week, planning and executing gourmet meals, finishing the book I have been writing for three years, or maybe just sleeping all day long. But instead, I traded in my freedom to give my precious Tasmanian devil a safe and happy Kindergarten year at the Mommy Academy of Table Dancers.


I suck at this. I knew I would. I told you I would. I bought a bunch of stuff to work from: the big Preschool lesson plan book, a bunch of manipulatives, and edible arts and crafts supplies. I managed (on the third try) to write an acceptable homeschool plan for our district and met with them to rework the IEP so that therapies could still happen. (That is not really working out, but it is a whole separate post.)

In September Kimani played along. We went bowling and grocery shopping with PECs cards. We went apple picking and visited a farm. We studied the color red and the math concept of One and Two. We dressed the weather froggy and painted pictures. We played on the iPad and read Moo Baa La La La. Sounds great right? Well it wasn’t great. It was tortuous because one of us is extremely, ahem, self-directed (okay, maybe we both are). By October she was not willing to play along at all for the things she doesn't care about.

She and I both learned a lot in that first month. She knows that two, when it comes to yummy things, is more desirable than one, and given the choice she will say, Two. She can now say apple. She can jump on her trampoline for long periods of time without holding on to the sides. She knows the difference between pink and red. She now knows that the grocery store gives away cookies to little girls and will say cookie as soon as we enter the store. Because her receptive learning ability is higher than her ability to express herself, these little milestones mean that she is really picking up quite a bit. I learned that she does not want to do anything schoolish. Put a puzzle together? NO! Draw a line (or heck, hold any writing utensil and make any marks at all) NO! Sit for any book other than Moo Baa La La La? NO! You get the idea.

I also learned that she loves to do things that are real, like cooking, shopping, or outings. She prefers playing with whipped cream over playdough. She prefers loud dance music or sitting on the piano and tapping the keys with her feet to playing with toy instruments. I learned that Kimani really understands the PECs system and wants to use it to communicate. I learned that she prefers unschooling to homeschooling. And so now, I am trying to incorporate pre-K level science, math, literacy, etc. into everyday activities that she is willing to participate in. Tomorrow a special education teacher is coming to visit. We might be adding an hour a week of consulting time to the IEP, depending on how impressive she is.


I also learned that while it does make me crazy to never have any alone time anymore, the trade off of getting her all to myself for hours on end is really cool. It has been a long, long times since she was my only child at home. Everyday I see advances albeit teensy tiny ones. Some days I am really encouraged that she is more educable than I had realized. Other days... well on other days, I try not to think about what this looks like in three or four years. One good or bad day at a time, right?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thoughts on Adoption

As many of you know, Masha and Autumn are adopted. We got them in the late summer of 2010 from Kyiv, Ukraine. Autumn was 10 months old and Masha was 3 years and 5 months old... to the day when the judge decreed them our daughters.

We knew very little about them when we chose them. We knew that Masha was healthy and that her paternal grandparents were still visiting her regularly. We knew that Autumn had an unfixed complete AV Canal heart defect that was possibly killing her and likely causing permanent damage to her lungs if she did live until we could get her home and into surgery. We knew they were cute.



We also knew that it would take about $32,000.00 to complete the entire adoption process. Half came from our family members and the other half was donated from people in our real and virtual lives, and even from strangers. We are forever grateful to those people.

We also had no idea how many adoptions end in regret and even disruption. Yes we took the class that warned us that some orphans may not bond well and that there were other negative possibilities but we didn’t dwell on those things. There are many reasons why adoptions can sour, and one of the least talked about is that adoption is not the same for the children as it is for the adopting family. While that might seem obvious, the consequences of it can be devastating.

It dawned on me the day I met Masha... though the future we were saving her from was bleak, her present was just fine with her. She was a very happy, well adjusted child who had absolutely no idea that the nice people who were visiting her were about to take away from her everything she had ever known and loved. She had a life. She had a language. She had people she adored. She had children around her who were like siblings. She had a routine, and well-developed senses for taste and smell and sounds. She had preferences. She had a life, and we took it away from her.

From her perspective, we were not rescuing but rather abducting her. She must have been terrified. She must have missed her grandparents, doting groupas, and orphan siblings. She must have missed her home, her routine, her crib, her swing. She must have been frustrated and lonely for the things she understood.

Looking back, I think we did ok. We got it pretty early on and we did everything possible to keep what we could of her world. I cooked some Ukrainian dishes that Masha would recognize (though God only knows if they tasted close enough.) We kept the few ratty stuffed animals, and all the clothes and shoes the groupas gave us for her. We bought Russian lullabies for her. We showed her pictures and told her how much everyone still loves her. We called her by her Russian lovey name, and used all the Russian words we learned and could remember. Most of all, we tried to respect her will.

As it turns out, Masha is probably one of the most resilient orphans there ever was. She learned some signs before she even left Ukraine, and once home she drank up the English language. She literally spent hours on the iPad touching pictures and hearing the words. She immediately adjusted to the new routine and overcame her fears (of the bath, of losing food, etc.) within months. She watched everything, and she participated in everything. But what really made all the difference was that she fell in love with all of us.

Autumn, too, had been loved. In fact, if not for the love of her house doctor, Tatiana, I don’t know if she would have lived. Tatiana saw to it that Autumn finally got the heart surgery that she so desperately needed, even though she already knew that Autumn had a family coming for her. She also oversaw round the clock feedings because, as it turned out, Autumn was suffering from severe reflex and needed to be fed every two hours. More than half of what she ate came back out. I cannot imagine how hard it was pre-surgery to get a baby who was in failure to thrive and congestive heart failure to eat, but they did it. Autumn was not an easy baby, but she was an adored baby.

For precious Autumn the uprooting must have been even harder... because we even took her name from her. There was nothing I could cook for her that resembled anything they fed her, and our clumsy attempts at Russian utterances were met with stares. We had none of her lovey dolls or toys. And, sadly we assumed that since she was just a baby that her attachments would be easily replaced. Not so. She began sucking her thumb so intently that she eventually sucked the nail right off. She woke up crying every night, on and off all night. All of our affection and attention probably kept her alive, but it wasn’t until she grew into us and forgot her past that she was able to bloom.

We feel very fortunate. Our daughters are healthy and happy, and they have given to this family just as much as they have received. Our daughter Kimani has been blessed immensely by having two sisters who do everything with her. Those two little orphans were just right for us, and for each other.



Over the past three years, we have heard many unsettling things about adopted children, the adoption process, adoption organizations, and so on. We know that our story is one of the happy ones. We still believe that Reece’s Rainbow is a good organization, and we are still thankful for the roles it played in bringing us to our girls. We still think our facilitator Oleg is one of the best. We still think our girls came from a place that while poor, provided them with loving care. We still think that the seven weeks we spent in the capital city of Ukraine were some of the best times of our lives. We still think that our adopted daughters are two of the most wonderful people in the world. In fact, three years into this journey, there is not one bad thing I can think of to tell you about our adoption.