Thursday, January 31, 2008
When a colleague poses as a famous person in order to distract onlookers while you thieve in peace.
Bundle of Joy
When a women pretends to go into labor to create a distraction.
Hell in a Handbasket
A similar strategy, but involving a cat trained to make some sort of ruckus.
Susan B. Anthony
When you leave behind a coin/token, which an innocent bystander picks up to insert in a rigged slot machine.
Apparently involves taking another person's clothes in order to pose as that person.
When someone who has transgressed the thieves’ code of ethics is offered a single chance to make restitution.
Other terms of indeterminate meaning:
In hope of becoming somewhere near as cool as Ocean and co., Mark and I are working on our own secret lingo for the parental gags we pull. This began when we needed a codeword for when one of us wants to caution the other without undermining authority in front of the kids. So now, when one of us is getting a bit too harsh, the other says, "The basement is flooding and the pilot light is out." This is what Julia Roberts tells George Clooney over the phone when the bad guys arrive on her doorstep.
(And yes, once after I said this to Mark, he disappeared into the basement for a while, then returned to tell me that he checked and the pilot light looked just fine.)
Tower of Babel, as in "Can you give it to me in Tower of Babel?"
When the parents don't want to the kids to know what they're saying and so speak in a foreign language, Pig Latin, or with obscuratively large words.
Blitz, as in "It's time for a blitz."
When a parent persuades the children to tidy like mad for a small, specified amount of time; usually employed with an egg timer.
Cuban Missile Crisis, as in "I think we’re having a Cuban Missile Crisis."
When, as a result of fatique, hunger, or stress, a child is observed to be on the very brink of total meltdown and must be treated with special care.
Do-si-do, as in “Please, let’s do a do-si-do.”
When one parent's patience with one child is about to snap while the other parent's patience is about to do the same with a second child; parents switch targets.
Switcharoo, as in "Time for a switcharoo."
When dinnertime conversation becomes too crude and a parent intercedes with something like, "So, what happened at school today?"
A Freud, as in "Shall we give him a Freud?"
When parents invite a child for a private conversation on the master bedroom couch; conversation usually involves plea for greater rectitude or caution.
Playing Chicken, as in "Are you playing chicken?"
When a sleeping parent hears a disturbance but remains totally motionless and concentrates on breathing steadily in hopes the other parent will rise to the call.
I’m working on some additions. In the meantime, what gags do you parents pull?
Monday, January 28, 2008
Here's a short assignment I composed in the shower last week:
It was the coldest day of the year. But as she pressed her feet into the carpet and took the first steps of the day, Angela had no way of knowing it.
Fifteen hours must elapse before the nightly newscaster would announce that it was, in fact, the coldest day in four years. But by then, Angela had returned to bed, blankets piled, windows shut, and the cold in her heart remained unmeasured.
Yes, last week did include the coldest day in four years, but I am quite chipper. And have you noticed I've now referred to coldness or warmness of hearts three times recently? I guess preoccupation with warmth is a side-effect of Janufeb.
I can't decide if I'm glad or sad about the death of our beloved Mormon prophet Gordon B. Hinckley. I'm glad he can rest and that he didn't suffer a protracted decline. But won't you miss his constant refrains of "Just do your best" and "Just try"? He made righteousness seem so simple and attainable.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Today I enjoyed watching Haley and Levi operate in the parallel universe where they live. They piled throw cushions to make a campfire and arrayed an assortment of stuffed-dogs-in-toy-buckets to roast marshmallows. They set out a lunch of plastic playfood on the ottoman cube. They wrote numbers on scraps of paper, divided up the "points," then played a game where running up to touch Jesse restores lost points.
Here's to the next year of watching Haley's wings unfurl.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
One of my faults is that I read too fast. I want to know what happens next and I can't bear to put down a book while its characters are in pain or peril, so I rush through to find the resolution. But this book I've read in sips. Here are some of the things that conspire to put this book in the ranks of Beloved and The Hours (but now that I think of it, much more pleasant than those):
~ It's about a girl, and about how words can and do change lives. Some of my favorite topics.
~ Words are used for their sound, their allusion, their color and feel, even if their literal meaning is off. It makes for an entrancing, evocative read that makes you look at language anew.
~ It addresses orphans and hunger and family separation and Jewishness during World War II Germany. But it doesn't bludgeon you with horror upon horror, then wallow in the pain. This is not one of those books that introduces you to characters only so you can more fully appreciate how the events of the story are the worst possible outcome for that person. It shows the beauty and triumph amidst gray life and thereby reveals the preciousness of love and relationships. Despite the subject matter, each time you put down the book you'll feel a little warm glow in your heart.
~ Humble, unlucky, flawed characters come together by chance. They form relationships, and each person's unique bumps and grooves fit perfectly against the others'. Each person provides what the others need, and together they make something far greater than the sum of the parts. This is my favorite kind of story. (Think About a Boy.)
~ The narrator is totally unique, and the story never loses sight of itself as a story. There's always a bit of tongue-in-cheek, self-reflexive metanarrative. I love stories that look at themselves as stories and talk with us, the readers, about the process of the unfolding story as it goes. The narrator constantly undermines suspense by telling us what will happen next (sometimes). Because we're freed from suspense (see above for my issues with suspense), we can focus more fully on savoring the telling of the story.
Friday, January 18, 2008
whose prayers I have heard,
and whose hearts I know,
and whose desires have come up before me.
Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you,
and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands,
and the riches of eternity are mine to give.
Doctrine and Covenants 67:1-2
Don't you love how occasionally a verse that's always been there and seemed mundane and insignificant suddently jumps out at you? I love the imagery and symmetry of this one. God hears and knows us because our desires have come up before him and his eyes are on us. Like all his senses are focused on giving attention to us. I have had several experiences over the years that have taught me that God really does give caring notice to me.
I also love the imagery of plenty in these verses. Heaven, earth, and the riches of eternity are in God's hands. So if he knows our desires, and has the riches of eternity to give, then blessings must be in store for us.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
After failing to climb K2, Greg Mortenson stumbles into a village so remote it's not on any map. The villagers extend help to him. He notices children trying to conduct school in the open, "kneeling on the frosty ground," and without a teacher. He promises he'll return to build the village a school. And he does. And then he builds schools across Pakistan and Afghanistan. With nothing but vision, drive, and determination (plus some luck and rich donors), he almost singlehandedly opens wide vistas of opportunity to hundreds of people in dozens of villages.
I still harbor hope of changing the world, myself. So I loved reading this step-by-step explanation of how Mortenson transitioned from clueless drifter to effective international activist.
Turns out that in the process, he's undermining the very roots of terrorism. In the areas where Mortenson works, the absence of state-run education leaves a void that is often filled by militant Islamic madrassas that teach jihad over math and science. Children with no access to basic education or hope of earning a decent living are easy recruits for extremists. By providing real education, Mortenson removes those easy targets, and he builds goodwill that thwarts hatred of America and the West.
Mortenson says, “If you are inspired by Three Cups of Tea and its message of peace through education, I have a simple request for you: please tell at least one other person about this book....Finally, read to your children as much as you can. Encourage them to be curious and compassionate about our world, and inspire them to find their own unique way to make a positive difference. It is possible to change the world one penny, one pencil, and one child at a time.”
I am inspired by the message of peace through education, and I do believe in changing the world one child at a time. So if you’d like to read this book, make a comment to this post. In 10 days, I’ll choose a random winner and send you my very own, dog-eared copy. If you're not the winner, get your own copy from Target.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Hot Roll Mix
20 c (5 lbs.) flour
1 1/2 c sugar
4 t salt
1 c instant dry milk.
1 T yeast
1 1/2 c warm water
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c oil
5-6 hot roll mix
~or~ replace hot roll mix with 5 c flour, 3/8 c sugar, 1 t salt, 1/4 c dry milk
Dissolve yeast in water. Blend in eggs and oil. Add 5 c roll mix. Knead 5 min. Let rise til double. Grease 9x13 pan. Shape dough into 24-30 balls. Let rise 30-40 min. (They really don't taste as good if you let them rise too long here.) Bake 20-25 min. at 375 degrees.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Levi: But, Mom! That bread wasn't as cinnamonish as I expected!
[A few moments later.]
Levi (with rising despair): This is our third no-toast Saturday!
Mom: Levi, what if I sprinkle some extra cinnamon on the top of your slice of bread?
Levi (emphatically): With butter.
[Several minutes later, as Levi comes upstairs to wash the amazing cinnamon accumulation on his hands and face.]
Levi: I really am enjoying this, Mom.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Sunday before last I made him take notes on every speaker and promised that if he did so, he could have a chance to doodle and listen the following week. So here's what he worked on last week. Every few minutes I'd shoot him the evil eye and hiss, "You're not listening!" and he'd retort with something like, "He said he's grateful for the ward's help and the gospel is like a seed."
Logan requests that any future correspondence with him be conducted in Monster Alphabet.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Mark walked in (to applause, as always) at 6:50 and was a good enough sport to recount the following events:
- Mark boards southbound train 15 minutes behind schedule. He pulls out some dissertation materials to pass the time.
- Mark surfaces to realize he passed his stop long ago.
- Mark disembarks to await a northbound train to take him back to his stop.
- Mark waits in the cold until his original train returns, having reached the end of the line and turned back.
- Mark again pulls out some dissertation materials.
- Mark surfaces and notices the train is stopping. Ah, he thinks with satisfaction, this is the stop before mine.
- Whoops, actually that was the stop after his.
- Mark disembarks.
- Mark awaits another southbound train.
- Mark boards new train.
- Does he now pull out dissertation materials? We hope not. But at least he succeeds in getting off at the right stop and driving home to his loving family.
Monday, January 7, 2008
After a strange phone call to my husband at work--“Hi. When you get home tonight, there will be a new daughter at the dinner table”--I spent the afternoon in a frenzy of activity. To minimize transitions and give Haley a sense of consistency, I wanted Haley’s bedroom to be ready for her arrival. This required shuffling the other kids’ rooms--and if we were moving dressers and changing beds we might as well vacuum the corners and sort the detritus of children’s belongings. By four o’clock, the bedrooms were arranged and I had done my best to make a bed suitable for a girl--the lighter blue side of a reversible comforter was face up on her bed.
I still remember the moment I first laid eyes on Haley. Her shelter mom, who had cared for her for the previous two weeks (which included 11 days in the hospital with RSV, pneumonia, and asthma complications), held her on her hip as I opened the front door. Haley was wearing pink pants and was holding a sippy cup. The shelter mom and I sat on the couch to discuss Haley’s care. Haley effortlessly began playing with the boys and the toys in the room. When the shelter mom and I were done talking, I set Haley on a barstool and distracted her with a toy while the shelter mom took her leave. I remember that mom looking wistfully at Haley as she walked away. Everyone involved in Haley’s case recognized that Haley was a catch--young, cute, sweet, compliant, seemingly ready to heal from her turbulent past. At dinner that night, I remember watching Haley, learning her face.
The next day I began the process of teaching Haley how to operate in a healthy family. Mealtime, naptime, and bedtime--basic routines for most children--were foreign to her. She would watch me making dinner and chant “eat, eat” literally hundreds of times. She couldn’t understand why food was out on the counter, yet no one was eating it. She screamed and kicked with abandon each time I put her to bed. We went through our daily routines slowly, purposefully, and let her learn--we eat at mealtime, your tantrum doesn’t keep me from putting you to bed, you’ll wake up here every morning, I’ll be here every day.
Haley was a fast learner. We could see her willingly adapting to every new expectation and change in her environment. She flourished under praise. When we complimented her behavior or cooperation she would nod smugly and say, “mm-hm.” Haley had many problems resulting from her dysfunctional upbringing--inability to initiate play, desire to monopolize adults, willingness to attach to any passerby. But she had come through remarkably strong, healthy, and pleasant.
In the coming months, my feelings were split, as they had been with Zillah. A part of me held back from loving Haley too much in case I had to let her go. A part of me wanted to beat out Haley’s birth mom, Terri, and any other birth relatives so I could adopt Haley for myself. A part of me rooted for Terri to do the small tasks remaining that would allow her to have her daughter back.
In the eyes of the state, parents of young children like Haley have very limited chances. While the best option for the child is to live with healthy and appropriate biological parents, the second best choice is permanency--with any healthy and appropriate family. If the birth parents cannot provide permanency, stability, and care within several months, it’s best for the child to move on and begin attaching elsewhere.
Though Terri’s time was running out, most people involved in the case seemed to think her chances were good. Terri had made good progress on many fronts. Her drug tests always came back negative. But again and again she failed to hold a job, maintain a residence, and comply in other basic requirements that would show her ready to care for her daughter.
As had Carrie, Terri sometimes found it easy to pin her frustrations on me. Once a week I carefully dressed Haley, fixed her hair, and drove her to the DCFS offices to visit with her mom. And each week Terri found something to criticize. One week she complained that Haley’s earrings weren’t clean enough. She unleashed at me a tirade about how I should clean her ears more carefully and concluded with a sarcastic and demanding, “Can you do that?” The irony hung heavy between us. Of course I could do that. She was the one who had lost her daughter twice due to neglect. I was the one who had dressed and cared for her. But I had learned some lessons from Carrie and answered only, “Sure I can.”
That ability to avoid conflict with Terri is, I believe, the reason why Haley is my daughter today. A distant relative in Haley’s birth family came forward wanting to adopt Haley should the need arise. The state, wanting to preserve birth families as much as possible, would have given priority to that family over ours even though it would have meant another wrenching transition in Haley’s life. But Terri told the caseworker, her lawyer, and the judge that she wanted Haley to go to our family. She said she could see that we loved Haley, took good care of her, and would provide her with a good upbringing. Haley's birth father made a similar statement in court.
Two days after our fourth son was born, Terri "voluntarily relinquished" her parental rights. Although giving up Haley was the last thing she wanted to do, I think she could see she wouldn't win and bowed out to avoid a prolonged and painful court hearing. She told the court, “I love Haley. That’s why I’m doing this. It’s breaking my heart.” She was a beaten woman, giving away the one thing in her life she loved most, the most beautiful and good thing she had ever accomplished.
After the court session, I wrapped my arms around grieving Terri. “I’ll take good care of your daughter,” I told her. My love and appreciation and sympathy for her were real. As Mark and I drove away from the courthouse, we saw Terri, alone, climbing onto the bus to drive away. It is the saddest image either of us has ever seen.
Within three months, we adopted Haley in that same courtroom. A few weeks later, she was sealed to us in the Salt Lake temple. Of all the pictures we took that day, one immediately caught our attention. It shows our four sons and their adopted sister, all in their beautiful white temple clothing. The children are clustered around a small park bench, the gray stone walls of the temple rising up behind them. In the picture, the boys are looking with bemusement at Haley. Both her arms are raised high, her face is turned up to the sky, and she looks as if she is shouting for joy. I like to think that the picture shows the true feelings of Haley’s spirit about finally finding her place in a forever family, at coming to rest after several detours in a family where she would learn the gospel. A family where love would be shown through action and consistency day in and day out, not in fits and spurts.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
As Zillah gradually became comfortable in our home, the more mischievous she became. She was one week older than Levi, and the two of them became Double Trouble. They taught each other all the mischief they knew. They fought jealously over toys and attention. While Zillah’s demands wore us out, we also admired her determination. I loved her with a mother love.
But another trial of Zillah that I hadn’t expected was her birth parents. Like her daughter, Zillah’s mother, Carrie, was prepared to fight--even when fighting was unnecessary or counterproductive. At times she tried to fight against or discredit me.
As I watched Carrie reeling from the pain of losing her daughter and desperately seeking to get her back, I realized how easy it was for Carrieto resent me. I had so many things she didnt’t: a house, an education, a car, a stable marriage--and her daughter. The state had officially determined that she was a bad mom and that I was a good mom. Not only could I see why Carrie might resent me, I could see how it would feel so good for her to hate me. The more Zillah relied on me--even though doing so was in her best interest while she was in my home--the more Carrie feared.
In the five months Zillah lived with me, Carrie and her husband did many things that hurt my feelings. They made complaints against me, they criticized me, they were rude to me when my entire life was turned upside down as I tried to help their family. But I learned that in this experience, it wasn’t about me. My feelings or reputation were lowest on the scale of priorities. Their need to vent or rail against me changed nothing and, really, it hurt nothing. I learned to respond to rudeness without rudeness, to ignore opportunities to be offended.
On the day I delivered Zillah back to her mother, my feelings--as they were often throughout those months--were split. I missed her and wanted her to stay with me forever. I was grateful her parents had done the work so she could return. I was elated at the new freedom and ease my life would have.
Stay tuned to find out how the crazy experience of fostering Zillah led to our happy adoption of Haley...
Friday, January 4, 2008
For one thing, the packages from Haley's birth mom stink. Seriously. The teddy bear and pink scarf are out on the back porch airing out. And the uncharitable part of me thinks the gifts are a bit weird. Five pieces of pink, plastic crucifix jewelry from aunt. A creepy china clown from birth mom. Like I said, I really am grateful for the care and effort and love that went into picking out these gifts. But I'm confessing to you that I am so glad that I'm Haley's mom, that this is her family now. As a foster parent, you're supposed to advocate for and support the birth family. You're supposed to hold back from judging the parents' mistakes and work to reunite the family. And I did all that. But now that Haley's mine, I can admit to myself that I think I'm a better mom than her birth mom would have been and I'm so glad she'll grow up here.
Some time ago, Mark's mom asked me to write up the story of our family's journey to adoption, and here it is. It's long, so I'll post it in three parts:
One spring day in 1992, I sat on the grass on the BYU campus with my future husband, Mark. Perhaps fueled by the frantic, celebratory atmosphere of final exams and the warm spring weather, Mark went out on a limb.
“I want to put an idea out there.” He paused dramatically. “You and me making a family.”
I was shocked. After months of dating, this subject had never before been broached between us.
“What about it?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he replied smugly. “I just wanted to put it out there.”
Well, of course, in the few days remaining before we parted for summer break, the idea was discussed. We had a number of “what if” conversations to explore what life would be like if we did marry. Adoption was part of those early conversations.
Mark and I are both the oldest of six siblings. We both spent significant parts of our childhoods caring for younger siblings, and we both feel special bonds of love for our families as a result. It was easy for us to decide that our hypothetical family would include several children. But we also both felt from the beginning that we didn’t necessarily need to have all those children biologically. Adoption was appealing to us as a way of extending our positive family experiences to children born to other families.
We married the following winter, gave birth to our first son two years later, then had two more sons as we struggled through the whirlwind of graduate school. When we had been married for ten years, the time to reconsider adoption seemed right. For the first time, Mark had a regular full-time job. Life seemed more stable and less pinched.
Largely because private adoption is so expensive, we began to investigate foster care and adoption. We quickly learned of the huge challenges and risks of foster care. Children who are raised without appropriate care from loving parents can become so damaged that they do not know how to operate in healthy families. It can take years, and sometimes lifetimes, for such children to abandon the skills they acquired to survive in their unhealthy families and instead learn how to thrive in a loving family. Mark and I loved the family we had and wondered if it was right to risk disturbing it to pursue foster care.
But as our fear and trepidation regarding foster care grew, I had a number of strong spiritual impressions that Heavenly Father intended us to be foster parents. On one occasion, during a sacrament meeting talk on a topic I can no longer remember, I felt the Holy Ghost so strongly that I literally looked around to see if other people could see what felt to me like beam of light penetrating my chest.
Mark and I began the process of licensing as foster parents. We did the paperwork, we found references, we took the classes. Then, because we had moved states within the last five years, we had to wait for a background check from our previous state. Weeks passed. I phoned the licensing office to check on our progress. They told me all we could do was wait until the other state completed our background check at their leisure. Months passed. I made several more phone calls but was always told the same thing. Finally I decided to let the matter rest--it would happen when it happened.
The matter did rest until one Sunday, nine months after we had submitted our application. During a rare moment of quiet in our home of three little boys, I received the distinct impression, “It’s not going to stay like this for long.” All that evening I felt anticipation and tension and impending change, like I was about to take a big trip, or go on a roller coaster. I informed Mark that something was coming. Something big--not bad, but big.
A few weeks later was Thanksgiving. We had traveled to another state to spend the holiday with Mark’s family. The moment I woke up the morning after Thanksgiving, that pending background check weighed heavily on my mind. I felt upset, I felt worried, I felt in turmoil. But what could I do about it? I was in a guest room on a holiday in another state. I firmly told myself to stop fretting, and I promised myself that I would once again call the licensing office on first thing Monday morning when we had returned home.
On Monday morning, I kept my promise. The person on the phone told me that, yes, our background check had been received some time ago. Perhaps to make up for their failure to notify us, she dispatched a licensor to come to our home the very next day to complete our home study--the final step in our licensing process. Our home study was completed on Tuesday. Our foster care license was finalized on Wednesday. On Thursday, our name was presented to a meeting of foster parent advocates and caseworkers, and the next Tuesday, we had our first foster daughter.
To be continued...
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Once the three little kids were in bed, Mark and the big boys started the real party. We put a Black-eyed Peas station on Pandora and played a round of Blokus (new Christmas game from Uncle Josh). Then I took a long soak in the tub while the boys watched the Truman Show. I explained to Mark that if I wanted to face 14 hours with my children on January 1 with any cheer or optimism, then I needed to not stay up with them til midnight. So the boys’ cheers to welcome the new year wafted through my dreams.